Three strikes aren’t out for Democratic Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, who is proceeding with plans for a People of Texas Town Hall-Comal County on Saturday despite very public cancellations this week by prospective event hosts Maven’s Inn & Grill, Canyon Lake High School and the CRRC Rec Center.
Chris Evans, a campaign spokesperson, said O’Rourke still plans to make an appearance although an alternative venue has yet to be identified.
Several Comal County Democrats speculated local party officials may decide against publicly announcing a new location due to intense public harassment in conservative Comal County, which prides itself on being “red.”
Owners of Maven’s Inn & Grill in Startzville backed out Monday after threats from customers who said they would boycott the restaurant and shut it down if it hosted the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
By Wednesday night, both local Democrats and O’Rourke campaign officials confirmed they had secured Canyon Lake High School instead. But this morning, Comal ISD issued two statements denying the district had ever approved the event and blaming local media for inaccurate reporting.
This afternoon Ken Slack, who heads CRRC’s Rec Center, confirmed he had just inked a contract leasing the facility to O’Rourke’s campaign on Saturday. Less than an hour later, Interim Executive Director Mike Slough called MyCanyonLake.com to say the event was a no-go due to security concerns and worries about upsetting area residents.
“We don’t want to jeopardize our nonprofit status,” he said. “Throughout the day we’ve realized it’s quite a polarizing issue here in this community, and we do not want to jeopardize our relationship with any community members…(and) we’re worried about the safety issue.”
According to several speaking off-the-record but with immediate knowledge of the situation, Whitewater Amphitheater on FM 306 also rescinded an offer to host the town hall.
However Becky Lynn Street, general manager of Venue Operations, said the live music venue isn’t hosting any public events until May 6 with The Avett Brothers.
In an email to parents today, Comal ISD spokesperson Steve Stanford said the district would never have agreed to host O’Rourke’s town hall had the request been “fully and properly vetted internally.”
He pointed the finger at the O’Rourke campaign for announcing the event “prematurely” and without a contract.
“It is not the district’s practice to host political campaign events,” Stanford said. “Neither the principal of Canyon Lake High School, the superintendent, nor the board president or any members of the board of trustees were made aware of this request by the Beto campaign.”
Comal ISD Board President Jason York, who represents Canyon Lake in SMD#3, also weighed in on today’s controversy.
In a separate statement, he said he wanted to make it clear that trustees were not aware that O’Rourke’s staff had reached out to the district.
“The district has in place a process for renting out our school facilities to various organizations,” he said. “In addition, our Board Policy GKD (Local) specifically states that we do not make our facilities available for campaigns.”
With the exception of allowing schools to serve as polling places during elections, facilities cannot be used “by individuals or groups for political advertising, campaign communications, or electioneering, as those terms are used in state law.”
“As a public, taxpayer-supported entity, we believe that we should open our facilities to community use, which is why we rent to groups ranging from little leagues to churches,” he said. “However, one thing we will not do is host campaign events such as this, per our board policy.”
Comal ISD leased part of New Braunfels’ Canyon High School to the Democratic Women of Comal County, which hosted a Comal County District 21 Congressional Candidate forum there on Feb. 3, 2018.
Stanford said that was allowed under a different set of rules, Board Policy GKD (Legal).
“Based on GKD (Legal) we allow candidate forums where multiple candidates are in attendance and are given equal access,” he said in an email. “However, based on GKD (Local) we don’t make our facilities available for campaign events.”
Although party officials were livid about today’s announcement by Comal ISD, New Braunfels resident John Porter, administrator of the New Braunfels for Beto Facebook page, was the only Democrat willing to publicly criticize Comal ISD for today’s statement.
“Why is our community so toxic that a candidate for governor of this state has to change venues over and over in an effort to speak here?” he said in an email. “Two venues down. One because of fascist attacks, the other because of spineless administration at one of our high schools. Oh, but the New Braunfels City Council’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Awareness (IDEA) Forum said there are no problems here. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy about that poll.”