Nobody howled louder than Texas Lt. Gov Dan Patrick when Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner barred the state GOP from holding its convention there amid a COVID-19 explosion.
“This is nothing but a political hack job by Mayor Turner,” Patrick told Laura Ingraham on Fox News.
Patrick failed to mention that he and Gov. Greg Abbott and various other GOP elected officials had earlier opted out of actually joining the 6,000 party stalwarts who signed up for the July 16th gathering at the George R. Brown Convention center. They had instead planned to address the gathering via video.
“All the elected officials are switching from a live, in-person speech to videos,” state GOP executive director Kyle Whatley said during a virtual town hall on Tuesday night. “They’re doing that for us in order to focus all the attention on the business of the meeting and to get everybody in and out of here as quickly and as safely as possible.”
Surely, virtual appearances would require as much attention as live. But video might in fact prompt everybody to leave quicker. Each virtual speech would carry the unstated message that the official was leery of actually being there. And those who did attend would be left with the question, “Then what the heck am I doing here?”
Even such big and bright stars of the Texas conservative firmament as Rep. Dan Crenshaw approved of the mayor’s decision.
“A prudent move for public health,” Crenshaw said.
Patrick had already made a prudent move for his own health when he opted to go virtual. He nonetheless denounced Turner’s push for the entire GOP convention to go online, as the state Democratic convention already had with no difficulties and zero infections.
Turner should have moved last month to stop the insanity of a large indoor gathering as COVID-19 continued to spike. The virus then became what he termed “out of control.” He was reportedly further spurred into action when one of his sisters reminded him that the convention would also endanger hotel workers such as their mother, who had long been at the city’s Rice Hotel. He did not have to be told that your basic Texas Republican is not likely to worry about endangering a maid by failing to wear a mask in a hotel.
Of course, scientific fact and common sense have not stopped the GOP from filing suit to stop the mayor from stopping their convention. Turner noted to the press that Harris County District Court is holding much of its business on Zoom.
“It’s ironic they’re going to the courthouse, that in many cases is hearing and seeing cases virtually, to ask them to agree to allow 6,000 people to meet in person,” Turner said.
In fact, the entire Texas court system went largely virtual in late March. Courthouse News reported Texas held more than 8,500 virtual proceedings with 113,000 participants in the first months. Not even emergency matters were held in person.
“Obviously even that would put participants at risk,” a spokesman for the Texas Office of Court Administration was quoted saying.
District Court Judge Larry Weiman denied the GOP’s application. The GOP said that was only what it expected from such a liberal court and appealed to the Supreme Court of Texas.
The state’s top court had also gone virtual, with oral arguments available for public viewing on YouTube. The GOP was now asking the nine justices to intercede and allow it to go ahead with an all too actual gathering.
Never mind that the convention’s own organizers implicitly recognized it as so risky that the state's two top Republican officials were appearing only on video.
A spokesman for the state Supreme Court said the justices had asked for a response from the city of Houston and from the Houston First Corporation, which operates the convention arena. The city’s response is due by 5 p.m. Saturday.
“Too early to know whether oral arguments might be held,” the spokesman told The Daily Beast . “If yes, would be on Zoom.”
If it goes to oral arguments, anybody who so desires will be able to go on YouTube and witness irony that has become quite literally supreme.
Maybe if the state Supreme Court finds in favor of the mayor, Patrick and his GOP crew will dare to appear live on Zoom.
Either way, two words come back that Ingraham uttered when interviewing Patrick. They started out talking about reopening the schools. And Ingraham remarked that a teachers’ union was holding a webinar.
“How brave,” she said.
The interview proceeded on to Turner’s decision to block the Texas state GOP convention.
“He didn’t say a word when 60,000 people protested in the streets of Houston,” Patrick said. “Many of these people [are] now in the hospitals that are causing the spike.”
Where most major cities that had protests have found little if any accompanying risk in infections, health officials in Harris County, which encompasses Houston, have discerned what seems to be a resulting uptick. But they are quick to add that the biggest factor was, in the words of Harris County Public Health Director Dr. Umair Shah, “People interpreting reopening as back to normal.”
And the experts agree that the risk is considerably heightened when people gather indoors. That would include the in-person convention where Patrick himself bravely planned to appear only from the safety of a screen.
Apparently for him it’s only an afterthought that those at risk on the front lines of COVID include the people who clean the hospitals, hotels, transportation facilities, and gathering places such as the one where he wants to pack thousands.