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Texas GOP sues Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner over canceled in-person convention

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Posted at 3:41 PM, Jul 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-09 16:41:14-04

HOUSTON, TX — The Republican Party of Texas is suing Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and others involved with the canceling of the party's in-person convention, which was scheduled to happen next week.

On Wednesday, Houston First Corporation, the operator of the George R. Brown Convention Center, sent a letter to party officials informing them that the event had been canceled. That cancelation happened after Turner announced he was directing the city's legal department to work with Houston First to review the contract for the event.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Harris County, argues that the gathering is protected under both the Texas and U.S. Constitutions and should be allowed to continue as planned.

"Mayor Turner may not treat the [Republican Party of Texas] convention differently from that of the recent public protests that the Mayor supported," reads the petition, which also lists Houston First and the city of Houston as defendants. "Political viewpoint cannot be the basis for unequal treatment."

The party's biennial convention was expected to draw roughly 6,000 people to a city that is a hotspot for the coronavirus. Republican leaders had planned to deliver their speeches via video, which the party's executive director said would enable them to "get everybody in and out of here as quickly and as safely as possible."

A spokesperson for Turner told the Houston Chronicle that the mayor would address the lawsuit at a previously-scheduled 3 p.m. news conference. Asked Wednesday about the comparison of the convention to recent protests against police brutality, Turner said a large indoor event with food and lodging involved would pose greater health risks.

In its letter to the party Wednesday, Houston First cited a force majeure clause in its contract, which lets either party cancel the agreement if an occurrence "is beyond the reasonable control of the party whose performance is affected." That clause included "epidemics in the City of Houston."

In its lawsuit, the party agued that the mayor and Houston could in fact "perform if they wished, but they simply did not want to" and that Turner's instruction to his legal department to examine the contract counted as an admission thereof. "The admission means that he cannot use force majeure as a magical spell to escape what he has decided is an unwanted contract," the petition reads.

The party is also seeking damages "regarding the anticipatory breach" of the contract, including financial losses related to deposits, "increased costs of handling the Convention elsewhere" and "expectancy damages" for funds that would have ordinarily been raised at the event.

State Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, and Warren Norred, a State Republican Executive Committee (SREC) member, are representing the party in its lawsuit. The SREC, a 64-member body that serves as the governing board to the state party, voted overwhelmingly last week to proceed with an in-person convention, despite calls to cancel it.

This is the second lawsuit related to the cancelation filed on Thursday. Earlier, a handful of other Republicans including Houston activist Steve Hotze and Texas GOP secretary Josh Flynn, sued Turner, the city and Houston First.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/07/09/texas-gop-convention/.

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