Glitches, Turmoil Dog Texas GOP’s Virtual Convention

July 20, 2020by Jonathan Tilove, Austin American-Statesman (TNS)
Chair of the Republican Party of Texas James Dickey speaks on the opening day of the GOP convention on June 14, 2018, in San Antonio. (Bob Daemmrich/Zuma Press/TNS)

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Republican Party’s virtual state convention stumbled its way toward a messy conclusion Sunday that could leave its legitimacy in doubt.

“This convention will be challenged in court and should be challenged in court,” Amy Hedtke, who along with retired Army Lt. Col. Allen West was challenging Texas Republican Party Chair James Dickey for reelection as the concluding business of the convention, told the Austin American-Statesman.

“I’ve already told the West campaign to count me in on anything they file,” Hedtke said. “And worst-case scenario, or best case, depending on how you look at it, the entire convention is ruled illegal because it was not conducted according to party rules.”

At issue is the party’s failure to send credential IDs Saturday to a sizable chunk of delegates to whom the party had approved and promised credentials.

That, Hedtke said, led to end-runs around party rules by the chairs of the party’s congressional district and state Senate district caucuses, trying to be fair to those disenfranchised delegates but without maintaining safeguards for voting security and anonymity.

“It’s just hilariously ironic to me that the party that is screeching about ballot integrity and paper ballots and online voting — against it — is now barreling full speed ahead with the convention, where all of those concerns they mentioned are being accepted as just something we have to deal with,” Hedtke said.

The party’s virtual convention was necessitated by the last-minute cancellation of a live convention in Houston because of the city of Houston’s public health concerns about holding a mass gathering amid a resurgent pandemic.

Scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the virtual convention, thrown together in short order, was troubled from the start.

Thursday’s opening session ran aground amid technical difficulties, leading to a day of dead air apart from a couple of statements from Dickey and former chair Steven Munisteri, and 30 minutes of prerecorded programming that included a four-minute message from Gov. Greg Abbott.

The party’s executive committee canceled Friday’s session to give it more time to work on a fix.

Saturday’s session was plagued by complaints about credentialing problems, although Dickey said those issues didn’t deprive the convention of a quorum or legitimacy.

Sunday’s general session, scheduled to start at 12:30 p.m., got off to a particularly inauspicious start, occurring even as convention committees — including platform, legislative priorities and rules — were still engaged in what would be hours of work before being sent to the full convention general session for debate and approval.

Earlier in the session, prerecorded video messages from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn were locked in a battle with the platform committee deliberations for control of the Facebook livestream feed.

What ensued was a bewildering, rapid-fire collage of shards of Patrick and Cornyn, convention standby messages and platform debate. A Texas Tribune reporter described it as making an “audiovisual mincemeat” of the presentations by Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, and Cornyn, whose bid for a fourth term is the top state race for Texas Republicans in 2020.

Both Patrick and Cornyn later released full videos of their remarks. In his, Cornyn saluted the “grassroots army that is responsible for the longest Republican winning streak in our nation’s history.”

But he warned that in 2020, “Republicans are facing the greatest electoral challenge we’ve faced in the last five decades.”

After the odd opening, the general session recessed to allow the committees to finish their work, with the rules committee finally wrapping up after 5 p.m. and suggesting the convention might not finish its work until very late Sunday or early Monday, if it could maintain a quorum.

Concern about disenfranchised delegates was widespread throughout the convention.

“I share many of our delegates’ concerns when they are unable to receive credentials and are unable to fully participate in the process,” Mike McCloskey of Round Rock, who presided over the Senate District 5 caucus, said Sunday morning.

McCloskey, who serves on the State Republican Executive Committee, had warned months ago that a virtual convention would require more advance planning than a party dead set on an in-person convention allowed.

Hedtke, a party activist from Waxahachie, was among the many who didn’t receive a credential Saturday. Her congressman, Tarrant County Republican Ron Wright, was another.

But Hedtke was one of 6,259 registered delegates and alternates who received a 36-digit access code in time for Sunday’s general sessions, where they were to vote on the party’s platform, legislative priorities and rules and party chair.

But it was a far smaller universe of delegates who held the power to execute the core function of the convention at the congressional district caucuses Saturday — choosing the delegates to the Republican National Convention and Electoral College electors.

Hedtke said at both sets of caucus meetings, it was easy enough for people to share Zoom platform links to participate in the debates, and some chairs allowed that. Voting however, was on a separate Meeting Pulse platform — an audience engagement platform being used by the party — requiring a credential ID number.

Even there, she said, some caucus chairs dispensed with using Meeting Pulse voting and improvising their own ad hoc systems.

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©2020 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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