The Republican Party of Texas’ convention is typically one of the world’s largest political events, with thousands of delegates from across the state volunteering to elect leaders and set the party’s direction every two years.
And while the upcoming convention may have been moved online earlier this week, that hasn’t stopped some conservatives from descending on Houston and getting involved in shaping the priorities and platforms of the party.
Originally scheduled to be held in Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center in May, the coronavirus forced the event to be pushed back to July 16-18.
Then last week, Democrat Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner moved to cancel the event, citing an uptick of Chinese coronavirus cases in Houston. The GOP attempted to turn to the courts to overrule Turner’s actions, but lost three times, including at the Texas Supreme Court.
After these setbacks, the executive committee of the party was forced to move the convention online.
If you were a casual spectator at the convention center’s hotel this week, however, you might think it was business as usual.
While the main portion of the convention itself is scheduled to begin on Thursday, much of the most important work is performed by temporary committees starting on Monday. Because the fate of the convention was still in flux on Monday, the party’s executive committee elected to keep those meetings in-person, at the hotel connected to the convention center.
Two of these committees, the platform committee and the legislative priorities committee, attracted a smaller than usual but passionate in-person testimony from conservative grassroots activists interested in molding the platform that will eventually be voted on later this week, during the online portion of the convention.
And some organizations—including those advocating issues for gun rights, equal parenting, medical privacy, and abortion abolition—even set up makeshift booths outside the committee rooms.
“We were coming. We knew we had to come,” Jackie Schlegel, the founder and executive director of Texans for Vaccine Choice, told Texas Scorecard. “We knew from legislative session in the last year that it wasn’t the legislators who were going to be championing this cause, it was going to be the grassroots activists.”
“We decided to go with some sort of booth in hand and try to reach as many people as possible, even it’s five, ten, or fifteen people.”
While conventions often bring clashes of different factions of the party, the atmosphere this year feels decidedly different, as the circumstances have seemingly served to filter down attendees to those most passionate about conservative outcomes.
“Convention, for me, has never been about a party or having a good time, it’s been about getting business done. Most of the business is done in the pre-convention committees,” said Rachel Malone, the Texas director of Gun Owners of America. “If you care about policy issues, all of that happens Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.”
“We knew that Texas grassroots activists were going to be here fighting for gun rights, and we weren’t going to let them do that alone. We were going to be there with them.”
Indeed, even with the main portion of the convention moved online, grassroots activists of all stripes did show up, even though Republican lawmakers—with the notable exception of State Sen. Bob Hall (Edgewood)—did not.
And as the saying goes, decisions are made by those who show up.