Judge refuses to order Houston to allow Texas GOP convention

3 weeks 5 days 2 hours ago Thursday, July 09 2020 Jul 9, 2020 July 09, 2020 6:22 PM July 09, 2020 in News - AP Texas Headlines
FILE - In this June 28, 2020 file photo, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner speaks in Houston. Houston officials have canceled the Texas GOP's in-person convention. They say the spread of the coronavirus made it impossible to hold the event as scheduled. Mayor Turner said Wednesday, July 8, 2020, that the city's lawyers exercised provisions in the contract that the Texas Republican Party signed to rent the downtown convention center for a three-day event to have started July 16. Virus cases have surged in Texas, particularly in the state's largest cities. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip File)

HOUSTON (AP) — A state judge on Thursday declined to reverse Houston's decision to cancel the Texas Republican convention's in-person events because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Judge Larry Weiman rejected the state GOP's request for a temporary restraining order, one day after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said next week's gathering could not proceed at the downtown convention center. Turner, a Democrat, has denied any political motives in the cancellation and said it was a matter of public safety.

After a contentious two-hour hearing, Weiman said he was concerned about Houston hospitals reporting they have exceeded their regular intensive-care capacity, as coronavirus cases and deaths have surged in the state. The arrival next week of as many as 6,000 delegates from across Texas could worsen the situation, he noted.

Attorneys for state Republicans indicated they plan to file an appeal.

The judge's decision Thursday came as the state reported more than 100 deaths in a single day for the first time, making this the deadliest week of the pandemic in what has rapidly become one of America’s virus hot zones. Houston in particular has become a hot spot, with major hospitals exceeding their base capacity due to an influx of COVID-19 patients.

The Texas Medical Association withdrew its sponsorship of the state GOP convention and asked organizers to cancel in-person gatherings.

But state Republican chair James Dickey insisted that organizers can hold the event safely. Before Turner canceled the convention, Dickey said the party had planned to institute daily temperature scans, provide masks, and install hand sanitizer stations.

The group’s lawsuit filed earlier Thursday accused Turner of discriminating against the convention due to an “ideological viewpoint.” A second lawsuit filed by a group of Republicans accused Turner of bowing to “COVID-19 hysteria."

Both lawsuits accuse Turner of imposing tougher standards on the convention than he did on a June 2 protest following the death of George Floyd, a Houston native. Tens of thousands of people, including Turner, attended the protest.

The state party's lawsuit included photos of packed crowds at the protest. One of the Republicans who filed the second lawsuit was Steve Hotze, a conservative power broker who, according to The Texas Tribune, left Gov. Greg Abbott's chief of staff a voicemail after the protest calling on the governor to have National Guard ready to “shoot to kill.”

“I want to make sure that he has National Guard down here and they have the order to shoot to kill if any of these ... people start rioting like they have in Dallas, start tearing down businesses. ... That’s the only way you restore order. Kill ’em. Thank you," Hotze said.

Speaking Wednesday, Turner said he directed city lawyers to terminate the contract because he believed the event could not be held safely.

“No one wanted to step in and be the heavy and to say no, and then run the risk of being accused of being political,” Turner said. “But if after all of that, you still refuse to recognize the public health danger to everyone involved, then I am still the mayor.”

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