On a voice vote, the Texas Republican Convention’s Platform and Resolutions Committee extricated the party from a potentially embarrassing situation by killing a resolution that could have left U.S. Sen. John Cornyn facing a censure vote on Saturday for backing spending bills.
Only Ray Myers, a Kaufman County tea party leader, emitted a quiet “aye” Wednesday on a resolution to censure Cornyn and three North Texas members of the state’s GOP delegation — U.S. Reps. Kay Granger of Fort Worth, Kenny Marchant of Coppell and Michael Burgess of Lewisville. The resolution came from the Tarrant County Senate District 9 Republican Convention in March.
The overwhelming sentiment laid to rest any possibility that the biennial Texas Republican Convention would make headlines by censuring Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, who will address the convention Friday.
The vote came on the last of three preliminary days of committee meetings ahead of the arrival at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center of nearly 10,000 delegates and alternates Thursday for a three-day gathering a few blocks from the Alamo. The convention will include speeches by the party’s statewide candidates, the election of a party chairman and the crafting of a platform that has taken on increased importance since the 2016 convention approved Rule 44, which gives the grass roots the power to censure party and public officials who are not faithful to the party’s first principles.
“Rule 44 is a good rule that has a place in our party,” said Beth Cubriel, the party’s former executive director who represents Senate District 25 on the platform panel.
But Cubriel said, “using it to censure four people on actions that were taken by many others in Congress from Texas who are not cited in this resolution — our president (who signed the spending bills) is not cited in this resolution — is bad implementation of Rule 44.”
“It makes it exactly what people who hate Rule 44 feared Rule 44 would become, which is a witch hunt, a personality-driven witch hunt against certain members that are disliked for various reasons,” Cubriel said. “If you are not going to censure everyone for voting for these three omnibus bills, you cannot support these resolutions.”
The spending measures cited in the Cornyn censure resolution included two omnibus spending bills and a continuing appropriations bill that included supplemental monies for Harvey relief.
Rule 44 has so far claimed one victim — state House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio — who was censured by the State Republican Executive Committee in January for being an obstacle to elements of the party’s conservative agenda, after a sustained campaign that included censure resolutions by scores of local Republican committees and a ceaseless drumbeat of criticism from the right-wing interest group Empower Texans.
Another censure resolution, directed at state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, passed by a vote of 18-11, after failing by a single vote earlier in the day. Cook is a top Straus lieutenant who, as chairman of the State Affairs Committee, enforced their shared priorities. Like Straus, he is retiring from the House.
Critics of the censures warned the party was forming a “circular firing squad.”
But Stephen Broden of Senate District 23 responded, to audience applause: “I understand the need for unity, but sometimes we have to excise those who are disruptive to that unity.” He cited Benedict Arnold, the most famous traitor in American history, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who in 1951 were convicted of espionage for the Soviet Union and put to death.
Broden was also among the members who spoke against striking a platform plank supporting the right of Texas to secede from the union, though, he said, “We are not saying that we have reached that threshold at this point.”
“I think you can oppose Texas secession and still be a good Republican,” Cubriel said. “This is a document that is supposed to define what it means to be a Republican, not what it means for some people to be a Republican.”
While a voice vote appeared to go in the favor of keeping the secession language in the platform, a show of hands indicated that, by a 17-13 vote, the committee wanted to strike the language.
Myers said he stood by his vote to move ahead with the censure of Cornyn, who he said would have been in trouble if the resolution would have made it to the floor, where a simple majority vote by the delegates — as opposed to the two-thirds vote required in the state’s executive committee — would have prevailed.
A member of the committee, citing state Republican Chairman James Dickey’s praise for Cornyn, said the censure would have appeared foolish.
Dickey, former chairman of the Travis County Republican Party, who won the state chairmanship by a single vote on the executive committee a year ago, is being challenged for re-election as chairman at the convention by Cindy Asche of Frisco, who has said that the censure provision should not have been invoked against Straus and should be curtailed.
Dickey and Vice Chairwoman Amy Clark provided the crucial votes to approve the Straus censure.
Platform Committee Chairman Mark Ramsey reported Wednesday that there was extensive debate Tuesday night in the Rules Committee on whether to weaken Rule 44.
“All amendments were soundly defeated,” he said.