The Republican Party of Texas will hold its disputed in-person convention but elected officials including Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) have opted to offer their remarks virtually.
The news, reported by The Texas Tribune, comes amid growing concerns about further spreading the coronavirus in a state that has seen an explosive increase in infections in recent weeks.
“All the elected officials are switching from a live, in-person speech to videos,” said Republican Party of Texas executive director Kyle Whatley in a Tuesday night town hall. “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.”
It’s an unexpected move from Texas Republican officials who typically headline their party’s biennial state convention, which is slotted to take place next week.
But Abbott had been noncommittal in recent interviews when asked if he’d attend the convention in person amid growing criticism of its risks, often shifting away from directly confirming his attendance.
“Yeah, listen, as for myself, as well as for everybody else, we will continue to see what the standards are that will be issued by the SREC, by the state Republican Party, to determine what the possibility will be for being able to attend,” Abbott told KENS-TV in San Antonio.
The State Republican Executive Committee which serves as the party’s governing board, voted last week in favor of an in-person gathering despite CDC guidelines that advise against large gatherings to curb the spread of the virus.
Republican Party of Texas Chair James Dickey said that the roughly 6,000 anticipated attendees will be required to wear masks during most of the gathering, following a long-awaited mask mandate in the state became a hotspot with surging new cases for the coronavirus in recent weeks.
The announcement comes after calls for its cancellation, notably from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) who earlier this week made a formal request for the party to call off its in-person convention.
“That need to assemble is important, and we are taking every precaution to ensure it is done safely,” said Dickey.
At least two groups — the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Craft Brewers Guild — have withdrawn their support as sponsors for the event citing safety concerns.