Texas GOP Official Nixes Log Cabin Booth at State Convention
Weddington Says New Rule Bars Groups who have Sued State GOP; Log Cabin Leaders Point to Bush's Stance, Hope Party Officials will Reconsider
As Gov. George W. Bush was preparing last week for a first-of-its-kind meeting with gay Republicans – a meeting Bush said was aimed at unifying the party – the chairwoman of the Republican Party of Texas said a gay Republican organization will not be allowed to have a booth at this year's state GOP convention.
Although gays will be allowed to participate in policy debates at the convention, scheduled June 15-17 in Houston, state GOP chairwoman Susan Weddington said Log Cabin Republicans of Texas will not be permitted to operate an informational booth inside the George R. Brown Convention Center.
Log Cabin has not yet asked for space, but the group asked for and was denied space at two previous conventions. In 1996, the gay Republican group responded by filing an unsuccessful lawsuit against the state GOP.
The exclusion is a "business decision" that was made because a new policy bars groups that have filed lawsuits against the party from having booths, Weddington said. The policy was adopted by the state GOP executive committee in December.
"If you have people who have been litigious, they're not going to be on your invitation list," Weddington told the Houston Chronicle.
Corporate underwriters also are taking up space previously allotted for organizational booths, and that contributed to the decision to exclude Log Cabin, she said.
Representatives of the Republican Party of Texas did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.
Gov. Bush believes decisions on booth space for state conventions are up to the party, according to spokesman Scott McClellan. But Bush made his position on the matter clear when Log Cabin was excluded in 1998, McClellan said.
"He reminded everyone then that we all have a common goal of electing Republicans come November who share our conservative views," McClellan said. "Bush previously said it's important to end any name-calling and to treat each other with respect and dignity."
Weddington denied that the decision to bar booth space to litigants was aimed at stopping Log Cabin from having a booth. She acknowledged to the Chronicle, however, that only one other potential occupant – a vendor involved in a payment dispute – had filed a lawsuit against the party.
Steve Labinski, president of Log Cabin Republicans of Texas, said his organization hopes to reach an agreement with the state party.
"We are working to resolve this situation with the Republican Party of Texas right now," he said.
Labinski declined to say what action, if any, he has taken, or if he is in negotiation with anyone at the party.
"I'm doing everything I can to work with these people," he said. "I'm expending a greater effort than ever at a dialog."
James Campbell of Dallas, vice president of the state Log Cabin group, said the organization was preparing a letter formally requesting booth space at the convention. Campbell said he hopes the letter, and the brewing controversy, will prompt state party officials will reconsider their decision.
"It's an opening chance for them to determine whether they want to work with us," Campbell said of the letter. "If Bush can state that he's a better person for meeting with us, I don't understand why that doesn't apply to the state party, too."
Labinski agreed that the party's actions conflict with the governor's stance.
"I think this makes the people of the Republican Party of Texas look bad," he said. "Our presidential nominee here in Austin is meeting with gay Republicans while down the road the Republican Party is excluding gays."
Campbell accused GOP leaders of being out of touch with mainstream Republicans in Texas.
"It [the denial of booth space] shows their intransigence not to have a big tent policy," Campbell said. "They are trying to keep us from getting our message out to the party in general because they know that our message would be appealing if it were out there."
But Labinski and Campbell both acknowledged that Log Cabin is fighting an uphill battle.
"The people who run the Republican Party of Texas are from the strong social conservative wing of the party. They are intrinsically pretty hostile to Log Cabin," he said.
Log Cabin's national organization will follow the lead of the state group, said spokesman Kevin Ivers.
"This is a matter for the state organization to deal with, but we back them up 100 percent. We certainly hope there will be a resolution. We know how important this is," Ivers said.
A resolution in favor of Log Cabin is entirely up to the discretion of party leaders. The lawsuit Log Cabin filed in 1996 ended with a Texas Supreme Court decision backing the state GOP. The court ruled that the party, as a private organization, could decline to rent booth space to any group it chose to exclude.
In 1998, party spokesman Robert Black referred to gays as "deviants, pedophiles and extremists" in explaining why the state party refused to allow Log Cabin into the convention.
Gov. Bush rebuked the name-calling.
Gary Polland, chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, said in an interview this week that excluding Log Cabin is contrary to Republican beliefs.
"My position on exhibition space at the Republican convention is as long as the group that wants to set up is not illegal or involved in illegal activities, they should be allowed to set up a booth," he said.
"Republicans believe in the marketplace of ideas," he added.
Polland said those who try to exclude groups from the convention are probably harming their own cause.
"If Log Cabin had just sent in their money and gotten a booth, we probably wouldn't be reading about it in the newspaper," he said. "The truth is that by setting up roadblocks for groups like Log Cabin, Republicans that have a problem with the whole homosexual rights movement are effectively giving more publicity to the cause."
Republicans do not have to agree with every group that displays at the convention, he said.
"I'm sure there are going to a number of booths set up at our convention that I don't like. So what?" he said.
Campbell, who is also a board member of Dallas' Log Cabin chapter, said local members would play a role in the convention regardless of whether the state organization is permitted to rent a booth.
"We'll be there regardless," he said.
According to Campbell, a half-dozen Log Cabin members from Dallas will participate as delegates or alternates at the state convention, and a few other gay Republicans who are not Log Cabin members will also attend.
"They will be working with us, as will some gay-friendly delegates who are going from Dallas," he said.
Many more gay Republican delegates will attend from Houston and Austin, he said.
Alex Wathen, president of Houston's Log Cabin chapter, said he is not yet sure what role his group will play in the state convention. But he said he hopes a booth for Log Cabin is eventually allowed.
"It would be sad if the booth wouldn't be allowed, especially since we are a party committed to free speech," he said. "We like to be involved just like any other Republicans. That's the goal."
Bush spokesperson McClellan would not say whether the presumed GOP presidential nominee plans to use his influence to try to change the state party's decision to exclude Log Cabin. McClellan only pointed to Bush's 1996 comments and his recent meeting with gay Republicans.
"In a Bush administration, Gov. Bush wants to make it clear that all individuals will be treated with dignity and respect," McClellan said.
Almost 18,000 delegates are expected at the convention from across the state.
The convention was last held in Houston in 1988. At that time, there were 688 elected Republican officeholders in the state. Today there are more than 1,500, including both U.S. senators.
The Texas Democratic Party's convention will be in Fort Worth this year. About 6,500 delegates are expected.