Republicans Vow Appeal to Gather in Covid-Hit Houston

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner speaks on June 28. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip File)

HOUSTON (CN) — The Texas Republican Party said it will appeal to the Texas Supreme Court after a judge denied its request for an order to let it hold its convention in Houston next week.

The party had sued Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Thursday, claiming he improperly canceled the contract authorizing its convention in the George R. Brown Convention Center downtown.

Late that night, Harris County District Judge Larry Weiman rejected the party’s claims after an afternoon hearing.

“It didn’t matter in which court this case landed, we expected a denial from the liberal Harris County courts,” state Republican Chairman James Dickey said in a statement. “We thank them for a speedy denial so we can move forward with the appeal we had prepared.”

The party said it is appealing directly to the state Supreme Court for a speedy resolution, as its committee meetings were set to begin Monday at the convention center.

The party’s executive committee will meet Saturday to work out a contingency plan should the state Supreme Court decline to give the green light for the convention in Houston.

The Republicans have already received an offer from officials of the county north of Houston’s Harris County.

“We invite you to come to Montgomery County,” Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough, a Republican, said Wednesday in a video posted on Facebook.

“We will be great hosts,” he added. “We will not put any political pressure on you. There will be no last-minute changes. All that we ask is that you follow the same guidelines you agreed to when you agreed to have it within the city of Houston. Montgomery County is open for business.”

In Texas, county judges are chief executives, not court of law judges.

Dickey said he spoke to Montgomery County officials Thursday about the capacity of the county’s facilities.

From 6,500 to 7,000 Texas Republicans were expected to gather for the convention.

The party is resisting calls to hold the convention online as Texas grapples with a surge in Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths.

More than 26,000 Houston residents have tested positive for Covid-19, and the respiratory disease has killed 250 people here.

But Houston health officials say they believe the death count is underreported, as they have seen a spike in people found dead when first responders arrive at their homes, Houston’s NPR affiliate reported Thursday. 

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said firefighters found 18 people dead in their homes on a single day this week.

To conserve hospital space to deal with the pandemic, Governor Greg Abbott expanded the state’s ban on elective surgeries to more than 100 counties, including Harris County, the state’s most populous, which leads the state with more than 40,000 reported cases.

More than 230,000 Texans have contracted the virus, and it has killed 2,918 in the state, according to the Department of State Health Services. 

The Texas Republican Party said it was prepared to take safety measures at its convention, including giving masks to all attendees, taking their temperatures and deep cleaning after every meeting.

It also accused Mayor Turner, a Democrat, of political viewpoint discrimination in its lawsuit. It said Turner expressed no concerns about virus transmission when 60,000 people gathered shoulder-to-shoulder, most of them wearing masks, in front of City Hall on June 2 for a protest of Houston native George Floyd’s killing by police.

According to the lawsuit, Houston officials cited the city’s spike in Covid-19 cases starting on Memorial Day weekend as triggering the contract’s force majeure, or “act of God,” clause allowing them to cancel the convention.

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