Plan to oust Muslim from Tarrant Republican post could cost the party big bucks

An internal fight in the Tarrant Republican Party over whether to oust a leader because he’s Muslim is hurting the group’s ability to raise needed money, several members say.

On Thursday, Republican precinct chairmen are scheduled to vote on whether to keep Shahid Shafi, a Muslim, as one of the party’s vice chairmen.

Potential donors who have not yet given to the main Tarrant County GOP fundraiser event, the Lincoln Day Dinner, are watching to see how the vote goes.

“This is the event that raises enough money to carry us all year in the party,” said a Tarrant GOP precinct chairman who didn’t want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. “It’s a big deal.

“They can’t get checks written with this going on. Big donors are waiting for” the vote.

If the vote goes against Shafi, some privately speculate that fundraising efforts will dry up, hurting the party’s ability to reach and energize voters and candidates for 2020.

At issue is an effort that began months ago when a group began pushing to remove Shafi from the post of vice chairman.

Precinct Chairman Dorrie O’Brien asked for Shafi’s appointment to be reconsidered and the issue ramped up and expanded after the Nov. 6 election, which saw Tarrant County turn blue in the U.S. Senate race.

She and others behind the move to oust Shafi, a surgeon and Southlake City Council member, say this is not about religion but whether Shafi is loyal to Islam and Islamic law or connected “to Islamic terror groups.”

O’Brien recently mentioned fundraising concerns on social media.

“I’ve also heard the rumblings about this issue and its relationship to the disaster that is the present Lincoln Day Dinner fundraising effort,” she posted on Facebook last month. “It’s not my responsibility to see that solved, but the TCGOP needs money to operate, which IS the Chairman’s responsibility, and he is not shouldering that for the Party.”

Tarrant County Republican Party Chairman Darl Easton said O’Brien is deflecting the blame.

“The issue she has brought up is what would cause a drain in funding,” he said. “The whole issue is affecting fundraising.”

Republicans discussed behind closed doors whether to remove Shafi from his position during a Nov. 10 meeting. They didn’t vote that day, instead shifting the vote to Thursday’s meeting of the Tarrant County GOP executive committee, which is made up of precinct chairmen.

Lincoln Day Dinner

“Regardless of any issues going on in the local party, our Lincoln Day Dinner is always outstanding and enjoyable, so I encourage everyone to be there,” said Mona Bailey, a precinct chairwoman who heads the party’s Finance Committee.

This dinner is the party’s annual fundraiser, geared to raise money to pay for GOP operating expenses, such as rent for the headquarters and grassroots outreach, such as get out the vote efforts.

The high-profile event has featured keynote speakers in recent years such as U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, Gov. Greg Abbott, actor Chuck Norris and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

No speaker has been announced yet for this year’s Feb. 16 dinner at the downtown Omni Fort Worth Hotel.

“I have heard that several big donors are waiting until after the vote to pledge their support,” said William Busby, a former precinct chairman and area leader for the Tarrant County Republican Party. “This (Shafi) story has gained national attention and has put the party in a bad light, all thanks to the actions of a few.”

“Corporate donors, the big donors, don’t want to be associated with a party that’s going in the direction of excluding people based upon their religious beliefs.”

If precinct chairmen support Shafi, “then yes, this can be turned around,” Busby said. “We are the big tent party and we don’t believe in religious purity tests in order to hold office. Those that seek to remove Dr. Shafi based on his religious beliefs have a very backward way of thinking and are not the future of the Republican Party.”

And if precinct chairmen do not support Shafi, the impact could be greater than just the loss of fundraising dollars.

“I heard from a few people that if Shafi is removed they’ll resign,” said Brian Bledsoe, a precinct chairman. “I don’t know how serious they were about it, though.

“Regardless of the outcome, hopefully this Thursday will be the end of all of this,” he said. “Either way I suspect there will be hard feelings and, I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but contentious races for precinct chair positions next year.”

Shafi support

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

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.

Internal GOP emails delivered anonymously to the Star-Telegram last year showed that the effort to remove Shafi expanded. Others targeted included Easton; a precinct chairman and area leader, Kelly Canon; and a precinct chairwoman who is married to a Muslim, Lisa Grimaldi Abdulkareem.

Some top Texas Republicans — including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Land Commissioner George P. Bush and House Speaker Joe Straus — condemned efforts to remove Shafi, as have Tarrant County Republicans including County Judge Glen Whitley, Sheriff Bill Waybourn and District Clerk Tom Wilder.

And the State Republican Executive Committee in Austin passed a resolution stressing that members across the state have the “freedom to practice all faiths.”

If Thursday’s vote isn’t in support of Shafi, some SREC members are discussing stripping delegates to the 2020 state convention from Tarrant County.

Many are concerned about the fallout Thursday’s vote could bring.

“Tarrant County could easily turn blue and this display of bigotry and exclusion is only giving the democrats more ammo to use in 2020,” Busby said. “We are the big tent party and we don’t believe in religious purity tests to be in leadership.

“People like Dorrie O’Brien and Dale Attebery (a precinct chairman involved in the effort to oust Shafi) have a very archaic way of thinking and are hurting the party financially and in future elections by their actions right now.”

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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.