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Security high on delegates' minds as Republican National Convention gets started

A local police sergeant briefed Missouri delegates to the Republican National Convention about security.
Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio

CLEVELAND — Sunday’s tragic police shootings in Louisiana have added an exclamation point to what was already heightened concern about security among members of Missouri’s delegation to the Republican National Convention.

At Sunday’s first gathering of Missouri’s contingent, state Republican Party chairman John Hancock called for a moment of silence to honor the fallen officers in Baton Rouge. Missouri delegates then gave a standing ovation to the local police sergeant overseeing the round-the-clock security detail at the Akron hotel where the delegation is staying.

State Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial — who’s also a delegate — acknowledged that security was a hot convention topic. “But I’m sure the city of Cleveland has thought it all out, and I feel pretty safe,’’ he said.

So does St. Louis County Councilman Mark Harder, R-Ballwin. As a delegate, Harder plans to focus more on the convention’s purpose: to nominate and promote the presumptive GOP nominee for president, Donald Trump.

“I hope it’s going to be very safe,” Harder said. “ I hope it’s going to be very productive, and that we’ll come out of here very united as we approach the fall.”

State Rep. Eric Burlison, a delegate from Springfield, believes that unity among the various GOP factions is already underway.

“I came in as a (Ted) Cruz supporter,’’ Burlison said. “And while my candidate didn’t win, it’s important that we try to find issues we can talk about and agree on.”

St. Louis County GOP chairman Bruce Buwalda is in agreement with Trump about what some of those issues are. Buwalda said he hopes to hear more at the convention about Trump’s plans for confronting “illegal populations in America and the threat of terrorism within our country.”

St. Louis County Councilman Mark Harder, R-Ballwin,
Credit Courtesy of Mark Harder's campaign website
St. Louis County Councilman Mark Harder, R-Ballwin, is a delegate to the GOP convention in Cleveland.

But security remains of utmost importance for national Republican leaders, as well as for law enforcement in Cleveland and the Secret Service.  The latter is overseeing some of the security measures.

At Sunday night’s kickoff celebration in downtown Cleveland, attendees — including delegates and officeholders — had to pass metal detectors before enjoying the food, drink and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Sharpshooters garbed in black were posted on the roof, and military jets hovered overhead.

Police were on all buses transporting delegates to and from their hotels, and many appeared to have police cars as escorts as well.

Wagner leaving convention early

At Monday's breakfast, U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, also emphasized the security theme, and the need to confront terrorists.  She reinforced the GOP contention that Democrats in general -- and presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in particular -- aren't strong enough on security issues.

In an interview, Wagner said the GOP focus on security had nothing to do with the debate over gun rights. Wagner emphasized that she and most other Republicans were strong supporters of gun rights. She added that the GOP-controlled Congress is, however, open to considering measures aimed at curbing terrorists' access to firearms.

Wagner added that she is deeply concerned about the recent series of shootings against police officers. She said she is leaving the convention early to visit with Ballwin police officer Mike Flamion and his family. Flamion was paralyzed after being shot earlier this month after stopping a man for speeding.  The man, Antonio Taylor, has been arrested and charged in the incident.

Wagner said she wanted to work with local law-enforcement officials to find ways to "lower the rhetoric'' that she believes is contributing to the violence against police.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.