Two years removed from the virtual blunder that was the 2020 Texas GOP Convention — a makeshift online event after the City of Houston revoked in-person approval at the last minute — Texas’ dominant political party will convene this week to complete its biennial business.
Even without the 2020 event’s unique travails, the gathering is bustling and frantic. Tempers can flare over something as rudimentary as the placement of a comma in the middle of a phrase, and knock-down-drag-out disputes can play out amid the convention hall floor chaos.
And then there’s the all-important headliner of selecting the party chair for the next two years.
Here’s a preview of some themes to watch as 10,000 Republican activists descend upon Houston for the 2022 convention.
Will Abbott speak?
The state’s top elected Republican skipping the main stage at his party’s convention is nearly unheard of. But it appears all but certain this year, as Governor Greg Abbott is currently absent from the slate of convention speakers.
While it is subject to change pending any last-minute about-face, Abbott has kept the RPT convention at relative arm’s length.
On June 1, the Texas GOP announced that Abbott had neither accepted an invitation to speak before the gathering nor donated money to the party as a sponsor of the event. The sponsorship status changed two days later when the party said the Abbott campaign had now decided to sponsor directly, separate from its other planned expenditure.
Instead, the Abbott campaign is hosting a “welcome reception” on June 16 that is not affiliated directly with the party, but which the campaign says “will be the largest sponsorship at this year’s convention.” On a call with delegates last week, Abbott advisors Karl Rove and Steve Munisteri said that the cost of the reception exceeds $100,000, adding that it will be itemized as an in-kind contribution to the Texas GOP.
The amount of the direct sponsorship has remained undisclosed by both the campaign and the party. But that total will be disclosed at the July 15 semiannual campaign finance filing deadline. Abbott’s closest statewide peer, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, gave the party $25,000 to sponsor the convention, per his campaign.
Despite the sponsorship, the governor is still not slated to speak at the event.
Does Rinaldi draw a challenger?
RPT Chair Matt Rinaldi assumed the position last July in a special election before the State Republican Executive Committee (SREC) to replace Allen West, who departed to challenge Abbott in the GOP primary. This time around, the convention delegates, not the SREC, will elect the chairman for the next two-year term.
Rinaldi, a former state representative, had quarreled with top Texas Republicans before becoming party chair — most notably criticizing Abbott for his coronavirus emergency orders, leading to a public endorsement of former state Sen. Don Huffines in the gubernatorial primary. But since assuming the office, he’s largely stayed out of Republican-on-Republican political fights — even rescinding his Huffines endorsement.
Even so, Rinaldi and the party pushed for a special session last year to ban vaccine mandates, but their calls went unanswered.
But he has not gone so far as to antagonize the governor like his predecessor, who sued Abbott over his unilateral extension of the early voting period in 2020.
It would be unusual for Rinaldi to avoid any challenger to his re-election, but so far none has materialized — at least, not one yet made public. And on that phone call with delegates, Rove and Munisteri stressed they did not want to see a challenge mounted against Rinaldi.
At one time, there was speculation that Vice Chair Cat Parks was mulling a challenge to Rinaldi, but she’s thus far taken no public action. However, an unclaimed text poll was sent out on June 6 asking RPT delegates who they’d support in a head-to-head matchup between Rinaldi and Parks. But Parks has not declared any challenge to Rinaldi, and has made no public indication that she will.
Another name that has been floated is Dr. Tim Westley, former RPT historian and second-place finisher in the GOP race for land commissioner. On Saturday, Westley confirmed that he’s heard his name floated from some SREC members and others. He added that he’s not ruling out a challenge to Rinaldi, and is “considering and praying about it.”
Westley abruptly resigned from his position as party historian last month just before the runoff, alleging internal interference by the campaign of his opponent and now GOP nominee for land commissioner, state Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway).
Emails obtained by media outlets show a dust-up between Westley and Rinaldi stemming from Westley’s displeasure with the date one of his history articles was to be sent out. He asked for it to be emailed out before the May 24 runoff, but due to scheduling issues with other election day messages, it was scheduled for the Thursday after — an issue that then prompted Westley’s abrupt resignation.
“I’m very proud to have the support for re-election of nearly 90 percent of our State Republican Executive Committee and conservative leaders across the state,” Rinaldi said. “Our party is most successful when we are united behind strong, conservative leadership and a strong, conservative platform. I am looking forward to a successful convention in June and, even more importantly, a Republican Wave election in November.”
The Vice Chair Race
It is in state code that each state party must elect one man and one woman to its chair and vice chair positions. With Rinaldi likely to win another term, that requires Parks’ successor as the party’s second-in-command to be a woman.
There are three main candidates vying for the position: Adrienne Peña-Garza, Alma Perez Jackson, and Dana Myers.
Peña-Garza is the three-term Hidalgo County Republican Party chair. She is one of the chief Republican activists in South Texas driving the red shift on which the GOP is banking to run up the score on Democrats in Texas.
Perez Jackson was the party’s vice chairwoman under former Chair James Dickey, the regime under which the party compiled a $3.3 million war chest and registered 320,000 new GOP voters going into 2020 after the 2018 midterm’s “Beto Wave.”
Myers, the more unknown quantity of the three candidates, is a medical consultant and two-term vice chair of the Harris County Republican Party. She is also married to Jon Spiers, the third-place finisher in the 2022 GOP primary for land commissioner.
Asked at a Friday forum what their top priority would be in the position, Peña-Garza pointed to candidate recruitment and voter outreach, while Myers identified regaining ground in the state’s blue metropolitan areas.
Perez Jackson — who was not part of the Friday forum hosted by RNC Committeewoman Toni Anne Deshielle, a supporter of Myers — told The Texan the vice chair’s focus should be to “organize and make [the GOP] functional and respectful to the platform created by Republicans in Texas.”
Something sure to draw attention is humorist Alex Stein’s bid for vice chairwoman. Stein, a man who sometimes plays a woman on his YouTube channel, is internet famous for subjecting local elected officials to satirical raps during public comment sections of council and commissioners court meetings.
“After being discriminated against by the Plano City Council, Alexandria has decided to hang up the towel on her swimming career to help Chairman Matt Rinaldi run the Republican Party of Texas,” reads Stein’s website. Stein said that he’ll “create a scene like nobody has ever seen before” and that his speech will be “outrageous and MonkeyPox contagious!”
Log Cabin Republicans Debacle
At each convention in recent memory, the Log Cabin Republicans of Texas — the organization of pro-LGBT Republicans — has been denied a booth in the exhibition hall. It was denied again this year, but a mistakenly sent email caused a new stir.
The Log Cabin Houston chapter received an email from the state party approving their booth application, and then subsequently received a rescission. The party said the first email was mistaken. On Friday, the Houston chapter withdrew its application before the SREC Officials Committee and the Fort Worth Log Cabin Republican chapter’s application was rejected.
While the Republican National Committee has become more convivial with the Log Cabin Republicans, creating a “Pride Coalition” with the pro-LGBT group, the state party has not toed the national outfit’s line.
Last December, the SREC passed a resolution opposing the national party’s Pride Coalition, adding that the state party “does not believe that building GOP versions of left-wing movements furthers our cause.”
After the state organization’s application was rejected four to three, Parks, who has criticized the previous application rejections, again slammed the decision.
“Looks like I’ll be skipping the Texas GOP convention booth hall,” she said.
Fight Over Legislative Priorities and the Party Platform
One fracture within the party exists between those who place its slate of legislative priorities in high priority, and those who believe the organization should focus primarily or solely on its electoral functions.
Nonetheless, every two years, the party highlights multiple items for its legislative focus during the next session. In 2020, the party identified eight: election integrity, religious freedom, child gender modification ban, abolition of abortion, constitutional carry, monument protection, school choice, and a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying. Then-Chairman Allen West added disaster powers reform as an executive item.
While assessments vary, the legislature delivered on roughly three of those items during the regular session and following specials.
Jill Glover, chair of the SREC’s Legislative Priorities Committee, previewed items of importance going into convention. “The policy landscape has changed considerably since our 2020 Legislative Priorities were chosen,” Glover said in an email blast.
Items of importance she mentioned include:
Critical Race Theory
Obscene materials in schools
Child gender modification bans
Power grid reform
Property tax relief
Which of these returns to the list is an open question, with the final slate left up to the whims of 10,000 delegates.
The larger undertaking, in terms of sheer volume, is the platform that contains over 300 planks stating the official position of the party on anything from abortion and gun control to eminent domain.
The platform addresses as many different issues as the draftees can conjure up. But some will receive more attention than others. Matt Patrick, a Dallas GOP activist who chairs the Platform Convention Committee, saif that he believes “medical freedom” and “government overreach” will each receive ample debate.
The various vaccine mandates at all levels of government and throughout the business world caused a stir within the Texas GOP, with the party itself campaigning hard last year for a special session to ban vaccine mandates. A ban on government vaccine mandates was placed on the third special session agenda by Abbott, but it made no progress.
Another item Patrick pointed to is disaster powers reform — an item that made various degrees of progress in the 2021 session, but ultimately petered out by sine die. Texas is in the midst of its third year under statewide coronavirus disaster orders that began in March of 2020. Currently, the order is primarily used for continued access to federal aid. But those more piercing powers used to shut down businesses and mandate masks are to date left unreformed.
The 2020 platform calls for a law to require the legislature to convene two weeks after the state triggers its executive disaster power — and that will likely serve as a starting point for this item at the convention.
Patrick also highlighted election reform, stating that to place extra emphasis on the issue he separated the “Government and Foreign Affairs” section, and paired “Government” with “Election Integrity” in the new blueprint.
One item that might draw a scuffle is the platform’s explicit exclusion of gay individuals in its plank that calls for more adoptions in Texas and urges the legislature to remove any barriers obstructing adoptions.
“We believe that, in the best interests of the family and child, the State of Texas should allow children to be adopted only by married or single heterosexuals,” reads the provision that has caused a staunch difference of opinion.
During the height of the pandemic in 2020, at least eight county Republican parties formally censured Abbott for his use of disaster powers that included closing down businesses or otherwise restricting their operations and issuing a statewide mask mandate.
Censures are usually used as a formal statement of disapproval by party apparatuses, often aimed at elected officials. But they do come with some teeth: if sent to the state party, and the SREC or convention delegates approve the censure resolution, primary neutrality rules can be nullified and the party can be forbidden from spending any money on behalf of the censured official.
However, those steps are rarely taken. Its real utility for party activists lies in the public square, creating a bad look for those officials within some circles of the party. Shortly after being censured by the Harrison County GOP, which covers his hometown, state Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) announced he wouldn’t seek re-election in 2022.
RPT Rule 44, the censuring provision, is a source of ire especially for those who often find themselves at the tip of its spear — and also for those who do not believe it is strong enough.