After weeks of political posturing between state Republicans and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, the mayor on Wednesday said he’s canceling the Texas Republican Party’s in-person convention, an event that was scheduled to be held at downtown Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center beginning on July 16.
COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the Houston area, where more than 10% of COVID-19 tests have been coming back positive for over two weeks. Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters in May that he considers a positivity rate above 10% a “warning flag.”
The convention was expected to draw around 6,000 attendees, but will now convene virtually instead. State Republican officials already reportedly planned to deliver their speeches by video rather than in person, but didn’t go so far as to call for participants to meet virtually.
At a Wednesday city council meeting, Turner announced he was directing the city’s legal department to review the contract between Houston First and the State Republican Executive Committee, the leadership group that organizes the convention.
The George R. Brown Convention Center is city owned and operated by Houston First, a quasi-governmental entity known as a local government corporation. Turner did not explain Wednesday why he hadn’t exercised his discretion to order the legal department to review the contract sooner, before organizations like the Texas Medical Association and the Greater Houston Partnership in recent days intensified public pressure to cancel the event.
In response to Turner’s comments, Texas Republican Party chair James Dickey issued a statement threatening legal action.
“Our legal team is assessing the ability of the City to act at this time in this manner and weighing our legal options. We are prepared to take all necessary steps to proceed in the peaceable exercise of our constitutionally protected rights,” Dickey said.
Dickey argued Turner’s decision to cancel the convention signals his failure to support the business community.
“With his words today, Mayor Turner is saying Houston does not want business. He does not want Houston to get back to work,” Dickey said. “He is not able to move forward and rise to these new challenges.”
But Houston business leaders at the Greater Houston Partnership said this week they did not want the convention to proceed in person, either.
In a letter on Tuesday, Greater Houston Partnership chair Bobby Tudor and president and CEO Bob Harvey called on the state GOP to cancel the in-person event.
“In normal times we would welcome an event that was expected to draw some 6,000 delegates from across Texas to the George R. Brown Convention Center. Unfortunately, these are not normal times,” they said.
This story has been updated.