Texas Politics

‘This is not all of us.’ Call to remove Muslim from post divides Tarrant Republicans

There’s a clear division in the Tarrant County Republican Party.

At a time when many want to focus on the 2020 election, in the wake of this reliably red county turning blue in this year’s U.S. Senate race, Tarrant Republicans instead are focused on a call to remove a Muslim from party leadership.

One side, described as a small group with a loud voice, wants to remove Shahid Shafi, a Muslim, from the post of vice chairman. They say it’s not about religion but whether Shafi is loyal to Islam or connected “to Islamic terror groups.”

The other side supports Shafi, a surgeon and Southlake City Council member. At least one member is ready to step down if the effort to remove him from office is successful.

“This small despicable group is whipping up a frenzy. That’s where this gets dangerous,” said Kelly Canon of Arlington. “They are doing this guilt by association crap and it goes against everything I go by. You have to judge a person by their deeds, not their religion.

”I realize that Islam is more than just a religion, and that it’s an ideology, but look at Dr. Shafi’s actions within the Republican Party. He’s not a terrorist. If this small group is successful in removing Dr. Shafi, I’ll resign my post as area leader and precinct chair. I’m not going to be part of that. I’ve got more important things I can do.”

Precinct chairs had planned to vote over the weekend on a request by Republican Dorrie O’Brien, who asked for Shafi’s appointment to be reconsidered.

They discussed the issue Saturday behind closed doors, but ran out of time. A vote is scheduled for Jan. 10.

O’Brien and others behind this push declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment. The Star-Telegram reached out to more than a dozen GOP precinct chairs about this issue.

This issue is dividing the party, said Darl Easton, who leads the Tarrant County GOP and appointed Shafi with approval from precinct chairmen earlier this year.

“The party over this issue is more split than I’ve seen it in the past,” he said. “The only thing I’m concerned about is how this will affect candidates in the future.”

Tarrant GOP concerned about 2020

A number of candidates on Saturday thanked fellow Republicans for their support, many lamenting GOP losses in the midterm election, including Republican Konni Burton’s loss to Democrat Beverly Powell in the Senate District 10 race.

“I do have survivor’s guilt,” said Wendy Burgess, who won the battle to become Tarrant County’s next tax assessor collector. “We lost some amazing people ... and we are very concerned.”

She and others stressed the need to make changes before the next election.

“I’m afraid that scenario will repeat in 2020 unless we assess what went wrong and correct it,” Tarrant County District Clerk Tom Wilder said. “We are going to have to redouble our efforts.

“We have to hold this county in 2020.”

Warren Norred, a Republican precinct chairman, said he’s concerned about the election in two years.

For now, though, he said there are questions about Shafi’s religious affiliations that have “been turned into a purity test in an unfair way.”

Even so, “we have to continue to talk about it,” Norred said. “There’s no shortcut. We are going to have to get through it and talk about it until people are comfortable.”

Call for Muslim’s removal

In August, a small group began calling for Shafi’s removal from party leadership. O’Brien, a Republican precinct chairwoman from Grand Prairie, and others made several posts on social media calling for reconsideration of Shafi’s appointment to one of the vice chair posts.

“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 his 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.”

Shafi has said he became a U.S. citizen in 2009 and soon joined the Republican Party.

He said he’s not associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, nor CAIR, “nor any terrorist organization.” He also said he supports Second Amendment rights and American Laws for American Courts. And he said he’s never promoted Sharia law.

Republicans divided

This issue has drawn mixed reaction from Republicans.

Larry Beck went online to criticize the delay of the vote until January.

“We sit here being (stared) down by a leadership that believes that if they just don’t answer any of the substantial questions or divert everyone’s attention with charges of Racist! Bigot Islamophobe! then they will not have to explain their decisions and actions,” he posted on Facebook.

Amid the calls cautioning the GOP about how it could be perceived regarding this issue, he said those calls should “be taken with an industrial sized grain of salt.”

“With the Main Stream Media we have, it literally doesn’t matter so much as what we say ... they will portray our party in general and our candidates in particular as racist, bigots, homophobic, Islamophobic knuckledraggers no matter what we say.”

Republican James Scott Trimm noted on Facebook that “one myth was certainly busted at the EC meeting: Shafi opposition is definitely *not* a ‘small group.’”

Marie Howard noted online that the goal is to “oust the Muslim Brotherhood from Infiltrating the Republican Party.”

Other Republicans have condemned the call to remove Shafi.

Easton has spoken up for Shafi. Former Tarrant County Republican Party Chair Jennifer Hall said she “100 percent” supports Shafi as a vice chairman of the party.

Several have called for this effort to stop.

“This is not all of us,” said Mona Bailey, a longtime Republican and precinct chairwoman. “It’s a small vocal group. It’s not the majority of the Republican Party.”

Robert Grace, a Fort Worth precinct chairman, said he believes the party should include everyone, except those who are obviously Democrats.

While he’s ready to vote to support Shafi, he said he realizes that Easton is trying to let everyone voice their opinion on this issue. “Democracy is kind of ugly at times,” he said.

Many in the party say they are embarrassed by the effort to remove Shafi.

“I do not tolerate hate and am especially sensitive to attacks on anyone because of their Race, Religion, Color, Disability, Political orientation or whatever,” Al Zito, a precinct chairman and former Southlake councilman, told the Star-Telegram in an email. “The people causing this ruckus are bullies, simple as that, they don’t like anyone that does not look like them or talk like them.

“There is no place in today’s Republican Party (or any United States Political Party) for their kind.”

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley
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