Texas Republicans kicked off their biennial convention Thursday, taking over Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center to discuss the state party's platform, as well as elect its leaders.
Organizers say about 10,000 delegates, alternates and guests are in attendance this year — a time when Republicans have solidified their dominance in Texas.
"Remember, the Republican Party of Texas is a grassroots party," Matt Rinaldi, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, told the crowd. "It doesn't belong to me, the governor, or senators or congressmen, or any elected official. This is your party."
Texas GOP committees have been meeting since Monday to discuss intraparty business. But the big speeches started Thursday.
The kick-off day included appearances from local Republican leaders, like state Senator and Republican nominee for land commissioner Dawn Buckingham, as well as national ones, like Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears.
Many of the speeches focused on beating the Democrats in November, and included calls for less negotiation and collaboration with them.
"We need to take the fight directly to the left and go on offense," Rinaldi said, adding that he wanted Republicans to stop appointing Democrats to chair committees in the Texas House of Representatives.
During last year’s session, House Speaker Dade Phelan named 14 Democrats chairs of standing committees.
Later this week, Sen. John Cornyn, who led the congressional gun reform deal, will be speaking. Many Republicans at the convention told The Texas Newsroom they saw Cornyn as a RINO — a Republican in name only — for working with Democrats.
"I think he needs to be voted out," said Mary Jo Bloomquist, a lifelong Republican from Granbury who is attending the convention as a guest. "He's been in office way too long, and he hasn't done a lot of good things for Texas."
James Byers, a resident of Montgomery County, said Cornyn's approach with Democrats doesn't work anymore for Republicans.
"John Cornyn really emphasizes on being civil, working with people, not being hateful towards anybody — that's why he's a really good Republican," Byers said. "But I'm just saying the mood in Texas is more of ‘We really need a fighter.'"
The issue of gun violence was not at the center of this year's convention, despite last month's mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde where an 18-year-old gunman killed 21 people.
Gov. Greg Abbott, who is not speaking on the main stage this year, hosted a reception off-site Thursday night.
"We will not tolerate what happened in Uvalde," Abbott said in his speech, who briefly talked about making schools safer before moving on to other topics. Abbott slammed President Biden and Democrat Beto O'Rourke, and talked about securing the border and funding the police.
Meanwhile, election fraud has been a big topic during this year's convention, with attendees being able to watch multiple showings of the movie 2000 Mules, a film that falsely claims to have exposed fraud in the 2020 election.
Peter Schroer, a convention delegate from the Dallas area, said the party should focus on attacking Biden's legacy, instead of an election that happened two years ago.
"I want to put that in the rearview mirror ... we need to come out and speak for the best of our country," Schroer said. "Let's run people and win this for our party."