Texas Politics

With Muslim vote resolved, Tarrant GOP leadership must deal with vocal losing faction

Tarrant County GOP rejects proposal to remove Muslim as vice chairman

The Tarrant County Republican Party voted on Thursday to keep Dr. Shahid Shafi in his post as vice chairman. More than six months ago then Precinct Chair Dorrie O’Brien asked for Shafi’s appointment to be reconsidered because he’s Muslim.
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The Tarrant County Republican Party voted on Thursday to keep Dr. Shahid Shafi in his post as vice chairman. More than six months ago then Precinct Chair Dorrie O’Brien asked for Shafi’s appointment to be reconsidered because he’s Muslim.

Tarrant County Republican leaders sent a message Thursday when they rejected a proposal to oust Shahid Shafi from party leadership because he’s Muslim.

But one question, for many, still lingers.

The vote was 139-49 to keep Shafi in office.

So who are the 49 who voted against keeping him as a vice chairman in the party?

“We will not release the names,” Tarrant County Republican Party Chair Darl Easton said Friday, one day after the long-awaited vote on Shafi’s status.

The Tarrant County GOP is a private group, he said, and is not required to release the names, particularly since the vote was taken behind closed doors.

“I should be surprised,” Easton said. “But after all the social media, I’m glad it was as small as it was.

“I would have been much happier if it was smaller.”

“49! Unconscionable,” one person tweeted.

Others called on social media for the Tarrant GOP to “kick the other 49 out for not representing the values of this GOP party.”

But Tarrant County Republicans say it’s time to come back together.

One message posed on the Tarrant Republicans Facebook page sent a message: “No personal attacks. No name calling. The vote is over. Move on. #BeBetterThanTheHaters.”

Easton said it’s time to reach out to all Tarrant Republicans and move forward.

“I’m hoping this will make us stronger, particularly in the eyes of the public,” Easton said. “There has always been so much doubt out there.

“I think we are going to heal.”

Arlington Republican Dale Attebery, who was involved in the effort to oust Shafi, resigned as precinct chairman and area leader Thursday night. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Easton said he doesn’t know of any other resignations.

Tarrant meeting

Nearly 200 Republican precinct chairmen gathered at a Richland Hills church to weigh in on the issue that had been in play for half a year.

Several precinct chairmen in Thursday’s meeting said the mood was much different than in the November meeting.

Maybe that’s because this issue had become national news.

The Star-Telegram has been reporting about the effort to remove Shafi since August. In recent months, the Tarrant party has drawn national attention as media outlets across the country joined in coverage of the issue.

One precinct chairman who declined to be named said it was easy to “feel the energy in the room.”

At the same time, patience for many was running thin.

“People wanted this to be done and you could feel that,” that precinct chairman said.

After the meeting, many Republicans said they were glad the issue has been settled.

“Last night’s vote reassured me personally that bigotry has no place in GOP Tarrant County politics,” said Kelly Canon, an Arlington precinct chairwoman and area leader.

Internal GOP emails delivered anonymously to the Star-Telegram last year showed that the effort to remove Shafi expanded to target Easton, Canon and a precinct chairwoman who is married to a Muslim, Lisa Grimaldi Abdulkareem.

Canon said she no longer feels targeted, since the precinct chairman who targeted her resigned after the vote.

Abdulkareem doesn’t feel that it’s over, though.

“I believe people like Dr. Shafi, Kelly Canon and I will continue to be targets,” she said. “I don’t believe these people will ever stop until they are pushed out of the party.”

But since the meeting, Canon said she has had three people ask her how they can become precinct chairmen.

She plans to nominate them at an upcoming meeting.

“This issue/vote, as unnecessary as it was, rejuvenated so many people to get involved in the local GOP political scene,” Canon said. “I’m thrilled.”

Shafi issue

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

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

Soon, precinct chairwoman Dorrie O’Brien of Grand Prairie — who did not respond to a request for a comment from the Star-Telegram — 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.

Shafi, 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 the Republican Party.

After the vote, Shafi stressed that it’s time to move forward, together, as a party.

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 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.