State Republican Convention had traditional positions, but some changes have come under the Big Tent

Last week, my wife and I attended the 2018 Texas GOP Convention in San Antonio. This was my fourth convention to attend, but it was her first.

In many aspects, most things have not changed since my first Texas GOP convention in 2004.

There are still folks who hold up signs on broom handles that say they want to stop homosexuality, the Texas Lottery, abortion, and a number of other things, and more who dress up in some elephant memorabilia and parade around the convention floor like Reaganesque peacocks. I say this tongue-in-cheek, as I also have some gaudy Republican elephant ties I’ll don merely to hear my friends complain about it.

However, some things have changed. The Republican Party of Texas has members from all zones of ideology, from the hardcore religious right to the formerly-hippie libertarian wing of the party. Them, and everyone in between, is represented by the exhibitors. During the convention, you could find the Texans Against Legalizing Marijuana organization near the Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism booth, and the Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy organization held, as you might expect, a complimentary pancake breakfast.

The Log Cabin Republicans, the main gay conservative political organization, were the only ones denied an application for a booth at the convention, unfortunately. However, their logo was prominently featured at the Republican Liberty Caucus of Texas booth along with some buttons and bumper stickers with strong libertarian messages. Other booths included “Ask a Muslim Couple Anything,” many different campaign booths and Cutco. Two Tesla vehicles were also prominently featured.

It’s a unique atmosphere, to say the least.

Something that many conferees may not expect however, is the level of political infighting for party leadership that may be seen at the convention. Each delegate and alternate will have the opportunity to vote within their Senate District caucuses. Though most of these fights stem from the race for Republican Party of Texas chairman, it bleeds down into every other position, be it for committee members or State Republican Executive Committee positions. There are multiple ideological crews all fighting for supremacy in a Republican civil war. It does indeed seem like a political soap opera, as if “Dallas” merged with “House of Cards.” It’s all terribly entertaining for political geeks such as myself.

The religious right still has a sizable influence on the Republican Party of Texas, but it seems to be a Big Tent party, which means they try to attract voters from many different ideologies under one banner. That is, unless you’re a Log Cabin Republican. It really is endearing to see so many different groups all coexisting under one roof. They fight tooth and nail, but generally piece it all back together to take it to the Democrats in November. It’s almost like a big family dinner, except the party usually patches itself together before the next holiday.

The vast majority of the state party platform is unsurprising. They’re still pushing against gay marriage and the infighting over school vouchers is an old party chestnut.

However, delegates voted to approve platform planks supporting marijuana decriminalization, medical cannabis, industrial hemp, and to change the federal government’s classification of marijuana away from being a Schedule 1 drug for potential for abuse and lack of medical value, which also includes heroin.

For comparison, cocaine and methamphetamine are Schedule 2. This is an interesting shift in opinion for Texas Republicans and one that I didn’t expect to see for years to come.

The convention is a worthwhile experience for those who are interested in the political process. Many elected officials are there to speak and mingle and you get to see exactly how the sausage is made on the partisan level, so to speak. The best way to get involved is by voting in the party primary, attending the precinct and county conventions and making it known that you want to get involved. It is an entertaining and eye-opening experience for policy wonks, dabblers, and everyone in between.