False allegations of voter fraud in 2020 led to increased threats against Texas election workers

A rise in election-related misinformation has led to increased threats and intimidation of election workers in Texas and other states, according to a report released Thursday by a U.S. House committee.

A Texas elections administrator from Tarrant County told the committee there was a social media call to “hang him when convicted for fraud and let his lifeless body hang in public until maggots drip out of his mouth.” The official’s home address was leaked and he received messages threatening his children, including one that said “I think we should end your bloodline.”

That official, Heider Garcia, was the target of a smear campaign by allies of former President Donald Trump and prominent right-wing media personalities, purporting a falsehood that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him due to widespread voter fraud. The claim of widespread voter fraud in the election has been repeatedly debunked, and several of Trump’s own aides have stated that the election was fair.

“To this day, not a single person or entity has been held accountable for the impact this whole situation had on my family and myself,” Garcia wrote in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year.

The threats against the Texas official were one of many outlined in the report from the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which analyzed intimidation against election workers in Texas, Arizona, Florida and Ohio. The report added that misinformation about the integrity of the 2020 election has been worsened by legislation pushed by Republican state legislators to bolster election security.

There have been more than 1,000 “hostile contacts” reported by election workers over the past year, and the American public’s faith in election integrity is decreasing. One in five election workers said in a survey earlier this year that they are likely to leave their posts before the 2024 election.

“For the past two years, election misinformation in the United States has often followed a feedback loop that produces more false information, heightens threats and pressures on election administrators, and increases the possibility of election subversion,” the report said. “The spread of misinformation about the 2020 election placed extraordinary pressure on election administrators, who are now besieged by coordinated campaigns of records requests and bad faith inquiries.”

Remi Garza, the president of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators, told the committee that debate in the state Legislature on changes to election law “frequently included broad generalizations of alleged fraud” and “repeated misleading information about actions taken by the Harris County clerk responsible for the November 2020 election.”

After the November 2020 election, an official in the Texas secretary of state’s office told lawmakers the election was “smooth and secure.” An audit of Texas’ top four largest counties’ 2020 election results also did not find evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Garza told the committee that elections officials in Texas continue to “face harassment, forensic audits, new civil and criminal penalties, threats, and unsubstantiated accusations of fraud” ahead of this year’s midterms.

The state Legislature passed Senate Bill 1 last year, which significantly curtails counties’ abilities to expand voting options. The legislation also further tightened rules on mail-in voting and set new rules and penalties for voter assistance.

The House report said the Texas Legislature required electronic voting machines to produce a paper record “without providing the necessary funds” for the changes.

The Republican Party of Texas earlier this year said protecting elections was one of its priorities for next year’s legislative session. The party wants to restore felony penalties for election code violations and reduce the amount of time allowed for early voting, among other proposed changes.

“The risk of subversion of future elections remains high. Local election officials are on the frontlines of this crisis,” the report said. “Now more than ever, they need the resources and support that only the federal government can provide. A federal whole-of-government response to this growing crisis is an urgent necessity.”

Disclosure: Texas Secretary of State has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/08/11/texas-election-fraud-misinformation-threats/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Bucking other Texas Democrats, Cuellar and Gonzalez vote against U.S. House bill that would ban semi-automatic weapons

By Eric Neugeboren, The Texas Tribune

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House approved the Assault Weapons Ban on Friday, a bill that would impose the first ban in decades on semi-automatic weapons. It follows mass shootings in Uvalde and across the country, and members of the Texas delegation voted mostly along party lines.

Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, were the only Texans to buck their party when they voted against the bill, which appears destined to fail in the Senate. The two members were among five House Democrats to oppose the legislation, which narrowly passed on a 217-213 vote.

The bill would ban the importing, manufacturing, selling, transferring or possession of certain types of semi-automatic weapons. It would cover semi-automatic pistols and rifles that accept detachable magazines and have certain types of barrels, grips and stocks.

The passage of the legislation comes after years of mass shootings, including the shootings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde and at a church in Sutherland Springs, where the gunmen used such weapons. Some Democrats spoke in favor of the legislation on the House floor Friday while standing next to photos of the victims of the Uvalde shooting.

“There are 19 babies who were murdered at Robb Elementary School in Texas who will never have the right to vote. … There are two teachers who were murdered who will never have the opportunity to seek the future that was theirs,” Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, said before Friday’s vote. “We have a governor in the state of Texas who could have saved all of those lives if he had … after the shooting at Walmart [in El Paso] that took 23 lives … legislation such as what we’re passing today.”

The legislation stands virtually no chance of passing the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to end debate. Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who was the GOP leader in bipartisan gun safety talks last month, told reporters there would be no more gun negotiations after Congress passed a modest gun measure earlier this summer.

Congress most recently passed an assault weapons ban in 1994, but it expired 10 years later. The mass shootings have renewed calls from Texas politicians and other Democrats for another ban.

Cuellar and Gonzalez, who are in tight reelection races this year, were the only two Texas Democrats to not co-sponsor the semi-automatic weapons ban.

Republicans blasted Democrats for supporting the legislation.

“What would do more right now than banning AR-15s would be to ban Democrat thinking in the big cities that’s allowing the crime rates to just explode,” Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler said on the House floor before Friday’s vote.


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/07/29/house-assault-weapons-ban-texas/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

“We failed”: Gay Republicans who fought for acceptance in Texas GOP see little progress

By Eric Neugeboren, The Texas Tribune

In June 1998, a group of gay and lesbian conservatives, pushing for greater representation at the Texas Republican Party convention in Fort Worth, found themselves in a frightening clash with members of their own party.

Members of the Log Cabin Republicans were protesting at the gathering of party faithful after a state GOP official made offensive comments comparing the group to the Ku Klux Klan and pedophiles. The group was also protesting the rejection of their request to host a booth at the convention — the second time in a row they’d been denied — where they hoped to share information about their organization.

Counterprotesters surrounded the Log Cabin members, wielding signs with homophobic slurs and phrases like “The Gay Life = AIDS Then Hell.” They pushed and spat and shoved their fingers in the faces of the gay Republicans.

Richard Tafel, the former executive director of the national Log Cabin Republicans which bills itself as the “nation’s largest Republican organization dedicated to representing LGBT conservatives and allies,” attended the Texas convention that year and recalls thinking he was in serious danger as they advocated for respect from members of their own party.

“We’re here to draw the line,” Tafel declared at the protest. “No more hatred, no more hatred in the name of God. And we won’t be silenced.”

Richard Tafel speaks at the Rally for Liberty in June 1998.

Richard Tafel speaks at the Rally for Liberty in June 1998. Credit: Photo courtesy of Dale Carpenter

A counterprotester threw a sign at his face.

“It was a tornado of emotion, volatile and dangerous, ready to touch down and sweep us all away at any moment. I was afraid for my own safety and that of others,” wrote Dale Carpenter, a former president of Log Cabin Republicans of Texas, in a newsletter later that year.

Ultimately, no one was injured that day. But it was a vivid display of homophobia within the party.

More than two decades later, this year’s Texas Republican convention made headlines again for its attitudes toward LGBTQ people. The party adopted a platform in June at its convention in Houston declaring that “homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice.” That party position comes after similar language had been stripped from the platform just four years earlier, representing a backward step for Log Cabin members who have for years been fighting for acceptance within their ranks.

Gay Republicans who have fought for acceptance within the Texas GOP over the past three decades told The Texas Tribune progress has been excruciatingly slow. Many of them have left the party, even as the number of Log Cabin Republicans in Texas continues to grow.

“I do not believe that we made any progress. In fact, I think the party got worse,” Carpenter, who is no longer involved in party politics, said of his time as the state’s Log Cabin president.

Since the group’s inception in 1989, the Log Cabin Republicans of Texas have been denied a booth at the state convention. And this year’s convention was no different. Booths are granted to all sorts of conservative interest groups, advocating for issues related to gun rights, anti-abortion issues and freedom from vaccines. A booth, in many ways, is symbolic of a seat at the table.

“Getting a booth also became a signal of party approval,” Carpenter said. “You have ‘arrived’ and are accepted in the GOP.”

Members of the state Log Cabin Kelton Dillard, Dale Carpenter and Steve Labinski, left to right, outside the Texas Capitol in 1997.

From left: Kelton Dillard, Dale Carpenter and Steve Labinski, members of the state Log Cabin Republicans, outside the Texas Capitol in 1997. Credit: Photo courtesy of Dale Carpenter

Beyond the official state party, which often represents the most hardline members and belief systems, mainstream conservatives in Texas have turned their attention in recent months toward anti-LGBTQ initiatives, oftentimes in the form of legislation related to school sports, curriculum and library books that address sexuality and gender identity.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order this year equating allowing minors to receive transgender care with child abuse. The Legislature also passed a bill last year banning transgender children from playing on public school sports teams that align with their gender identity.

And conservatives nationwide are taking aim at same-sex marriage. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said on his podcast last week that he believes the U.S. Supreme Court was “clearly wrong” when it legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. A majority of U.S. House Republicans last week voted against protecting the right to same-sex marriage. Only one Texas Republican voted for the measure.

State legislatures across the country have proposed more than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills this year, many of which target transgender youth.

“It saddens me that in a state where our biggest issues are infrastructure, development and education, we have child poverty everywhere, school shootings that are happening, that we're so focused on issues trying to limit the access to opportunities for trans youth,” said Christopher Busby, a former Log Cabin member who left the party in 2016.

The Texas GOP declined to comment for this story and referred all questions to the party platform. The Tribune reached out to prominent Texas Republican leaders for comment on the state party’s latest anti-LGBTQ platform plank. Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan declined to comment. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn did not answer when asked about the party platform, instead deflecting to discuss the congressional action this week on marriage equality. Cruz said the party platform “is not rhetoric or language that I use” and that “the decisions of consenting adults concerning matters of sexuality are choices for individuals to make.”

All of them attended the convention with the exception of Abbott, who held a reception associated with the event.

Current Log Cabin members in Texas have admonished the party for the language in its platform. But they emphasize the party apparatus is not representative of all or even most Republicans, while pointing to incremental gains they’ve made within the state party.

“There are over 270 planks in the GOP platform,” said Michael Cargill, the president of the Austin Log Cabin chapter who recently resigned as acting chair of the state organization for reasons he said are unrelated to the recent platform. “There are only four planks that we disagree on.”

Notably, the Log Cabin Republicans of Texas, which included about 350 dues-paying members in 2021, endorsed the Legislature’s bill targeting trans youth playing school sports. That position represents what earlier members describe as a shift within the group and a schism between current and former Log Cabin members.

Carpenter recalled that in the ’90s, the primary mission was to achieve acceptance of gay members within the state party. But after decades of nearly stagnant progress on that front, he thinks the group has shifted toward prioritizing common ground.

“We asked ourselves from time to time, are you gay first and Republican second, or are you Republican first and gay second?” he said. “I think in recent years, the mission may have shifted to primarily promoting the Republican party among LGBT people to help win elections. Current leadership seems [to be] ‘Republican first.’”

Dale Carpenter looks through photos from the 1998 Hate Crimes March in Austin in his home in Dallas, TX on July 8, 2022.

Dale Carpenter looks through photos from the 1998 Hate Crimes March in Austin. Credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune

“I sort of lost hope”

In 1990, the GOP party platform called homosexuality “biologically and morally unsound” and compared same-sex relationships to “necrophilia, pedophilia, bestiality, or incest.”

Paul von Wupperfeld, a gay man who lived in Austin at the time, considered himself politically right of center and in favor of limited government. Gay Republicans were hard to come by back then — many had become disillusioned with the Republican Party due in part to President Ronald Reagan’s handling of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the 1980s.

Inspired by other Log Cabin chapters that had formed more than a decade earlier, von Wupperfeld and others thought they could change the Texas GOP. He would serve as the first president of the Log Cabin Republicans of Texas. Today, he considers the effort an utter failure.

“We failed to moderate the Republican party,” said von Wupperfeld, now a 56-year-old Democrat who has not voted Republican since 2000. “I’m glad we tried, and I think we did the right thing by trying. We’re actually going the other way, faster and faster.”

Early on, the group had glimmers of optimism. In 1990, the Travis County GOP Convention was opened by a gay men’s chorus. Some of the GOP groups in major cities showed support for the Log Cabin Republicans.

But for every step forward, there was another fall backward.

Republicans started emphasizing social issues as religious conservatives took over the party. The Travis County GOP added language in its 1994 platform opposing “homosexual education” in public schools, according to a news article published after the change. The Galveston County GOP called for all HIV patients to be quarantined, a decision Log Cabin members said was intended to target gay people, who were disproportionately affected by the virus. The Houston Post wrote in a 1994 article that “The GOP — particularly in Texas — has become increasingly socially conservative, with the Christian right in firm control of the party apparatus.”

Dale Carpenter at the San Antonio GOP Convention in 1996. Credit: Photo courtesy of Dale Carpenter

The religious right movement was emboldened two years earlier in Houston. Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan gave a speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention that would become known as “The Culture War Speech,” in which he warned that the nation was embroiled in a war “for the soul of America.”

“We stand with [President George H.W. Bush] against the amoral idea that gay and lesbian couples should have the same standing in law as married men and women,” Buchanan said.

In 1995, von Wupperfeld had enough. He resigned as president of the statewide group.

“I didn’t believe it could succeed anymore,” von Wupperfeld said. “I sort of lost hope and got tired of the drama and the fighting internally and the fighting within the party.”

After von Wupperfeld left, Carpenter would take over the leadership role. He held the position for two years until 1997, until he too lost hope as his party was swallowed by social conservatives.

“We were just a few people in a few cities,” Carpenter said. “And we were up against thousands and thousands of very organized activists who really only cared about two things: abortion and homosexuality.”

The battle for a booth

The battle for a booth at the Texas Republican Party convention every two years has turned into a proxy war for acceptance within the state party.

To get a booth, a group submits an application to the party and then a committee of party officials votes on whether to approve the request. This year, Log Cabin came up short by one vote. Party chair Matt Rinaldi voted “present,” which meant he did not vote in favor or against, said Marco Roberts, the former state chair for Log Cabin who resigned in May.

Booths in the convention’s exhibit hall give interest groups and some elected officials a chance to meet with other politicians, delegates and members to advocate on issues. At this year’s convention, there were more than 75 booths at the exhibit hall, including ones for Texans for Vaccine Freedom and the anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life.

Dale Carpenter faces the media at the Texas Supreme Court in June 1996.

Dale Carpenter faces the media at the Texas Supreme Court in June 1996. Credit: Photo courtesy of Dale Carpenter

“Log Cabin were primarily interested in getting their message out to convention delegates in the hopes of having influence on the party itself,” Carpenter said.

Efforts to get a booth began in the 1990s, and the group came especially close in 1996. Kelton Dillard, a longtime treasurer for the state organization, had submitted a check to the state party to register for a booth. It cleared. But the party chair revoked the approval because they said the group was advocating for the practice of sodomy, which was illegal at the time.

The group sued the party. Days before the convention, a district judge ruled in favor of Log Cabin, ordering the state party to give the group a booth and print its advertisement in the convention handbook.

But the Texas GOP appealed to the state Supreme Court. In a ruling the day before the convention was set to begin, the court ruled the group could not have a booth at the convention.

The associate justice of the state Supreme Court who delivered the opinion was Greg Abbott.

He wrote that the decision to deny the group a booth was “an internal party affair rather than an integral part of the election process” and the Log Cabin group could not “maintain its state constitutional claims against the Party.”

Busby, the former Log Cabin member who left in 2016, said the party’s repeated refusal to grant a booth is “disheartening.”

Busby became involved in GOP politics in Texas in the 2000s. He helped reestablish the Log Cabin Republicans of Houston — after it previously had gone defunct — then became a precinct chair in Harris County and was the president of Houston Young Republicans.

Christopher Busby at City Hall in downtown Houston on Monday, July 11, 2022. Busby left an active role supporting the Republican Party and now considers himself more moderate.

Christopher Busby, at City Hall in downtown Houston on July 11, left an active role supporting the Republican Party and now considers himself more moderate. Credit: Annie Mulligan for The Texas Tribune

Busby left the Republican party largely because of former President Donald Trump, he said, but the state party’s stance on LGBTQ issues “didn’t help.”

“We are human, and humans have a need to feel welcomed into the social groups with which we identify,” said Busby, 33. “And for a long enough time you're told you are not welcome, most people will hear those words and leave no matter how strongly they might want to identify with a group, no matter how strongly their values align. When you're told you're not part of the group, over and over again, eventually you reassign your identity values.”

Victories and losses

In more recent years, the Texas GOP has softened some of its homophobic language.

By 2012, the Texas GOP had abandoned a platform condemning sodomy. The Supreme Court had legalized sodomy nine years earlier, superceding Texas’ law banning it, which has still not been repealed.

In 2016, it removed its explicit endorsement of “reparative therapy,” a debunked and harmful treatment that claims to turn gay people straight, but still made a point of citing its availability "for self-motivated youth and adults." The state party also retained the official position that said “homosexuality is a chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that has been ordained by God in the Bible.”

Roberts, the first openly gay person on the Texas GOP platform committee, led the charge to remove the language in 2018. Texas Values, a conservative Christian organization, initially worked against him to preserve the plank.

Ultimately, the party delegates voted to soften the language while retaining the opposition to same-sex marriage — even as the U.S. Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage three years earlier.

It was seen as a win — a sign that the party was slowly but surely moving forward on the issue. That optimism evaporated this year.

Log Cabin members at Austin's Hate Crimes March in April 1998

Log Cabin members at Austin's Hate Crimes March in April 1998. Credit: Photo courtesy of Dale Carpenter

The addition of the anti-LGBTQ language in this year’s platform caught many people off guard.

As the platform committee was wrapping up its work, Matt Patrick, the committee’s chairman, proposed an amendment to add the language that “homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice.” Patrick did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Houston resident Jason Vaughn, a member of the platform committee who is gay, immediately objected to the change.

“This is meant to be insulting language, it does nothing for policy,” Vaughn, 38, said to the committee.

Vaughn’s objections were unsuccessful. The committee approved the change 17-14.

Two days later, the entire floor of delegates voted on the platform. One member of the platform committee, David Gebhart, called to remove the language, saying the Texas GOP “is not the Westboro Baptist Church.” He was booed. The platform plank passed overwhelmingly.

Roberts, who is now the interim chair of the Texas Conservative Liberty Forum, said he thinks this year’s change happened because Log Cabin wasn’t as involved in the platform process.

But he also sees some Republicans hardening their anti-LGBTQ stances, as anti-trans rhetoric becomes mainstreamed in the Texas GOP.

Dale Carpenter poses for a portrait outside of his home in Dallas, TX on July 8, 2022. In the 1990s Carpenter was the state president of the Log Cabin Republicans, an organization that represents LGBT conservatives, but has since distanced himself from party politics.

“I do not believe that we made any progress. In fact, I think the party got worse,” Dale Carpenter, who is no longer involved in party politics, said of his time as the state’s Log Cabin president. Credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune

“Some of the events that were very prominently featured in the news upset people, and gay people are associated with that, unfortunately, which is unfair, but it just is the case,” Roberts said.

Roberts is hopeful the party will remove the language at its next convention. Vaughn is less optimistic.

“There’s been a lot of progress if you get down with people actually having conversations,” Vaughn said. “If you want to talk about basic rhetoric, no, there’s not been a lot of progress.”

Dillard, the longtime treasurer of the state Log Cabin group, said there was some progress in his time with the group. He helped run the group’s political action committee and said that funding helped stop anti-gay legislation. He’s still a Republican but doesn’t support Trump.

He’s not too worried about the state of gay rights in the country. But he acknowledged the state party’s executive committee “has kind of gone back to being almost as nutty as they've ever been.”

Carpenter agreed that the Texas GOP’s views on LGBTQ issues are wildly out of touch.

“[The party’s] views have not changed, but the wider cultures have. That’s a very striking thing to me,” Carpenter said. “They are like a fossil from another age. And it’s on everything. I don’t believe they support a single thing that’s happened over the last 25 years.”


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/07/24/texas-log-cabin-republicans/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

What we know, minute by minute, about how the Uvalde shooting and police response unfolded

Details of how a gunman was able to enter Robb Elementary School in Uvalde and kill 19 students and two teachers over the course of an hour have come out in parcels since the shooting.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Department of Public Safety officials have walked back some of their initial statements about the shooting and the authorities’ response after contradictory information came to light. Authorities first stated that officers engaged with the gunman before he entered the school; they later corrected themselves and said he went inside unopposed.

Details of how long it took for officers to reenter the school after their first confrontation with the shooter — about 1 hour and 15 minutes — have also sparked widespread outrage and criticism.

Here is a timeline of the events according to the most recent information available.

Editor’s note: This timeline will continue to be updated with new information as it becomes available.

Disclosure: The New York Times has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/05/27/uvalde-texas-school-shooting-timeline/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Uvalde officer asked permission to shoot gunman outside school but got no answer, report finds

An Uvalde police officer asked for a supervisor’s permission to shoot the gunman who would soon kill 21 people at Robb Elementary School in May before he entered the building, but the supervisor did not hear the request or responded too late, according to a report released Wednesday evaluating the law enforcement response to the shooting.

The request from the Uvalde officer, who was outside the school, about a minute before the gunman entered Robb Elementary had not been previously reported. The officer was reported to have been afraid of possibly shooting children while attempting to take out the gunman, according to the report released Wednesday by the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center in San Marcos.

The report provides a host of new details about the May 24 shooting, including several missed opportunities to engage or stop the gunman before he entered the school.

The lack of response to the officer’s request to shoot the suspect outside the school was the most significant new detail that the report revealed.

“A reasonable officer would conclude in this case, based upon the totality of the circumstances, that use of deadly force was warranted,” according to the report. The report referred to the Texas Penal Code, which states an individual is justified in using deadly force when the individual reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary to prevent the commission of murder.

The report said one of the first responding officers — a Uvalde school district police officer — drove through the school’s parking lot “at a high rate of speed” and didn’t spot the gunman, who was still in the parking lot. The report said the officer might have seen the suspect if he had driven more slowly or parked his car at the edge of the school property and approached on foot.

The report also found flaws in how the school maintains security of the building. The report noted that propping doors open is a common practice in the school, a practice that “can create a situation that results in danger to students.” The exterior door the gunman used to enter the school had been propped open by a teacher, who then closed it before the gunman entered — but it didn’t lock properly.

The teacher did not check to see if the door was locked, the report said. The teacher also did not appear to have the proper equipment to lock the door even if she had checked. The report also notes that even if the door had locked properly, the suspect still could have gained access to the building by shooting out the glass in the door.

An audio analysis outlined in the report shows 100 rounds were fired in the first three minutes after the gunman entered rooms 111 and 112 — from 11:33 a.m. to 11:36 a.m.

The report highlighted other issues with the law enforcement response before the gunman — an 18-year-old Uvalde man — entered rooms 111 and 112 for the last time.

The gunman was seen by security cameras entering room 111, then leaving the room, then re-entering the room before officers arrived. The report determined that the lock on room 111 “was never engaged” because the lock required a key to be inserted from the hallway side of the door.

The officers were also in multiple teams at both ends of the south hallway of the school “resulting in a high likelihood of officers at either end of the hallway shooting officers at the other end” if the suspect had emerged from the classroom again, according to the report.

The report said that after the gunman entered the building, the officers did not properly engage the shooter and lost momentum.

“Ideally, the officers would have placed accurate return fire on the attacker when the attacker began shooting at them,” the report said. “Maintaining position or even pushing forward to a better spot to deliver accurate return fire would have undoubtedly been dangerous, and there would have been a high probability that some of the officers would have been shot or even killed. However, the officers also would likely have been able to stop the attacker and then focus on getting immediate medical care to the wounded.”

Wendy Davis and Donna Howard, defenders of abortion access, worry the worst is yet to come after Roe decision

By Eric Neugeboren, The Texas Tribune

Nine years ago, former state Sen. Wendy Davis stood on the floor of the Texas Senate in pink sneakers for 13 uninterrupted hours in an attempt to block a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks into a pregnancy and shut down a majority of the state’s clinics.

Back then, she and other reproductive rights advocates in the Legislature thought those efforts by Texas Republicans to restrict abortion access would be “as bad as it could get.” They were buoyed by their confidence that they had the law of the land on their side: Roe v. Wade, which established a constitutional right to an abortion.

And although the Legislature ultimately passed the law she protested, the U.S. Supreme Court would later strike it down, yet again affirming the legal right to the procedure.

But on Friday, the unthinkable happened. Davis, who has staked her political career on the fight for reproductive rights, was devastated by the news that the nation’s highest court had overturned Roe v. Wade.

“It’s incalculable what this harm will be,” Davis said.

Elsewhere in Texas, state Rep. Donna Howard was mired in a similar sense of grief.

“I am absolutely reeling right now,” Howard said. “I don’t think we even have a clue about how devastating this is going to be.”

The two women are among the most ardent abortion rights advocates to come out of the Legislature in recent years. In separate interviews with The Texas Tribune on Friday, they expressed a sense of sorrow and outcry over the Supreme Court’s decision to allow states to ban abortions, adding even more enormous obstacles to what was already an uphill battle to protect reproductive rights in a state controlled by conservatives. They also said they’re worried this is just the beginning of a sustained movement by Republicans to chip away at even more reproductive health protections, like contraception.

At the same time, they said Texans must try to be hopeful and that the ruling should light a fire under people who will fight for change.

Friday’s decision had been expected — a draft of the court’s opinion was leaked last month — but Davis and Howard said that didn’t make the ruling any less horrifying. Texas has a trigger law, which means the overturning of Roe v. Wade will automatically make abortion illegal in Texas, with no exceptions for rape or incest. The law goes into effect 30 days after the Supreme Court’s judgment, which typically comes about a month after the initial opinion has been handed down.

Nonetheless, clinics across Texas said Friday they were pausing abortion services immediately.

Davis gained nationwide attention after the filibuster in 2013 and has since become a leading voice for abortion access in a state at the forefront of efforts to restrict abortion rights. She ran for governor in 2014 but lost badly to Gov. Greg Abbott. She filed a federal lawsuit in April in response to Texas’ abortion law passed last year — which effectively banned abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy — claiming the law was “blatantly unconstitutional” and was written “to make a mockery of the federal courts.”

The issue is personal for Davis, who terminated two pregnancies in the 1990s. One was an ectopic pregnancy, and in the other, doctors discovered a brain abnormality in the fetus.

“I exercised my choice to terminate that pregnancy, making a decision that was deeply personal, tremendously hard and born out of love,” Davis said. “I’m so sad, regardless of the circumstances, for women who won’t be able to make that decision.”

Howard has been a state representative since 2006. She is a registered nurse and the chair of the Texas House Women’s Health Caucus. She has also been vocal about her opposition to last year’s abortion law, and she testified in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee last year about its effects.

Howard’s mission to protect reproductive rights was inspired in part by her daughter. Eleven weeks into her daughter’s pregnancy in 2015, a doctor discovered the fetus had no heartbeat, according to reporting by the Texas Observer. The doctor recommended a procedure to remove the tissue from inside her uterus. Before the procedure, Howard’s daughter found out Seton Medical Center Austin requires all fetal remains to be buried after a miscarriage.

The experience helped fuel Howard’s legislative push to not force patients who miscarry to consent to fetal burials. In 2017, despite Howard’s efforts, the state Legislature passed a bill to mandate fetal burial or cremation to respect the lives of the unborn. A judge struck down the law a year later.

“[Abortion] is something that’s very common to all of us,” Howard said. “The way the laws have been written to ban abortion have been done in such a way that they have not considered the impacts on the lives of so many of us, the damage that is done, the hurt that is forced upon us.”

The Supreme Court ruling Friday was the culmination of a decadeslong, unrelenting campaign by anti-abortion advocates to overturn Roe v. Wade, Davis and Howard said. The inevitability of the ruling crystallized after former President Donald Trump appointed three justices to the Supreme Court, giving conservatives a commanding 6-3 majority.

“The courts have been able to be a backstop to anti-abortion legislation and efforts throughout these many years,” Howard said. “The courts have basically turned their backs on the majority of Americans who support access to abortion.”

The two Texans warned that the fight to curb reproductive rights is far from over. After the court’s draft opinion leaked in May, some state Republicans said they wanted to target businesses that said they’d help employees who try to get abortions outside of Texas.

Beyond that, they worry about efforts to restrict contraceptive care, the morning-after pill and in vitro fertilization. Davis pointed to the platform the Texas Republican Party voted on last week — a nonbinding list of priorities — that said life starts at fertilization.

“And if that is the case, then we are talking about the complete stripping away of any of these other rights,” Davis said.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion Friday that the court should reconsider rulings upholding rights to contraception, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriages.

Davis and Howard also emphasized that abortion will not go away after the ruling — its illegality just forces people to resort to more dangerous methods to terminate pregnancies. And the people facing those risks are often of a lower socioeconomic status and cannot afford to travel to another state where the procedure is legal.

“It’s always been difficult for women of limited means to access health care that they need, including abortion health care. That will only get worse now,” Howard said. “Those that will be left out are those that are probably going to be in the most dire straits.”

Howard called on Congress to codify abortion rights into law. That’s highly unlikely given the measure would require 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. Congressional Republicans on Friday floated the idea of a federal law to ban abortions after 15 weeks into a pregnancy.

Howard also said the state Legislature should add exceptions for rape and incest in its trigger law. The law has exceptions only to save the life of the pregnant person or if they risk “substantial impairment of major bodily function.”

“Which means we have to wait until she’s dying,” Howard said.

Howard also called on Republicans to increase access to maternal care services.

“If they are claiming to support life and this is in place to bring more life into Texans homes, then let’s make sure we’re giving them the safety net to have the healthiest pregnancy and deliveries and babies possible,” Howard said.

The two also stressed the importance of voting. State government elections will only become more important, Howard said, since state officials will now decide whether to allow abortions in their states.

Davis also called for attention to statewide races.

“Our governor and lieutenant governor and [attorney general] races just got all the more important,” Davis said. “I hope that [voters will] decide that this is a moment we all need to collectively rise to and demonstrate our upset at the ballot box.”

People also need to lean on and empower one another, Davis and Howard said.

They said they understand millions of women don’t feel especially hopeful right now. But they said people have to lean in to whatever hope they can find to help people get access to abortions.

“There’s no alternative but to be hopeful,” Davis said. “We cannot be resigned to this reality. And the outcome for our daughters and granddaughters is too important for us to give up.”

“It took 50 years to overturn [Roe v. Wade]. And it’s going to take us hopefully not 50 years to restore,” Howard added. “There is hope. We just have to get out there and make it happen.”


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/06/26/wendy-davis-donna-howard-texas-abortion/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Texas Republican Convention calls Biden win illegitimate and rebukes Cornyn over gun talks

HOUSTON — Meeting at their first in-person convention since 2018, Texas Republicans on Saturday acted on a raft of resolutions and proposed platform changes to move their party even further to the right. They approved measures declaring that President Joe Biden “was not legitimately elected” and rebuking Sen. John Cornyn for taking part in bipartisan gun talks. They also voted on a platform that declares homosexuality “an abnormal lifestyle choice” and calls for Texas schoolchildren “to learn about the humanity of the preborn child.”

The actions capped a convention that highlighted how adamantly opposed the party’s most active and vocal members are to compromising with Democrats or moderating on social positions, even as the state has grown more diverse and Republicans’ margins in statewide elections have shrunk slightly in recent years.

Votes on the platform were collected at the end of the party's three-day convention in which party activists moved to add multiple items to the official Texas GOP platform. As the convention closed, two separate sets of ballots — one allowing delegates to choose eight of 15 legislative priorities and another allowing delegates to vote on the 275 platform planks — were gathered. Those will now need to be tallied and certified in Austin, but it is rare for a plank to be rejected, according to party spokesperson James Wesolek.

The convention reinforced the extent to which former President Donald J. Trump’s unfounded claims of a stolen election continue to resound among the party faithful — even though his claims have repeatedly been debunked, including by many of his own former aides, and after a week of televised hearings about the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The denunciation of Cornyn represented a remarkable rebuke to a Republican who has served in the Senate since 2002. The hall at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston filled with boos on Friday as he tried to explain the legislation, which would allow juvenile records to be incorporated into background checks for gun buyers younger than 21 and encourage “red flag” laws that would make it easier to remove guns from potentially dangerous people, along with more funding for school safety and mental health.

Meanwhile, the party platform vote on Saturday by roughly 5,100 convention delegates would argue that those under 21 are “most likely to need to defend themselves” and may need to quickly buy guns “in emergencies such as riots.” It also would say that red flag laws violate the due process rights of people who haven’t been convicted of a crime.

About 9,600 delegates and alternates were eligible to attend; organizers said turnout was a bit more than half that.

The new platform would call for:

  • Requiring Texas students “to learn about the humanity of the preborn child,” including teaching that life begins at fertilization and requiring students to listen to live ultrasounds of gestating fetuses.
  • Amending the Texas Constitution to remove the Legislature’s power “to regulate the wearing of arms, with a view to prevent crime.”
  • Treating homosexuality as “an abnormal lifestyle choice,” language that was not included in the 2018 or 2020 party platforms.
  • Deeming gender identity disorder “a genuine and extremely rare mental health condition,” requiring official documents to adhere to “biological gender,” and allowing civil penalties and monetary compensation to “de-transitioners” who have received gender-affirming surgery, which the platform calls a form of medical malpractice.
  • Changing the U.S. Constitution to cement the number of Supreme Court justices at nine and repeal the 16th Amendment of 1913, which created the federal income tax.
  • Ensuring “freedom to travel” by opposing Biden’s Clean Energy Plan and “California-style, anti-driver policies,” including efforts to turn traffic lanes over for use by pedestrians, cyclists and mass transit.
  • Declaring “all businesses and jobs as essential and a fundamental right,” a response to COVID-19 mandates by Texas cities that required customers to wear masks and limited business hours.
  • Abolishing the Federal Reserve, the nation’s central bank, and guaranteeing the right to use alternatives to cash, including cryptocurrencies.

Not every far-right proposal was advanced. The party chair, Matt Rinaldi, ruled that a motion to defend the due process rights of those who rioted at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and to “reject the narrative” that the riot was an insurrection was out of order and could not be voted on.

Taken together, the new provisions would represent a shift even further rightward for the Republican Party of Texas, once known as the party of Presidents George Bush and his son George W. Bush. Land Commissioner George P. Bush, a grandson and nephew of the two presidents, was defeated handily in May in his runoff race against Attorney General Ken Paxton, an arch-conservative who sued to challenge the 2020 election outcome and convinced voters that he was the truer Trump loyalist.

Party platforms are mission statements rather than legal doctrines and, in Texas, they have long reflected the opinions of the most activist wings of the parties. Republican elected officials are not bound to adhere to the platform, and party activists at times have expressed frustration that some parts of their platform and legislative priorities have not become law, despite complete Republican control of the state Legislature.

But the platforms are broad indicators of the sentiments of the most active Republican voters — those who dominate party primaries. Republicans have controlled every statewide elected office in Texas since 1999 and both houses of the Legislature since 2003, so the wishes of the party’s populist, pro-Trump base inevitably affect actions taken in Austin.

“The platform is largely symbolic but important as a measure of ideological drift,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston. “Party platforms are often used as a cudgel in party primaries. A more muscular ideological platform eventually leads to a more conservative legislature as challengers knock off more moderate members.”

The convention was noteworthy for the relatively low profile of top officeholders. Gov. Greg Abbott, who is seeking a third term in the November election, only appeared at a reception on Thursday on the sidelines of the convention. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who effectively controls the state Senate, addressed the convention, but House Speaker Dade Phelan only spoke at a luncheon, not to the main body of delegates.

Tensions within the party at times got personal. Video posted online showed far-right activists physically accosting U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, calling the conservative Republican “eye-patch McCain” over his criticism of Russia. The group included self-identified Proud Boys and Alex Stein, a social media activist from North Texas. A Navy SEAL veteran, Crenshaw lost his right eye to a bomb in Afghanistan.

“A more aggressive party platform sends a clear message to politicians about where the base is going,” Rottinghaus said. “Donald Trump radicalized the party and accelerated the demands from the base. There simply aren’t limits now on what the base might ask for.”

Mark P. Jones, a political scientist at Rice University in Houston, said the 2022 platform indicated how emboldened hard-right party activists now feel — a far cry from 2020. Significant gains by Texas Democrats in state House elections in 2018 raised the prospect of the Republican Party losing its dominant status in Texas, making it moderate its platform in 2020 to focus on bread-and-butter issues. Texas Republicans did well in the 2020 elections — even though Biden won 46.5% of the Texas vote, the highest proportion for a Democrat since 1976 — and this year, culture-war issues were once again at front and center.

Jones said that Republican redistricting has made incumbents safer and less inclined to appeal to moderates. Moreover, inflation, the risk of a recession, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and growing acrimony over race, gender and sexuality make it seem increasingly likely that Democrats will lose the U.S. House in the November midterm elections.

“As a result, the 2022 GOP feels free to veer to the right to its heart’s content, confident that it won’t come back to haunt the party in November, except perhaps in a half dozen races,” Jones said. “And even the party’s pragmatic center right conservatives lack the ability to argue, as they did successfully in 2020, that an ultra conservative platform could cost the GOP its majority status in the Lone Star State. This year, even the absolute worst case scenario has the GOP winning statewide, increasing its number of U.S. House seats, boosting its Texas Senate majority by a seat, and maintaining the 83 seats it held in the 2021 Texas House.”

Before delegates voted on the platform, party activists delivered fiery speeches attacking Democrats.

“They want to destroy the racial progress we have made by saying that we are a racist nation,” said Robin Armstrong, a Black doctor in Texas City who treated COVID patients with unapproved drug therapies touted by Trump, including hydroxychloroquine. “The Democratic Party are now a party of chaos. They benefit from causing us to question the foundations that this country was built upon. The misery, the crime, the drug abuse, the high gas prices are all by design, so that the Democratic Party can permanently transform society. We Texans cannot and we will not allow this to happen.”

The Republican-dominated Legislature last year passed new voting restrictions that prompted Democratic lawmakers to flee to Washington to break quorum in an ultimately futile protest. However, Republican leaders said repeatedly on Saturday that it was the other side that was a threat to fair elections.

“The Democrats wants three things: Their goals are to steal elections, suppress Republican votes and federalize elections,” said Cindy Siegel, the chairperson of the Harris County GOP and a former mayor of Bellaire.

Immigration continued to be a major theme, with delegates lamenting Biden’s reversal of Trump-era border policies. U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington, of Lubbock, described an “unprecedented, unmitigated, self-inflicted disaster that is creating the worst humanitarian and national security threat to the American people in the history of our southern border,” adding, “this is an invasion, folks.”

“President Biden has ceded control of our borders to paramilitary, narco-terrorist cartels,” Arrington told delegates.

The mood of this convention was not hopeful. The themes ran dark, and activists spoke in apocalyptic, even cataclysmic, terms about the state of the country.

“Everything is topsy-turvy. What’s right is wrong and what’s wrong is right,” said state Sen. Donna Campbell, an emergency room doctor in New Braunfels, reflecting a state of uncertainty that is shared by Americans of many political backgrounds, even if they don’t agree on the causes. “Our country is on a trajectory to self-destruct, unless we change the direction.”

Campbell and other activists frequently spoke of their Christian faith.

“I believe that in the sovereignty of God, you and I were purposely born into this moment, into this confusing time that we face,“ Campbell said. “We’re meant to be alive, at this time, right now, and here in this state.”

Disclosure: Rice University and University of Houston have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/06/18/republican-party-texas-convention-cornyn/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Fed up and fired up: Texas Republicans meet in a climate of mistrust, conspiracy and victimhood

HOUSTON — The Republican Party of Texas has controlled every lever of state government since 2003, and notched major victories last year on voting, redistricting, abortion, school curriculums and other long-held priorities. Delegates at the party’s convention this week expressed confidence that their party will retake at least the U.S. House this November, and said the end of abortion in Texas is all but settled.

But the mood was not celebratory. The Texas Tribune spoke to more than 25 attendees who described feeling besieged by a culture that is increasingly anti-family and anti-Christian.

Above all, attendees said they were fed up. Fed up with elections they believe are rife with fraud. Fed up with their own politicians — including U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, whom they rebuked for taking part in bipartisan talks on gun legislation — for being open to compromise with Democrats. Fed up with the persecution of Christians with traditional values. Fed up with a credulous mainstream media that spouts liberal talking points and disdains anyone who disagrees as racists or bigots. Fed up with undocumented immigrants, even those fleeing war and poverty, for taking advantage of public benefits. Fed up with the education of their children, especially on matters of history and race. Fed up with experts, starting with Dr. Alfred Kinsey, who they said are “sexualizing” students before they’ve hit puberty.

“The enemy is coming in and trying to change our society, change the very fabric of what made America great and they're doing it by going to the children,” said Conny Moore, a 75-year-old retired pharmacist and pastor.

Among elected officials speaking at the convention, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz stole the show, receiving standing ovations on Friday as he thundered against “radical leftists” driving a cultural assault.

Senator Ted Cruz speaks during the Republican Party of Texas 2022 Convention in George R. Brown Convention Center Friday, June 17, 2022, in Houston. (Justin Rex for The Texas Tribune)

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz spoke at the Texas State Republican Convention in Houston on Friday. Credit: Justin Rex for The Texas Tribune

“They want to tear down the church,” he said. “They want to tear down our schools. They want to tear down our families. They want to tear down our faith. They want to tear down our values.”

Sid Miller, the state agricultural commissioner, said the struggle for America wasn’t even partisan anymore.

“The battlefield used to be between Republicans and Democrats,” he told the convention on Saturday. “Then it was between conservatives and liberals. Now the battlefield has once again changed. We must improvise, adapt and overcome to defeat our enemy. This new battlefield, this new battlefield is between patriots and traitors.”

This was a crowd familiar with The Great Replacement, the theory that immigrants are being used to replace white, native-born Americans, and The Great Reset, supposedly a plan by global capitalists meeting in Davos, Switzerland, to impose their environmental and social goals on the world economy and restrict what people can eat and own. Fox News did not come up much; One America Network and NewsMax seemed far more influential.

Conspiracy theories abounded. Anne Meng, a middle-aged nurse-practitioner in The Woodlands, said she believed the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde was “a ploy by the government,” and that “cops were told to stand down.” (The police delay in confronting the gunman, who killed 21 people, has been widely criticized.)

Tammy Lake, 52, who lives in another Houston suburb, Magnolia, and is a senior sales engineer for a software company, said she believed that Donald Trump would be rightfully restored to the presidency “by the end of the year.” She did not specify how.

The resolution declaring that Biden “was not legitimately elected” as a result of “substantial election fraud in key metropolitan areas” in five states — presumably, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — passed without any real debate, a sign of how powerful Trump’s unfounded claim of a stolen election continues to resonate with the party faithful.

Chris Corbett, 66, a member of the party’s legislative priorities committee, was attending his sixth party convention. He said the state party once revolved around limited government and free markets but has become more culturally oriented, he said, as voters awaken to the threats to their values.

“We're seeing a lot more cultural conservatism happening, it's a little more populist,” said Corbett, who lives in Flower Mound and is a writer and researcher for public policy and nonprofit groups.

Much of the cultural issues attendees and speakers railed against dealt with the LGBTQ community, in particular transgender individuals.

Gov. Greg Abbott, who is seeking re-election in November, called on child-welfare investigators to look into families that have allowed their children to seek gender-affirming care, including the use of puberty blockers, against the consensus of major medical associations.

But this was not a convention enthusiastic about established knowledge. The crowd cheered Robin Armstrong, a Texas City doctor who has given patients unapproved COVID-19 treatments, including hydroxychloroquine. Its platform describes homosexuality as an “abnormal lifestyle choice,” a view that has faded in much of America. The platform described gender dysphoria as a rare mental illness, a position not backed by mainstream psychiatrists or pediatricians.

Hats for sale at the MAGA Mall booth during the Republican Party of Texas 2022 convention in George R. Brown Convention Center Friday, June 17, 2022, in Houston.

Hats for sale at the MAGA Mall booth during the Republican Party of Texas 2022 convention in George R. Brown Convention Center Friday, June 17, 2022, in Houston. Credit: Justin Rex for The Texas Tribune

Donald Trump bobble heads for sale at the 365 Campaign booth during the Republican Party of Texas 2022 Convention in George R. Brown Convention Center Friday, June 17, 2022, in Houston.

Donald Trump bobble heads for sale at the 365 Campaign booth during the Republican Party of Texas 2022 Convention in George R. Brown Convention Center Friday, June 17, 2022, in Houston. Credit: Justin Rex for The Texas Tribune

Merchandise for sale at the Texas State Republican Convention in Houston on Friday. Credit: Justin Rex for The Texas Tribune

Vincent Gallo, 60, the owner of a small construction company in Denton, said Democrats and some Republicans are engaged in a “redefinition of reality” by accepting transgender individuals and calling on others to do the same.

“That is being pushed on to other people through the guise of diversity and inclusion,” Gallo said.

The teaching of critical race theory, an academic approach to the study of racial inequality, was also a main concern among attendees.

“The whole principle of what you're teaching is a plot to put our people against each other, and to place the emphasis on the wrong things,” said Moore, the retiree from Borger.

Throughout the week, attendees gathered in sessions focused on these cultural issues. One was titled “Threats to Families — Institutional Policies Adversely Impacting Children and Families — What’s Next.” Another was called “Defeat Critical Theory, Marxism and the Sexualization of Our Children.”

Attendees were also in lockstep in their views on election integrity. Several said that in-person, watermarked, hand-counted, sequentially numbered paper ballots were the only trustworthy way to conduct an election (even though delegates themselves used Scantron ballots to vote on the platform planks, and the results won’t be known for days until the ballots are tallied in Austin).

The convention included three screenings of “2000 Mules,” a movie that relies on discredited evidence to claim there was widespread fraud in the 2020 election. Several attendees floated conspiracies about ballot harvesting, election machines and mail-in ballots. On Friday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said his priority when the Legislature returns next year is to “restore voting illegally from a Class A misdemeanor to a felony.”

Attorney General Ken Paxton also defended his lawsuit challenging the election results in four states that voted for Biden. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit for lack of standing.

“We didn’t win,” Paxton acknowledged on Friday. “To this day people hate us for what we did. But I can tell you what. If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it just the way we did it.”

Paxton’s comments drew cheers from the crowd — a reflection of how much the party loyalists value their leaders fighting for them, even if the results don’t go their way.

“Candidates, you need to fulfill your job and your pledge is to serve the people, not your own agenda,” said Gary Hulsey, 68, an engineer from Haslet.

Not everyone supported the extreme partisanship on display.

“Trying to find bipartisan commonality within the party, that’s his right,” Patricia Almond, 57, a retiree from Porter, said of Cornyn. “As Republican voters, we have freedom of speech as well, but it doesn't do anything to bring the party together.”

One delegate, David Gebhart, urged against a plank calling homosexuality a deviant lifestyle choice. “We are the Republican Party of Texas, not the Westboro Baptist Church,” he said. His motion was rejected.

Another delegate, Robert Bartlemay, balked at the resolution declaring Biden’s win illegitimate, saying the G.O.P. should look forward and focus on electing a Republican president in 2024. People around him booed and hissed.

There were stirrings of dissent over a decision to again exclude the Log Cabin Republicans, an LGBT political organization, from the exhibit hall, a decision that Donald Trump Jr. criticized online. (The Log Cabin Republicans did host a three-hour reception on Friday on the convention’s sidelines.)

The prediction that perhaps most united the delegates was that this November’s midterm elections would be a bloodbath for Democrats.

“It is not just going to be a red wave, it is going to be a tsunami,” Cruz said.

Sewell Chan contributed reporting.


Join us Sept. 22-24 in person in downtown Austin for The Texas Tribune Festival and experience 100+ conversation events featuring big names you know and others you should from the worlds of politics, public policy, the media and tech — all curated by The Texas Tribune’s award-winning journalists. Buy tickets.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/06/18/texas-state-republican-convention/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Texas GOP lurches to the right at Houston convention: report

Meeting at their first in-person convention since 2018, Texas Republicans on Saturday acted on a raft of resolutions and proposed platform changes to move their party even further to the right. They approved measures declaring that President Joe Biden “was not legitimately elected” and rebuking Sen. John Cornyn for taking part in bipartisan gun talks. They also voted on a platform that declares homosexuality “an abnormal lifestyle choice” and calls for Texas schoolchildren “to learn about the humanity of the preborn child.”

The actions capped a convention that highlighted how adamantly opposed the party’s most active and vocal members are to compromising with Democrats or moderating on social positions, even as the state has grown more diverse and Republicans’ margins in statewide elections have shrunk slightly in recent years.

Votes on the platform were collected at the end of the party's three-day convention in which party activists moved to add multiple items to the official Texas GOP platform. As the convention closed, two separate sets of ballots — one allowing delegates to choose eight of 15 legislative priorities and another allowing delegates to vote on the 275 platform planks — were gathered. Those will now need to be tallied and certified in Austin, but it is rare for a plank to be rejected, according to party spokesperson James Wesolek.

The convention reinforced the extent to which former President Donald J. Trump’s unfounded claims of a stolen election continue to resound among the party faithful — even though his claims have repeatedly been debunked, including by many of his own former aides, and after a week of televised hearings about the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The denunciation of Cornyn represented a remarkable rebuke to a Republican who has served in the Senate since 2002. The hall at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston filled with boos on Friday as he tried to explain the legislation, which would allow juvenile records to be incorporated into background checks for gun buyers younger than 21 and encourage “red flag” laws that would make it easier to remove guns from potentially dangerous people, along with more funding for school safety and mental health.

Meanwhile, the party platform vote on Saturday by roughly 5,100 convention delegates would argue that those under 21 are “most likely to need to defend themselves” and may need to quickly buy guns “in emergencies such as riots.” It also would say that red flag laws violate the due process rights of people who haven’t been convicted of a crime.

About 9,600 delegates and alternates were eligible to attend; organizers said the turnout was healthy.

The new platform would call for:

  • Requiring Texas students “to learn about the humanity of the preborn child,” including teaching that life begins at fertilization and requiring students to listen to live ultrasounds of gestating fetuses.
  • Amending the Texas Constitution to remove the Legislature’s power “to regulate the wearing of arms, with a view to prevent crime.”
  • Treating homosexuality as “an abnormal lifestyle choice,” language that was not included in the 2018 or 2020 party platforms.
  • Deeming gender identity disorder “a genuine and extremely rare metal health condition,” requiring official documents to adhere to “biological gender,” and allowing civil penalties and monetary compensation to “de-transitioners” who have received gender-affirming surgery, which the platform calls a form of medical malpractice.
  • Changing the U.S. Constitution to cement the number of Supreme Court justices at nine and repeal the 16th Amendment of 1913, which created the federal income tax.
  • Ensuring “freedom to travel” by opposing Biden’s Clean Energy Plan and “California-style, anti-driver policies,” including efforts to turn traffic lanes over for use by pedestrians, cyclists and mass transit.
  • Declaring “all businesses and jobs as essential and a fundamental right,” a response to COVID-19 mandates by Texas cities that required customers to wear masks and limited business hours.
  • Abolishing the Federal Reserve, the nation’s central bank, and guaranteeing the right to use alternatives to cash, including cryptocurrencies.

Not every far-right proposal was advanced. The party chair, Matt Rinaldi, ruled that a motion to defend the due process rights of those who rioted at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and to “reject the narrative” that the riot was an insurrection was out of order and could not be voted on.

Taken together, the new provisions would represent a shift even further rightward for the Republican Party of Texas, once known as the party of Presidents George Bush and his son George W. Bush. Land Commissioner George P. Bush, a grandson and nephew of the two presidents, was defeated handily in May in his runoff race against Attorney General Ken Paxton, an arch-conservative who sued to challenge the 2020 election outcome and convinced voters that he was the truer Trump loyalist.

Party platforms are mission statements rather than legal doctrines and, in Texas, they have long reflected the opinions of the most activist wings of the parties. Republican elected officials are not bound to adhere to the platform, and party activists at times have expressed frustration that some parts of their platform and legislative priorities have not become law, despite complete Republican control of the state Legislature.

But the platforms are broad indicators of the sentiments of the most active Republican voters — those who dominate party primaries. Republicans have controlled every statewide elected office in Texas since 1999 and both houses of the Legislature since 2003, so the wishes of the party’s populist, pro-Trump base inevitably affect actions taken in Austin.

“The platform is largely symbolic but important as a measure of ideological drift,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston. “Party platforms are often used as a cudgel in party primaries. A more muscular ideological platform eventually leads to a more conservative legislature as challengers knock off more moderate members.”

The convention was noteworthy for the relatively low profile of top officeholders. Gov. Greg Abbott, who is seeking a third term in the November election, only appeared at a reception on Thursday on the sidelines of the convention. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who effectively controls the state Senate, addressed the convention, but House Speaker Dade Phelan only spoke at a luncheon, not to the main body of delegates.

Tensions within the party at times got personal. Video posted online showed far-right activists physically accosting U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, calling the conservative Republican “eye-patch McCain” over his criticism of Russia. The group included self-identified Proud Boys and Alex Stein, a social media activist from North Texas. A Navy SEAL veteran, Crenshaw lost his right eye to a bomb in Afghanistan.

“A more aggressive party platform sends a clear message to politicians about where the base is going,” Rottinghaus said. “Donald Trump radicalized the party and accelerated the demands from the base. There simply aren’t limits now on what the base might ask for.”

Mark P. Jones, a political scientist at Rice University in Houston, said the 2022 platform indicated how emboldened hard-right party activists now feel — a far cry from 2020. Significant gains by Texas Democrats in state House elections in 2018 raised the prospect of the Republican Party losing its dominant status in Texas, making it moderate its platform in 2020 to focus on bread-and-butter issues. Texas Republicans did well in the 2020 elections — even though Biden won 46.5% of the Texas vote, the highest proportion for a Democrat since 1976 — and this year, culture-war issues were once again at front and center.

Jones said that Republican redistricting has made incumbents safer and less inclined to appeal to moderates. Moreover, inflation, the risk of a recession, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and growing acrimony over race, gender and sexuality make it seem increasingly likely that Democrats will lose the U.S. House in the November midterm elections.

“As a result, the 2022 GOP feels free to veer to the right to its heart’s content, confident that it won’t come back to haunt the party in November, except perhaps in a half dozen races,” Jones said. “And even the party’s pragmatic center right conservatives lack the ability to argue, as they did successfully in 2020, that an ultra conservative platform could cost the GOP its majority status in the Lone Star State. This year, even the absolute worst case scenario has the GOP winning statewide, increasing its number of U.S. House seats, boosting its Texas Senate majority by a seat, and maintaining the 83 seats it held in the 2021 Texas House.”

Before delegates voted on the platform, party activists delivered fiery speeches attacking Democrats.

“They want to destroy the racial progress we have made by saying that we are a racist nation,” said Robin Armstrong, a Black doctor in Texas City who treated COVID patients with unapproved drug therapies touted by Trump, including hydroxychloroquine. “The Democratic Party are now a party of chaos. They benefit from causing us to question the foundations that this country was built upon. The misery, the crime, the drug abuse, the high gas prices are all by design, so that the Democratic Party can permanently transform society. We Texans cannot and we will not allow this to happen.”

The Republican-dominated Legislature last year passed new voting restrictions that prompted Democratic lawmakers to flee to Washington to break quorum in an ultimately futile protest. However, Republican leaders said repeatedly on Saturday that it was the other side that was a threat to fair elections.

“The Democrats wants three things: Their goals are to steal elections, suppress Republican votes and federalize elections,” said Cindy Siegel, the chairperson of the Harris County GOP and a former mayor of Bellaire.

Immigration continued to be a major theme, with delegates lamenting Biden’s reversal of Trump-era border policies. U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington, of Lubbock, described an “unprecedented, unmitigated, self-inflicted disaster that is creating the worst humanitarian and national security threat to the American people in the history of our southern border,” adding, “this is an invasion, folks.”

“President Biden has ceded control of our borders to paramilitary, narco-terrorist cartels,” Arrington told delegates.

The mood of this convention was not hopeful. The themes ran dark, and activists spoke in apocalyptic, even cataclysmic, terms about the state of the country.

“Everything is topsy-turvy. What’s right is wrong and what’s wrong is right,” said state Sen. Donna Campbell, an emergency room doctor in New Braunfels, reflecting a state of uncertainty that is shared by Americans of many political backgrounds, even if they don’t agree on the causes. “Our country is on a trajectory to self-destruct, unless we change the direction.”

Campbell and other activists frequently spoke of their Christian faith.

“I believe that in the sovereignty of God, you and I were purposely born into this moment, into this confusing time that we face,“ Campbell said. “We’re meant to be alive, at this time, right now, and here in this state.”

Disclosure: Rice University and University of Houston have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.