Fort Worth

Tarrant GOP’s effort to ‘heal’ after Muslim vote claims first victim: a whole committee

Tarrant Republicans trying to unite after an unsuccessful move to remove a Muslim man from party leadership have hit another roadblock.

An effort to “heal the party” has ended.

The idea was to offer a spot on a recruitment committee to James Scott Trimm, who vocally supported removing Shahid Shafi, a Muslim, from party leadership.

But the chairman of the committee has resigned and the entire committee has been disbanded, at least for now.

“The time has come to reassess the missions, goals and composition of committees that serve the Tarrant County Republican Party Executive Committee,” according to a statement Tarrant County Republican Party Chairman Darl Easton sent to the Star-Telegram Thursday afternoon.

Tarrant Republicans drew national attention after a proposal to oust Shafi, a surgeon and Southlake councilman, from leadership percolated for half a year.

Party leaders voted 139-49 on Jan. 10 to keep Shafi as one of the party’s vice chairmen.

“After the overwhelming vote ... we must take pause to re-evaluate our objectives and methods as we progress toward the 2020 campaign,” Easton said.

He said that Joel Downs, who led the recruitment committee, has resigned. And the entire committee “will stand vacant and at ease” for now, he said.

This move comes less than a month before the party’s key fundraiser, the Feb. 16 Lincoln Day Dinner.

Many have feared that the debate over whether to keep or remove Shafi would affect funding for the event, which is crucial because it raises money to pay for GOP operating expenses, such as rent for the headquarters and grassroots outreach.

Recruitment efforts

Earlier this month, Downs named Trimm to serve on the committee, saying the goal was to “heal the party.”

“Is there a more certain way to ignite a resolve to mend our Party, and show ourselves that we are honorable winners, than to place and accept one of the most hated men on the Executive Committee in a position of Party service?” Downs posted on Facebook.

Trimm did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday about the temporary disbandment of the committee.

Lisa Grimaldi Abdulkareem, a precinct chairwoman who is married to a Muslim and served as vice chair of this committee, said she hadn’t heard the committee was now vacant.

Easton said he hopes to name a new chair for the committee in March.

“The (committee) will be completely reorganized after the assessment,” he said in his statement. “The purpose of this re-assessment is to improve and expand our efforts to grow the Party and its outreach to every corner of Tarrant County as we approach the next election cycle.”

Shafi fallout

There are still hard feelings about the Shafi vote among some Republicans — and much discussion on social media.

A Rio Grande Valley man is offering a “$500 cash bounty” to anyone who can give him the names of the 49 who voted against Shafi.

Easton has said the party will not publicly release a list showing how precinct chairmen voted on this issue behind closed doors. But precinct chairmen may come and review the paper ballots that were cast.

The effort to remove Shafi from the party post came up last year after Dorrie O’Brien, a precinct chairwoman from Grand Prairie, asked for a reconsideration of his appointment. She and others said the effort to remove Shafi wasn’t about religion but whether he was 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 left the issue unresolved and pushed it to Jan. 10.

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 as media outlets across the country joined in coverage of the issue.

Shafi said the Jan. 10 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.

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.