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Tarrant County GOP's Vice Chairman Survives Recall Vote Over His Religion

Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson for The Texas Tribune
Dr. Shahid Sharif enters a Tarrant County Republican Party executive committee meeting in Richland Hills on Thursday before a vote to oust him from his vice chairmanship because he's Muslim.

RICHLAND HILLS – Shahid Shafi will retain his role as vice chairman of the Tarrant County Republican Party despite a push from a small faction of precinct chairs to remove him from his post because he's Muslim.

Shafi, a trauma surgeon and Southlake City Council member, said after the vote that the last several months had been hard on him and his family. But he said he holds no animosity toward people who backed the failed motion to recall him — and that he was proud to be an American and a Republican.

"As an immigrant to this great country, I am honored and privileged to receive the support of my fellow Republicans," Shafi told members of the press late Thursday. "We need to learn to trust each other so we can create a more perfect union every day."

Shafi came to the U.S. in 1990 and became a naturalized citizen in 2009. The attacks on his religion, however, came shortly after Easton appointed him to a leadership role within the county party in July. The formal motion to oust him failed in a 49-139 vote, said county party spokesman Mike Snyder.

Those who were in favor of Shafi's removal said he's unequipped to be vice chairman because he doesn’t represent all Tarrant County Republicans due to his religion. They've also said Islamic ideologies run counter to the U.S. Constitution — an assertion many Texas GOP officials have called bigoted and Shafi himself has vehemently denied.

Following news that Shafi would retain his vice chairman role, Snyder read a prepared statement from Tarrant County GOP Chair Darl Easton which said the vote reaffirmed Tarrant Republicans' commitment to the state party platform and the U.S. Constitution.

"While tonight's vote brings an end to this unfortunate episode, it also demonstrates we are a Party that respects the right of those who disagree on an issue to have a seat at the table and their voices heard," Easton, one of Shafi's defenders, wrote. "Religious liberty won tonight, and while that makes a great day for the Republican Party of Tarrant County, that victory also serves notice that we have much work to do unifying our party."

Former Tarrant County precinct chair Sara Legvold did not vote on the motion to recall Shafi, but sat outside Thursday’s closed-door meeting wearing a burqa to “represent the Islamization of our county, our state and our country.”

“You already see it in the workplace where Muslims demand they’re able to wear their hijab and demand they get a prayer room,” she said. “When was the last time a Christian was allowed to have a separate place to say their prayers?"

Dorrie O'Brien, one of the precinct chairs leading the charge against Shafi, previously said her support for ousting him stems not from his religion, but whether he is connected “to Islamic terror groups,” the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

The failed attempt to oust Shafi drew national attention as well as condemnation from some of the state's top Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott. Republican Land Commissioner George P. Bush saluted the vote in a tweet late Thursday. And in a prepared statement after the measure failed, Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey said the state party platform clearly supports religious freedom and non-discrimination.

"We look forward to working with all Republicans to fight for lower taxes, quality education, and to continue our booming economy through Republican leadership," Dickey said.

Though the movement to reconsider Shafi’s appointment was afoot well ahead of last year’s midterm elections, Thursday’s vote comes just months after Tarrant County — considered the most conservative urban county in the country — narrowly flipped in favor of Texas Democrats’ star senatorial candidate, Beto O’Rourke. In Tarrant County and the surrounding Dallas-Fort Worth region, several Texas Senate and House seats went to Democrats, including the district previously held by conservative state Sen. Konni Burton of Colleyville.

“In my personal opinion, they need to pull their heads out of their fourth point of contact and they need to focus on winning elections and stop pointing the finger at Muslims," Bryant said.

Another precinct chair called Thursday's motion "bullshit."

"I'm a Jewish precinct chair," John Seidenstein said, "does this mean I'm next?"

Legvold, meanwhile, complained that Shafi's opponents had been vilified.

"They’ve said nothing but horrible things about us — that we’re bigots and Islamophobes and white supremacists — when we’re just patriots who care for our country," she said.


From The Texas Tribune

Alex Samuels is a newsletters fellow for The Texas Tribune and a journalism senior at The University of Texas at Austin. Alex has worked for USA Today College since her sophomore year and has been a collegiate correspondent and their first-ever breaking news correspondent. She also worked as an editorial intern for the Daily Dot where she covered politics, race, and social issues.
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