HOUSTON (CN) — The Texas Republican Party sued Houston’s Democratic mayor Thursday, claiming he improperly cited the Covid-19 pandemic as an act of God as grounds to cancel the party’s convention.
Between 6,500 and 7,000 Texas Republicans were expected to gather at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston for the convention, which was set for July 16 to 18.
But the convention center’s management company Houston First, a government corporation established by the Houston City Council, notified the party Wednesday it had canceled the contract authorizing the event.
According to the lawsuit filed in Harris County District Court, Houston First’s president Brenda Bazan 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 Houston to cancel the convention.
But the Republicans say Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner simply used the clause as an excuse to cancel the convention.
They claim the decision is political viewpoint discrimination because 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 over Houston native George Floyd’s killing by police.
Besides, the Republicans say, the city waited too long to cancel the convention based on force majeure.
“The original contract states that a claim of force majeure must be claimed within seven days of the occurrence. … However, Memorial Day was mid-May, and more than seven days passed before the notice of cancellation was delivered on July 8, 2020,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit comes after Texas reached a grim new benchmark, with a record 112 people dying from Covid-19 on Wednesday. The respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus has now killed 2,870 Texans, according to the Houston Chronicle.
A faction of hardline small-government, individual-rights loving Texas Republicans say Governor Greg Abbott’s recent order mandating people wear masks in buildings and outside, if social distancing is not possible, is government tyranny.
Laboring their point that Turner was just looking for an excuse to call off their convention, the Republicans claim in their lawsuit the mayor had also said he would shut it down unless everybody in attendance wore a mask.
They say Turner’s mask mandate exceeded Abbott’s executive order because the 1.9 million-square-foot convention center has plenty of room for social distancing.
Still, the GOP was ready to follow Turner’s rules. State Republican Chair James Dickey said Wednesday the party had planned to provide masks for all the convention’s attendees, take their temperatures and deep clean after every meeting.
Though Turner said at Wednesday’s City Council meeting no conferences or conventions will be held in the city until 2021, the Texas GOP claims the mayor is treating it differently than other groups.
“Mayor Turner canceled the convention because he wanted to, not due to any ‘act of God’ – only due to his desire to do so and to hold the Republican Party of Texas to a different standard than other entities,” Chairman Dickey said in a statement.
The Republicans want Houston ordered to reinstate the contract allowing them to hold the convention as planned, and a two-week restraining order to stop Turner from shutting it down.
They claim Turner is using “inappropriate political puffery” to intimidate would-be conventiongoers.
“Individuals who have planned to go to Houston are deciding at this moment that they do not want to wind up as a scalp taken by the mayor,” the complaint states.
The party is represented by attorneys Warren Nored of Arlington and Kevin Fulton and Briscoe Cain with the Houston firm Fulton Strahan.
Cain, a Texas state representative whose district covers the east Houston suburbs of Baytown and La Porte, is up for re-election this year. He won his Republican primary in March with nearly 80% of the vote.
The Texas Republican Party’s secretary Josh Flynn, joined by Republican operative and serial litigator Dr. Steven Hotze, filed a separate lawsuit against Turner and Houston First in Harris County on Thursday, making similar claims.
Hotze is a plaintiff in eight lawsuits filed against state and Harris County officials since April 6, challenging mask orders and restrictions on businesses and religious gatherings intended to halt the spread of Covid-19.
If the party’s efforts to reinstate the Houston convention fall through, they have an invitation from the county north of Houston’s Harris County.
“We invite you to come to Montgomery County,” Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough — its chief executive, not a court of law judge — said Wednesday in a video posted on Facebook.
“We will be great hosts. 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,” he added.