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Republicans Poised for Lively Floor Debate at State Convention

As they enter the final day of the Texas GOP convention and decide on the party's political platform, Republican delegates are set to debate key voting issues among conservatives — immigration and homosexuality.

The atrium of the Fort Worth Convention Center, site of the Texas Republican Convention on June 5, 2014.

FORT WORTH — As they enter the last day of the state GOP convention, the party’s delegates from across Texas are set for a lively debate over key issues among conservatives — immigration and homosexuality.

While it also serves as a biennial pep rally of sorts for Republicans, the state convention is also an opportunity for delegates to elect the leadership of the Republican Party of Texas and to work on their party platform. The platform is a nonbinding set of principles for the party, and it serves as an important political statement.

On Saturday morning, about 10,000 delegates are set to adopt the state party’s stance on a slew of issues. The party’s immigration and homosexuality planks are expected to draw the most heated debate as the full convention considers the platform.

For years, the homosexuality plank of the party’s platform said that “the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit.” This year, that was removed and replaced with a plank that maintains the party's opposition to gay marriage but states what some consider a more moderate view on homosexuality, that it is a “chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths.” 

During a platform committee meeting Thursday night, the new language was met with little opposition. But some spoke against the addition of a plank on “reparative therapy," or counseling and psychological treatments that aim to turn gay people straight.

Republicans garnered national media attention for the reparative therapy language as news of its consideration spread outside of Texas. Committee members argued that the language, which they approved, wasn’t meant to impose the therapy on others, but to endorse it and recognize its “legitimacy and efficacy.”

Cathie Adams, president of the Tea-Party backed Texas Eagle Forum, helped introduce the language into the platform after it was proposed by a gay friend of hers who received reparative therapy. She said she did not want Texas to outlaw the use of the therapy like New Jersey and California have done for minors.

"We wanted to head that off in Texas," Adams said. "It's been very surprising to me the amount of very negative responses I've gotten from that one."

The immigration plank of the platform will likely spark the hottest debate. Going into the convention, which began Thursday, the future of the immigration plank was unclear.

Two years ago, the party approved an unprecedented change to the official state party platform that called for a national guest-worker program. This year, Republicans are split on keeping that language. Some Tea Party activists are calling for its removal, while supporters of the plank, also known as the “Texas Solution,” say they’ll fight to keep it.

As the platform stands now, after a committee vote Thursday night, language calling for a provisional visa program has replaced the guest-worker language, but it is meant to include immigrants looking to come to the country to work. The plank also includes a preamble that states that “America is proudly a nation of immigrants.”

Art Martinez de Vara, a member of the platform committee who supports the "Texas Solution," said the immigration subcommittee had contacted Republican gubernatorial candidate, Attorney General Greg Abbott and state Sen. Dan Patrick, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, for input and incorporated some of their suggestions into the preamble.

On Saturday, delegates will also receive a “minority report” from members of the platform committee who had proposed scrapping most of the language in the rewritten “Texas Solution,” including the provisional visa program. They want to use more hardline anti-immigration language, and their report includes positions lifted directly from Patrick’s website.

During the meeting on Thursday, the proposal failed after a tie among the 30 members of the committee. 

“You can see with the 15 to 15 vote that this party is split right down the middle,” Martinez de Vara said. “This would have never happened two years ago.”

Medical marijuana could also come up in the platform debate. Supporters of medical marijuana celebrated a short victory when language that called for allowing access to the drug if prescribed by a physician was approved by a temporary committee earlier this week.

During the platform committee meeting Thursday, delegates gave emotional testimony to the committee, asking them to keep the language in the platform because it could help those suffering from certain diseases to cope with their ailments.

Those opposed to the language said allowing access to medical marijuana could lead to increased use among young adults.

But the committee voted to strike the language. Although the full convention won’t see the language in the platform packets Saturday, supporters of legalizing medical marijuana — particularly the Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition — have been campaigning in support of the plank at the convention, handing out flyers and stickers.

Texas Democrats have criticized Republicans on both the immigration and homosexuality planks. They’ve long taken issue with the party’s plank on homosexuality and criticized the party for the addition of the reparative therapy language to the platform. On immigration, Democrats say that the Republican Party, particularly its Tea Party members, are unable to provide a “common-sense solution” for immigration.

“I am anxiously waiting to see the new platform and discover how many more Texans the Tea Party is fixing to offend,” said Emmanuel Garcia, communications director for the Texas Democratic Party. 

The debate on the platform will start Saturday morning after the party’s statewide candidates address the convention.

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