Houston Mayor Cancels Texas GOP Convention Over Coronavirus Spikes

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has reportedly canceled the convention of the Texas Republican Party scheduled to take place at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston from July 16 to 18.

Texas GOP Party Chair James Dickey said the legal team of the state's Republican party would consider its legal options while reviewing the city's authority to cancel its convention.

"We are prepared to take all necessary steps to proceed in the peaceable exercise of our constitutionally protected rights," Dickey said in a statement.

Turner had previously asked the state GOP to cancel its convention amid rising COVID-19 case numbers. As of July 8, Harris County, which contains Houston, is reporting more cases and deaths than any other Texas county. It has a total of 39,311 confirmed cases and 407 related deaths.

Turner had instructed Houston's legal department to work with the Houston First Corporation, a company that operates the convention center, to review the company's contract with the Texas GOP.

On Monday, Turner received a letter from Houston Health Authority David Persse, which called the in-person convention "a clear and present danger to the health and well-being of convention attendees, workers, local hotel and restaurant owners and Houstonians because of the surging pandemic."

On Wednesday, Houston First officials sent a letter canceling the convention to the State Republican Executive Committee, the state party's governing board on Wednesday afternoon.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner addresses the U.S. Conference of Mayors 86th annual Winter Meeting at the Capitol Hilton January 25, 2018 in Washington, DC. The non-partisan conference of mayors from cities with populations of 300,000 or larger meet annually in Washington, DC Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Turner said the cancellation was made in concern for the public safety of the people attending the convention, the employees, their family members, the people in the city of Houston. However, Turner disagreed with the mayor's framing of the issue.

"After allowing tens of thousands of protestors to peaceably assemble in the same city, in the same area, without any of the safety precautions and measures we have taken, [Turner] is seeking to deny a political Party's critical electoral function that should be equally protected under the constitution," Dickey wrote.

State Republicans had planned on hosting over 6,000 people at the convention. Convention organizers pledged to conduct temperature checks at entrances, conduct thorough deep cleanings of public spaces, maintain social distancing and offer free face masks and hand sanitizer stations throughout the convention.

The state GOP said it has also been preparing to offer the convention virtually as a last resort, if necessary. Several elected officials had already recorded their speeches ahead of time to be televised at the event.

Newsweek reached out to the Texas State Republican Party for comment.

The Texas Medical Association, an organization of 53,000 physicians and medical students across the state, and the Texas Brewers Guild had both pulled their sponsorship from the convention over fears of it creating a coronavirus outbreak.

It was unclear whether state party leaders would require attendees to wear face masks as legally required by a July 2 executive order signed by Republican Texas Governor Abbott telling all Texans to wear face masks in public (or else to face a $250 fine).