January 13, 2019

The Attempt and Failure of the GOP in a Texas County to Remove a Chairman – Because He’s Muslim



The group pushing the ouster said he couldn’t represent Republicans, or be faithful to the Constitution, as a Muslim.


By Alex Samuels
Community Reporter
The Texas Tribune


Before the Vote

Shahid Shafi identifies as a Republican because of his firm belief in small government, lower taxes and secure borders. But his commitment to core GOP values hasn’t shielded him from ire within his own party.

A group of Tarrant County Republicans will vote Thursday evening on whether to remove Shafi as vice-chairman of the county party after a small faction of members put forth a formal motion to oust him because he’s Muslim.

Those in favor of the motion to recall Shafi, a trauma surgeon and member of the Southlake City Council, have said he doesn’t represent all Tarrant County Republicans. They’ve also said Islamic ideologies run counter to the U.S. Constitution — an assertion many Texas GOP officials have called bigoted and Shafi himself has vehemently denied.

“This is, unfortunately, not the first time that people or my political opponents have tried to use my religion against me to distract the voters,” Shafi, who declined to be interviewed by The Texas Tribune before Thursday’s vote, told The Washington Post. “And unfortunately, I don’t think it will be the last either.”

Dorrie O’Brien, one of the precinct chairs leading the charge to recall Shafi, did not respond to The Tribune’s request for comment. She’s previously said, however, that her support for ousting Shafi stems not from his religion, but whether he supports Islam or is connected “to Islamic terror groups,” according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. In a series of lengthy Facebook posts, O’Brien wrote that she “never doubted” her side has “the votes to rescind Shahid Shafi’s ratification as vice chair.”

“We don’t think he’s suitable as a practicing Muslim to be vice chair because he’d be the representative for ALL Republicans in Tarrant County, and not ALL Republicans in Tarrant County think Islam is safe or acceptable in the U.S., in Tarrant County, and in the TCGOP,” O’Brien wrote on Facebook, adding that “there are big questions surrounding exactly where Dr. Shafi’s loyalties lie, vis a vis Democrat and Republican policies.”

But several prominent Texas Republicans have rallied behind Shafi leading up to Thursday’s vote — a list that includes U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former House Speaker Joe Straus. As news of the motion to remove Shafi garnered national attention, the state party’s GOP executive committee passed a non-discrimination resolution that affirms and supports “all Americans’ right to practice their religion … and recognizes the contributions of Republicans of every faith who advance conservative policies and ideals.”

Thursday’s motion “is about religious prejudice,” said Darl Easton, the Tarrant County GOP Chairman who appointed Shafi to his role in July.

“[Shafi’s] very active with the party, but most of the people don’t even care about what he’s done,” Easton said. “Most of them already have a prejudice against Muslims, and a lot of that comes from the attack on 9/11 and the Shariah law they claim all Muslims must obey.”

It’s unclear whether Thursday’s vote will happen in public, behind closed doors or be delayed indefinitely, Easton said. The Star-Telegram reported that, since the movement to remove Shafi has picked up steam, it has expanded to also target some of his defenders, including Easton and a Republican party official who is married to a Muslim.

Shafi, who came to the U.S. in 1990 and became a naturalized citizen in 2009, has repeatedly defended himself against the attacks on his religion. In an open letter, he wrote that he believes “much of the hate against Muslims is driven by a fear of terrorism.”

“Here are the facts. I have never had any association with the Muslim Brotherhood nor [the Council on American-Islamic Relations] nor any terrorist organization,” he wrote. “I believe that the laws of our nation are our Constitution and the laws passed by our elected legislatures — I have never promoted any form of Sharia Law. I fully support and believe in American Laws for American Courts.

“I am honored to be an American and a Republican,” he concluded.

Jeremi Suri, a professor of public affairs and history at the University of Texas at Austin, said claims that Shafi’s religion impede his ability to work with the Republican party are “completely unfounded.” He compared the attacks against the surgeon to rhetoric the Ku Klux Klan used in the early 20th century against Catholics and Jews running for political office.

“The Klan argued that if you’re a Catholic, you obviously put the pope before the country so how could you be an American leader? That’s the same argument this Tarrant County group is making,” said Suri.

Though the movement to reconsider Shafi’s appointment was afoot well ahead of last year’s midterm elections, Thursday’s vote comes just months after Tarrant County — considered the most conservative urban county in the country — narrowly flipped in favor of Texas Democrats’ star senatorial candidate, Beto O’Rourke. In Tarrant County and the surrounding Dallas-Fort Worth region, several Texas Senate and House seats went to Democrats, including the district previously held by conservative state Sen. Konni Burton of Colleyville.

Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin-based GOP strategist, worries that Shafi’s ousting would harm the Tarrant County GOP and state party in the 2020 elections.

“These are the kinds of headlines the party doesn’t need right now,” Steinhauser said. “Doubling down on shrinking the tent is a very bad idea. It does make me wonder what’s next. Are they going to say no Catholics can be in a leadership positions in the party or no Jews? I mean, what is the religious standard that they want to impose?”

Easton, meanwhile, said he felt optimistic the vote to recall Shafi would fail, but feared that the push for his removal already has driven a wedge between members of his party.

“As long as someone is a U.S. citizen, has obeyed the laws of the country, paid their taxes and so forth, they have an equal right to be involved in city, county, state or national government,” Easton said. “The accusations they’ve brought against [Shafi] are not sufficient. He has every right to be here.”

After the Vote

Shahid Shafi will retain his role as vice-chairman of the Tarrant County Republican Party despite a push from a small faction of precinct chairs to remove him from his post because he’s Muslim.

Shafi, a trauma surgeon and Southlake City Council member, said after the vote that the last several months had been hard on him and his family. But he said he holds no animosity toward people who backed the failed motion to recall him — and that he was proud to be an American and a Republican.

“As an immigrant to this great country, I am honored and privileged to receive the support of my fellow Republicans,” Shafi told members of the press late Thursday. “We need to learn to trust each other so we can create a more perfect union everyday.”

Shafi came to the U.S. in 1990 and became a naturalized citizen in 2009. The attacks on his religion, however, came shortly after Easton appointed him to a leadership role within the county party in July. The formal motion to oust him failed in a 49-139 vote, said county party spokesman Mike Snyder.

Those who were in favor of Shafi’s removal said he’s unequipped to be vice-chairman because he doesn’t represent all Tarrant County Republicans due to his religion. They’ve also said Islamic ideologies run counter to the U.S. Constitution — an assertion many Texas GOP officials have called bigoted and Shafi himself has vehemently denied.

Following news that Shafi would retain his vice-chairman role, Snyder read a prepared statement from Tarrant County GOP Chair Darl Easton which said the vote reaffirmed Tarrant Republicans’ commitment to the state party platform and the U.S. Constitution.

“While tonight’s vote brings an end to this unfortunate episode, it also demonstrates we are a Party that respects the right of those who disagree on an issue to have a seat at the table and their voices heard,” Easton, one of Shafi’s defenders, wrote. “Religious liberty won tonight, and while that makes a great day for the Republican Party of Tarrant County, that victory also serves notice that we have much work to do unifying our party.”

Former Tarrant County precinct chair Sara Legvold did not vote on the motion to recall Shafi, but sat outside Thursday’s closed-door meeting wearing a burqa to “represent the Islamization of our county, our state and our country.”

“You already see it in the workplace where Muslims demand they’re able to wear their hijab and demand they get a prayer room,” she said. “When was the last time a Christian was allowed to have a separate place to say their prayers?”

Dorrie O’Brien, one of the precinct chairs leading the charge against Shafi, previously said her support for ousting him stems not from his religion, but whether he is connected “to Islamic terror groups,” the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

The failed attempt to oust Shafi drew national attention as well as condemnation from some of the state’s top Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott. Republican Land Commissioner George P. Bush saluted the vote in a tweet late Thursday. And in a prepared statement after the measure failed, Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey said the state party platform clearly supports religious freedom and non-discrimination.

“We look forward to working with all Republicans to fight for lower taxes, quality education, and to continue our booming economy through Republican leadership,” Dickey said.

Though the movement to reconsider Shafi’s appointment was afoot well ahead of last year’s midterm elections, Thursday’s vote comes just months after Tarrant County — considered the most conservative urban county in the country — narrowly flipped in favor of Texas Democrats’ star senatorial candidate, Beto O’Rourke. In Tarrant County and the surrounding Dallas-Fort Worth region, several Texas Senate and House seats went to Democrats, including the district previously held by conservative state Sen. Konni Burton of Colleyville.

Tripp Bryant, a State Republican Executive Committee representative from Senate District 22 that includes part of Tarrant, said it was “appalling” members of the Tarrant County party were being divisive over someone’s religion months after Republicans in the area made nail-biters of races that had once been safe wins. He noted that Republicans U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Ron Wright lost in the county.

“In my personal opinion, they need to pull their heads out of their fourth point of contact and they need to focus on winning elections and stop pointing the finger at Muslims,” Bryant said.

John Seidenstein, a precinct chair nominee, called Thursday’s motion “bullshit.”

“I’m a Jewish precinct chair,” Seidenstein said, “does this mean I’m next?”

Legvold, meanwhile, complained that Shafi’s opponents had been vilified.

“They’ve said nothing but horrible things about us — that we’re bigots and Islamophobes and white supremacists — when we’re just patriots who care for our country,” she said.


Originally published by The Texas Tribune, 01.10.2019, republished with permission for non-commercial purposes.

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