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Amid intraparty animus, Texas GOP moves further to the right with new platform, party chair

People attend the 2024 Texas State Republican Convention in San Antonio, Texas on May 23, 2024.
Bryan Olin Dozier
People attend the 2024 Texas State Republican Convention in San Antonio, Texas on May 23, 2024.

SAN ANTONIO — Gathering amid depleted finances and spirited infighting, the Texas Republican Party concluded its 2024 convention in San Antonio on Saturday by electing a new party chair and adopting its latest party platform, including a smorgasbord of hardline conservative planks.

While Saturday's votes were still tabulated, the party's latest platform included calling for Bible instruction in public schools and a devotion to pushing public funds into private schools.

The GOP platform also called for the replacement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) if members don't meet financial obligations, the deportation of legal residents of the U.S. who are arrested for participating in protests and making it illegal for non-citizens to own real estate.

Another plank would require all candidates for statewide office to carry a majority of Texas' 254 counties in order to win an election, something that would make it statistically impossible for a Democrat to win office. Other planks called for the use of gold and silver as legal tender and for the federal government to release all information it has on UFO's.

Despite the conservative victory over abortion rights, many GOP delegates continue to call for tougher state abortion laws.

A six-way race for Texas GOP chair 

Delegates to the convention affirmed their commitment to the rightward course steered by outgoing party chair Matt Rinaldi by electing his handpicked successor, Abraham George, from a pool of six candidates.

KUT reported earlier this year that since Rinaldi assumed leadership of the Texas Republican Party in 2021, he pushed the party into more conservative territory, leaving some longtime Texas Republicans feeling pushed out or alienated. The party under Rinaldi also experienced unparalleled drops in donations, staff shortages, and growing divisions within the party.

George was backed by outgoing GOP chair Matt Rinaldi, who ushered in a Republican civil war and oversaw staffing cuts and drops in fundraising.

From the main stage at San Antonio’s Henry B. González Convention Center, top GOP leaders also called out Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, a notable absence from the convention's attendees. While the Beaumont Republican has championed conservative priorities as speaker during Texas’ last two legislative sessions, Phelan has also received heavy criticism from within his party for not being conservative enough.

Attorney General Ken Paxton — who took to the convention center stage strutting, fist pumping to applause and defiant over beating his impeachment — was one of several Texas conservative powerhouses to admonish Phelan.

“I am still the Texas attorney general, and Dade Phelan is about to lose not only the speakership but also his House seat," Paxton said.

Phelan is in a runoff election Tuesday for his East Texas district. If Phelan loses, he’d be the first Texas House speaker in decades to lose a reelection bid.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who was back from New York after standing by former president Donald Trump during his hush money trial, told the delegates he wants a speaker who won’t work with Democrats to pass bills.

“I see these bills come over with a Democrat majority. I just go — in the can, in the can — in the drawer," Patrick said. "We’re not doing that.“

Phelan was also formally censured by the Texas GOP earlier this year. He is one of more than a half-dozen Republicans in primary runoff elections Tuesday being targeted by the party faithful, including Gov. Greg Abbott.

"Listen, I wish I could be there with you in person, but I've been working all this entire week to get the vote out for all of the Republican primaries I've endorsed," Abbott said in a remote message to the delegates.

Dan Patrick, Lt. Governor of Texas, speaks at the 2024 Texas State Republican Convention in San Antonio, Texas on May 23, 2024.
Bryan Olin Dozier
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks at the 2024 Texas State Republican Convention in San Antonio on May 23, 2024.

‘School choice’ at the Texas GOP convention

After a bipartisan group of state representatives blocked efforts to let families use public dollars to pay for private school last year, Abbott made it his mission to oust Republicans who voted against vouchers.

“We need to come to grips with the fact that there are radical leftists who are trying to impose their woke ideology, even into our schools," he said. "There are some schools in this area where we gather right now that they provide a resource guide that informs students about how students can change their gender.”

By Abbott’s count, they only need to win two of the six primary runoffs to have the votes to pass vouchers in the Texas House next year.

Patrick told convention-goers that Texas needs vouchers to push back against what he called the quote “Marxist socialist left.”

“This is not hyperbole. They are on the march to turn this country into a Marxist country," Patrick told the GOP delegates. "How do you do that? The first thing you do is take over the education system. Have they done that or not? That's why we must pass school choice next session when we get back there.”

Phelan’s foe Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick urged Republicans to stop giving Democrats a say in the speaker election.

There was also an attempt by some Republicans to remove language from the party platform that called homosexuality an "abnormal lifestyle." The amendment came as another group sought to add the words "unnatural and unhealthy" to the line.

After both failed, one delegate continued to push for the line's removal — prompting a threat from Platform Advocacy Committee Chairman Matt Patrick to have the delegate removed from the convention.

The Texas GOP also approved a rule change to close its party's primaries in the future. Under the rule, voters will have to be registered as Republicans to participate in the party’s primary election.

Dallas delegate Stephen McKeown tried to have the rule struck down. He said open primaries are what bring new people into the party.

“Where I live, and in South Texas, I do not see a problem with people coming into our primary," he said. "The Democrats’ primaries are unfortunately all too vibrant.”

The change, however, would not happen immediately. The GOP-controlled legislature would still need to pass legislation to put the non-binding rule into effect.

People leave the 2024 Texas State Republican Convention at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas on May 24, 2024.
Bryan Olin Dozier
People leave the 2024 Texas State Republican Convention at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio on May 24, 2024.

Pushback from Texas Democrats

Texas Democrats criticized the convention as a "dumpster fire."

San Antonio State Rep. Trey Martinez Fisher, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said the issues being discussed by state Republican leadership were not in line with the views of a majority of Texans — especially in this election year.

"This election is a referendum on extremism vs. freedom. Freedom to choose. Freedom to love. And the freedom to participate in Democracy. That's not what's happening inside these buildings," he said. "And for Republicans to come to San Antonio to convene at the Henry B. González Convention Center — a champion of the poor, a champion of immigrants, a champion of Latinos and working class throughout this state —I know that Henry B. is turning in his grave right now."

TPR’s Paul Flahive, Camille Phillips, David Martin Davies, and Dan Katz, the Texas Newsroom's Rachel Osier Lindley and KERA's Nadya Faulx contributed to this report.