Texas county GOP to keep Mus­lim in lead­er­ship

Dayton Daily News - - NATION & WORLD - By Anna M. Tins­ley

RICHLAND HILLS, TEXAS — Dr. Shahid Shafi, a Mus­lim, re­mains a vice chair­man of the Tar­rant County Repub­li­can Party.

Tar­rant County Repub­li­cans voted 139-49 late Thurs­day night — af­ter more than 2 hours of pri­vate dis­cus­sion among precinct chairs — to keep Shafi, 54, in the lead­er­ship post.

Loud cheers were heard from where precinct chairs were gath­ered be­hind closed doors at the Faith Creek Church in Richland Hills shortly be­fore party of­fi­cials an­nounced the vote to the me­dia.

“This vote reaf­firms the com­mit­ment by a ma­jor­ity of Tar­rant County Repub­li­cans to our core val­ues and moral com­pass, a demon­stra­tion of our al­le­giance to the Texas Repub­li­can Party Plat­form and the Con­sti­tu­tions of the United States and Texas, which strictly pro­hibit re­li­gious and racial dis­crim­i­na­tion of any kind,” Tar­rant County Repub­li­can Party Chair Darl Eas­ton said in a writ­ten state­ment.

“While (Thurs­day’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,” ac­cord­ing to the state­ment. “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.”

Shafi said the vote af­firmed his be­lief in Tar­rant County Repub­li­cans.

“As we strug­gled through the last few months, it would have been easy for me to quit. But I stayed on to fight,” he said. “We were fight­ing for re­li­gious free­dom ... and to­day we have come out vic­to­ri­ous.”

He said Thurs­day’s vote took a stand “against big­otry of all kinds.”

“Our union is a lit­tle more per­fect to­day ... and it’s time to put (party) di­vi­sions to rest,” he added.

At least one precinct chair — Ar­ling­ton Repub­li­can Dale At­te­bery, who was in­volved in the ef­fort to oust Shafi — re­port­edly tossed his ID at the lectern af­ter the vote. Eas­ton said he ac­cepted that as At­te­bery’s res­ig­na­tion.

Thurs­day’s meet­ing was much dif­fer­ent than the last Tar­rant GOP ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee meet­ing in Novem­ber, where mem­bers dis­cussed the pro­posal to re­move Shafi but never took a vote.

This time, paper cov­ered the win­dows into the sanc­tu­ary, where Tar­rant Repub­li­cans gath­ered for the meet­ing, and law en­forcers stood guard in front of the doors.

The is­sue of re­li­gious free­dom this time drew na­tional at­ten­tion and around two dozen re­porters and TV crews to cover the vote.

This is­sue arose about six months ago, af­ter Eas­ton ap­pointed Shafi — a sur­geon and South­lake coun­cil­man — to the vice chair post and fel­low Repub­li­cans ap­proved his pro­posal.

Op­po­si­tion from a small group of lo­cal Repub­li­cans be­gan emerg­ing on so­cial me­dia.

“Dr. Shafi is a prac­tic­ing, Mosque-at­tend­ing mus­lim who claims not to fol­low sharia law or know what it is,” Repub­li­can Sara Legvold wrote on the Pro­tect Texas Face­book page in call­ing for Shafi’s re­moval. “As a prac­tic­ing mus­lim that is an overt false­hood. Sharia law is anath­ema to our Con­sti­tu­tion be­cause Is­lam rec­og­nizes no other law but shariah.

“As the most con­ser­va­tive county in the na­tion, this is a de­mor­al­iz­ing blow to the con­ser­va­tive rank and file of the Repub­li­can Party across the na­tion and in Texas.”

Then Precinct Chair Dor­rie O’Brien, from Grand Prairie, asked for Shafi’s ap­point­ment to be re­con­sid­ered be­cause he’s Mus­lim.

She and oth­ers have long said this is not about re­li­gion but whether Shafi is loyal to Is­lam and Is­lamic law or con­nected to Is­lamic ter­ror groups.

O’Brien’s mo­tion was de­layed un­til af­ter the Nov. 6 elec­tion, which saw Tar­rant County turn blue in the U.S. Se­nate race.

Hours of dis­cus­sion be­hind closed doors dur­ing a Novem­ber meet­ing led to no res­o­lu­tion and pushed the is­sue to Thurs­day night’s meet­ing.

Repub­li­can Party of Texas Chair­man James Dickey said he stands by the Tar­rant County vote Thurs­day night.

“Our plat­form clearly and un­equiv­o­cally ad­vo­cates re­li­gious free­dom and non dis­crim­i­na­tion,” he said in a state­ment. “We have al­ways and will con­tinue to stand for re­li­gious free­dom and for wel­com­ing all who share our val­ues into our party.”

A num­ber of peo­ple who were not precinct chairs crowded into the church’s lobby Thurs­day night.

Among them, two men car­ry­ing signs stat­ing that they are against hate and for Amer­i­can rights.

“It’s time for the Repub­li­can Party to de­feat hate,” said Shayan Elahi, a Dal­las at­tor­ney who car­ried a sign that said #No Hate in DFW. “Only they can clean their own house.”

A man from Bexar County held a sign that read “Dr. Shafi is an Amer­i­can con­ser­va­tive.” He de­clined to give his name but said he trav­eled to Thurs­day night’s meet­ing to show sup­port for Shafi.

Oth­ers who showed up in­cluded a half dozen Mus­lim-Amer­i­can women who also wanted to sup­port Shafi.

“We stand for jus­tice,” Shazia Al­has­san, of Mur­phy, said. “We felt that what was hap­pen­ing was not right.” Not ev­ery­one agreed. Legvold, who showed up to Thurs­day night’s meet­ing in a black burqa, was among those in the lobby wait­ing to hear how the vote went. She told some that she dressed up to show how this coun­try has been im­pacted by Is­lam.

The Star-Tele­gram has been re­port­ing about the ef­fort to re­move Shafi from GOP party lead­er­ship since Au­gust. In re­cent months, the lo­cal party has drawn na­tional at­ten­tion from me­dia out­lets.

Shafi, who was born in In­dia and raised in Pak­istan, trav­eled to the United States to study medicine. He be­came a nat­u­ral­ized cit­i­zen in 2009 and, since then, has been in­volved with the Repub­li­can Party.

In­ter­nal GOP emails de­liv­ered anony­mously to the Star-Tele­gram last year showed that the ef­fort to re­move Shafi ex­panded. Oth­ers tar­geted in­cluded Eas­ton; a precinct chair and area leader, Kelly Canon; and a precinct chair who is mar­ried to a Mus­lim, Lisa Grimaldi Ab­dulka­reem.

Many have cau­tioned the party — at this cru­cial time, when the lo­cal GOP suf­fered un­ex­pected losses dur­ing the midterm elec­tion and could see more in 2020 —about vot­ing to re­move Shafi.

Some top Texas Repub­li­cans — in­clud­ing U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Land Com­mis­sioner Ge­orge P. Bush and for­mer House Speaker Joe Straus — con­demned ef­forts to re­move Shafi, as have Tar­rant County Repub­li­cans in­clud­ing County Judge Glen Whit­ley, Sher­iff Bill Way­bourn and Dis­trict Clerk Tom Wilder.

The State Repub­li­can Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee passed a res­o­lu­tion stress­ing that mem­bers across the state have the “free­dom to prac­tice all faiths.” And Texas Gov. Greg Ab­bott this week noted “the prom­ise of free­dom of re­li­gion is guar­an­teed” by the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion.

Many Repub­li­cans weighed in on the is­sue on so­cial me­dia Thurs­day, some cheer­ing on O’Brien, say­ing “Hang in there Dor­rie. You are right.”

Oth­ers cau­tioned that vot­ing against Shafi could cause a num­ber of precinct chairs to re­sign, prompt donors to walk away from the party and lead to the SREC deny­ing Tar­rant County del­e­gates to the 2020 state con­ven­tion.

Many en­ter­ing the meet­ing squeezed through a lobby crowded with me­dia, shak­ing their heads and mut­ter­ing that “this is crazy.”

In­side, precinct chairs were given a writ­ten state­ment from Dickey.

“In Tar­rant County, a few in­di­vid­u­als have sought to re­move Dr. Shahid Shafi from his po­si­tion as vice chair of the county party be­cause of his re­li­gion _ be­cause he is a Mus­lim,” the state­ment read. “That is not our party.

“This is the Repub­li­can Party of Texas. We stand be­hind those who wish to join us in sup­port­ing the found­ing prin­ci­ples of our na­tion and the right for ev­ery­one to pur­sue their own ver­sion of the Amer­i­can Dream,” ac­cord­ing to the state­ment. “All are wel­come in the Repub­li­can Party of Texas — all, that is, ex­cept those who refuse to join in our mis­sion to fight equally for the pro­tec­tion of, and op­por­tu­nity for, those of all races, re­li­gions and creeds.”

AMANDA MCCOY / FORT WORTH STAR-TELE­GRAM

Peo­ple gather to sup­port Dr. Shahid Shafi at a meet­ing Thurs­day of the Tar­rant County Repub­li­cans in Richland Hills, Texas. Shafi will re­main in his vice chair­man role af­ter a 139-49 vote.

Dr. Shahid Shafi

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