The good news, such as it is: The Tarrant County Republican Party decided that a politically conservative trauma surgeon who also serves on the Southlake City Council is a perfectly fine choice to be party vice chairman, even if he is a ... gasp ... Muslim.
The bad news for the Tarrant County GOP is that the question ever arose. Even worse, when it came to a vote, 49 party members thought Dr. Shahid Shafi should be booted out of his position. Granted, Shafi kept his post after last week's 139-49 vote, but still, 26 percent of those voting thought Shafi was unfit because of his faith. What's the party to make of that? "Tarrant County GOP: Now with only 26 percent bigots" hardly sings as a marketing slogan.
On the other hand, considering President Donald Trump's efforts to ban Muslim immigrants and the party's effort in various states to enact laws against the non-threat of “creeping Sharia,” the Republicans looking to distance themselves from that rhetoric are welcoming any sign of open minds.
The vote to retain Shafi capped a tumultuous Thursday night at Faith Creek Church in Richland Hills, where party members gathered to vote.
“The past several months have not been easy for us, not for me and not for my family,” said Shafi, referring to his wife and children standing behind him. “Today, the beacon of liberty held by the Statue of Liberty is shining brighter. My faith in my party and our country has been reaffirmed.”
Although Shafi got what he wanted in the end, the lead-up to the vote was chaotic. The church was crowded with visitors, police and media as members discussed whether the vote should be public. Among the horde was former Texas State Republican Executive Committee member Sara Legvold, who wore a burka in an attempt to make a statement of some sort about the “Islamification” of America. Her “Protect Texas” Facebook group had been key in the attempt to remove Shafi, but in the crowded church, Shafi had even more supporters.
Shayan Elahi, a Dallas County civil rights attorney who was carrying a “No Hate in DFW” sign, said although he votes Democrat, the issue of Shafi is nonpartisan to him.
“People are laughing at DFW once again, and this fringe group that is in the Republican Party needs to be told that tonight,” Elahi said. “It's becoming almost a monthly occurrence in the Republican Party that someone says something nonsensical like this, and it's taken so seriously that it's even taken to a vote. ... I’m here as an American to stand with the good Republicans of conscience who will vote this down tonight, but the fact that it even got to this point is an embarrassment.”
The controversial bid to remove Shafi for his faith garnered national attention in recent months, especially after ex-FBI agent and notorious conspiracy theorist John Guandolo was set to give a talk on the so-called dangers of Islam to several Tarrant County Republican Party members a few days before the vote.
When Shafi was asked whether he’s worried about working with the 49 members of his party who voted to oust him over his religion, he called their vote “differences of opinion” and said he hopes everyone can put their differences aside to serve the people they represent.
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“It tells me we have freedom of expression, and it tells me we have freedom to organize ourselves,” he said.
In a statement, Tarrant County Republican Party Chairman Darl Easton said, “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. That is what happened here, all sides of this issue were heard, and the vote was cast. 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 ended the night by quoting Thomas Payne and Ronald Reagan — as one does — and emphasized that he holds no animosity toward those who campaigned against him.
“My fellow Republicans have demonstrated that the party of Lincoln and the party of Reagan is open to all Americans regardless of their religion, cast, creed, color, ethnicity or country of origin,” he said.