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City cancels Republican convention

Game on.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced on Wednesday that the city has canceled the Texas Republican Party’s in-person state convention in downtown Houston next week.

Houston First, the public nonprofit that serves as the city’s convention arm, sent a letter to the party’s executive committee notifying it that the convention has been canceled.

The letter triggers a part of the contract called a “force majeure” clause, which allows one side to cancel for an occurrence out of its control. The definition included “epidemics in the City of Houston,” according to the Houston First letter.

Earlier Wednesday, Texas Republican Party officials said they were preparing for a legal fight after Turner said the Houston First and the city attorney’s office would review its contract with the party for using the George R. Brown Convention Center for the convention July 16-18.

Turner said he sought the review after Dr. David Persse, the city’s health authority, called the planned convention “a clear and present danger.”

The mayor had been hesitant to leverage his authority to cancel the convention out of fear of politicizing it, and he repeatedly had asked the party to meet virtually instead. He said Wednesday’s decision was prompted by rising numbers and an alarming letter from Persse, who reports to the mayor, outlining the danger of moving forward.

“It is a letter that as the mayor of Houston, that I simply cannot ignore or overlook,” Turner said. “The plan is to exercise those provisions, to cancel this agreement today, to not go forward with this convention.”

Persse’s letter called the spike in Houston an “unparalleled and frightening escalation” since Memorial Day.

“Now, COVID-19 infections are three times greater than they were at the peak experienced earlier this spring,” Persse wrote to Turner and Brenda Bazan, the president of Houston First. “Houston is now among the the national epicenters of the current COVID-19 outbreaks.”

See here and here for the background, and here for the announcement on Twitter. Before anyone gets their Hot Take machines fired up, please note that Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick were going to give their speeches via video, because they apparently had better things to do than bathe in a viral stew for three days. The RPT says they are reviewing their legal options, and I’d bet a year’s supply of N95 masks that someone will file a lawsuit over this. The real question is whether they’ll be able to get an expedited hearing, something the TDP was not able to get from SCOTUS with their vote-by-mail lawsuit. Priorities, you know. Anyway, Republicans should look on the bright side, because they just got something they surely prefer to a dumb convention, namely the chance to play the victim at the hands of a mean old Democrat. All that and a lower chance of death by ventilator – it’s a total win-win. The Trib, the Chron editorial board, and the Press have more.

UPDATE: Right on schedule:

We’ll see if they try for a quick ruling that disallows the cancellation. My head is spinning already.

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16 Comments

  1. ken roberts says:

    My Hot Take Machine anticipated this decision and doesn’t require any firing up.

    The GOP Convention cancellation was a three-sided game of chicken among the Texas GOP, Houston First and Mayor Turner, and Greg Abbott.. Turner blinked first.

    Were he to continue to play politics, he’d let the damned fools have their convention. That’d make Republicans look bad and give Democrats talking points as convention attendees become infected. As Mr. Kuffner notes, it would make them look worse if several GOP leaders did their speeches remotely while the peasants held their COVID Party.

    It would also give Turner extra capital against Abbott and the need for local control.

    Now, Turner and Democrats take some flak for cancelling the convention. They have to deal with the lawsuit. I don’t know how any of that plays with potential swing voters.

    Even though I think Dems would have been better off from a cynical political standpoint with the convention, I’m glad they’re doing the right thing for the health of Houston and the state…even if it’s disproportionately the health of Republicans.

  2. Wolfgang says:

    HOTZE TO THE RESCUE ?

    Isn’t this a breach of contract claim, with the potential remedy being specific performance? And how is Mayor Turner liable for any alleged breach/nonperformance claim if neither he nor the City is a party, or for committing an ultra vires act that violated the Texas constitution? … And how does Hotze even have legal standing to complain of contractual nonperformance, breach, or to assert any other claim predicated on the contract by Houston First? Did he sign it? Does he claim to be a third-party beneficiary?

    Based on the few pages of the pleading on the tweet (the petition has apparently not yet been docketed in Harris County District Court, assuming it was even efiled), the Plaintiffs are suing for a violation of the Texas constitution, invoking the Declaratory Judgments Act, and are also alleging a ultra-vires (beyond lawful authority) conduct (which only applies to governmental officials), but according to the press reporting, the basis of the cancellation by Houston First, not by Turner, was the invocation of the force majeure clause in the contract, with reference to the ongoing epidemic, which has worsened in terms of community spread. So, it appears that the cancellation was under the contract, not in breach thereof.

    One first glance, it would seem that the relevant legal issue would be whether the contract was properly terminated under that clause, ie either breach/repudiation of the contract or declaratory judgments relating to the construction and/or validity of the force majeure clause, and whether the current state of the epidemic in Houston (or Texas) – a factual question — satisfies the definition in that clause.

    Their legal position seems rather muddled, but we will have to see the entire pleading and their application for TRO/temporary injunction.

  3. C.L. says:

    Let these conventioneer numbnuts hold their rally in Montgomery County. They have 16 hospitals, all (presumably) ready for patients.

  4. brad says:

    Ken,

    “…Turner blinked first…” ?

    Or re-phrased “Turner did his job and looked after the health interests of his city”

  5. Flypusher says:

    If you’re in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, the decent human being picks the one that causes the least harm.

  6. Wolfgang says:

    Re: Time, place, and manner modalities & “least harm”

    What’s the harm if the GOPs hold their convention online like the DEMs?

    … that they should position themselves as “similarly situated” with respect to the George Floyd protesters for equal protection/nondiscriminatory treatment purposes is ironic indeed.

  7. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    Im confused…Is Hotze saying that citizens have a unalterable right to rent taxpayer owned facilities?

    Must be news to the supporters of Drag Queen Story Hours at Public Libraries.

    Hypocrite.

  8. Wolfgang says:

    Meanwhile, the Texas Republicans have filed too:

    ACT OF GOD … OR ANTICS OF THAT CERTAIN CHAOS-CENTRIC HOUSTON MAJOR THAT’S OUT FOR PACHYDERM SCALP

    And I quote:

    “If Plaintiff’s application is not granted, harm is imminent because Convention delegates are aware of Defendant Turner’s politically-based animus toward the Republican Party, and are aware that he has a vested interest in causing chaos. 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, which damages the Convention as well as intimidating people with inappropriate political puffery, even if the Convention’s cancellation notices was retracted immediately.”

    Turning to the legal claims, it seems the GOP’s attorneys can’t make up their mind whether this is a lawsuit to force the hand of local government officials (“outlandish claims of unlimited power”) or a contract dispute.

    Be that as it may, here is the FORCE MAJEURE provision as quoted in the petition:

    “[T]he parties acknowledge and agree that the following occurrences are within the scope and definition of Force Majeure under Section 12 of the Agreement: Pandemics affecting Houston or preventing use and occupancy of the Facility.”

    Note that little word “or”. The disjunctive generally signifies that either the condition preceding the word “or” or the condition that is spelled out thereafter is sufficient by itself to satisfy the clause, as opposed to both having to be satisfies to trigger the force majeure provision. Unless and until the fellow-Republicans on the SCOTX decree otherwise, that is. (They argue that Houston First has the ability to perform according to contract and that the pandemic is being used as a pretext).

    CASE INFO: Republican Party of Texas v. City of Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner, Houston First Corporation, and Brenda W. Bazan, its president. No. 2020-40850, assigned to 333rd District Court, Harris County. Original Petition for Breach of Contract and Application for Mandamus and Specific Performance, filed 7/9/2020 11:33AM.

  9. mollusk says:

    Tom – “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” Apparently the doc is trying to prove Emerson wrong, or that he’s got a big mind, or something.

  10. Jason Hochman says:

    Tom, the suit is based on the violation of their constitutional rights. But they are wrong, they can still assemble in the streets. Not being able to use the venue they wanted doesn’t prevent their right to assemble.

    This shows the absurdity, partisanship, and failure of government at all levels, as well as the worthless news media. Turner had no problem leading the protests and multiple funerals all month long, gleefully assembling the minorities most likely to have severe cases of corona virus, but happy to sacrifice them to make a bad orange man look badder. The media keeps going on about Memorial Day being the cause of an increase in cases, as if a month of protests around the country had no impact on cases going up in a majority of the states during that month. The 1,000 doctors who signed the letter saying that they had spoken to the virus, and it would allow peaceful protests should be banned from medicine permanently.

    Meanwhile, the Republicans could have taken the high ground and canceled the event. Instead, they let Turner do it, so that they could rev up opposition to him. Political games should not be part of the response to this situation.

    Fortunately, Houston is not New York. And fortunately the federal government is not involved in the response. With the dishonest Fauci leading the response, who knows how bad things would get. Although Texas has a crazy Brooks County attorney who will arrest anyone who tests positive for corona and steps outside their house, HIPAA be damned, and he will toss them in the county jail and have himself a real outbreak.

    The truth is, the situation in Houston is looking better . The R naught this week dropped below one. That is great news. It means though, that we should keep doing what we are doing, including no big gatherings, even political conventions. It means we’re on the right track so let’s not mess it up.

  11. […] here for the background, and here for a copy of the lawsuit. I’d love to hear from any of the […]

  12. C.L. says:

    Yes, Dr. Hochman, ‘Sly Turner bad, Orange Man badder’, ‘Fauci can’t be trusted’. ‘Peaceful protests are going to kill us all’, etc. As a point of clarification though… the Brooks County Atty who apparently penned the memo you reference in no way violates HIPPA rules and regs. Also, through contact tracing, it’s been determined the ‘peaceful protest’ gatherings had a zero to negligible effect on the spread of the virus.

  13. Jules says:

    Jason, what is the source for the R naught below 1 in Houston?

  14. brad says:

    Jason,

    “dishonest Fauci”?!….is that a translation for Trump’s wholly incompetent response to the COVID-19 crisis so we need to slyly try to find a scapegoat?

  15. Jason Hochman says:

    Jules, I got that from my workplace, which should be up to date on the numbers. Let’s hope that the R zero is below 1, because, if so, obviously we will see a drop in new cases very soon. The hospital census may stay higher than normal for a while, due to the time for patients to recover, or sadly, in some cases, die.

    Fauci admitted to the deception. If you remember, a few months back, he said not to wear a mask. Then, he changed his mind. When pressed, he explained that he said don’t wear a mask because medical personnel needed them. So, is he saying that he put us all at risk, to protect medical staff? Did he not think that if less people got sick, that would also put less medical workers at risk? But finally, we found out that any old mask helps–you could use a scarf, a mask made from old T shirts or bed sheets, a bandana, even a dust mask from the hardware store. Did it take the best and brightest a few months to figure that out? Who knows. Then, just in the last week, Fauci said that states might need to shut down everything again, but a day later he was saying that just pausing, or slowing re-opening is a better idea. What is the truth? This willingness to go out there and take the blame is probably why he’s been able to stay at a government agency for 50 years in an administrative role.

    C.L. I would say that the memo doesn’t violate HIPAA, but how are you going to know who tested positive for COVD? Are we going to put a scarlet letter on them? Or will we get COVI PASS here? How much power do you want the government to have? You are correct about the protests, they actually claim that the protests reduced the spread because people were afraid to go out! The blame is being put on bars and nightclubs, for the most part. Well since the bars closed again in Houston, the R value has improved, so maybe that’s true. So, let’s keep up with what we’re going for now.

  16. brad says:

    Jason,

    Your broad brush stroke comments with out looking at the details/specifics to the answers Fauci is providing to question/scenarios is quite sly. Some might even say deceptive.