With former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke now running for the open Louisiana U.S. Senate seat as a Republican, the state GOP is grappling with how to keep candidates it deems unsavory from running under the party’s banner in the future.
There’s nothing the state party can do this year to keep Duke, who is a convicted felon, from running for the seat vacated by Sen. David Vitter (R-LA). But the party’s attempt to keep candidates like Duke from running as Republicans down the line hit a roadblock over the weekend.
On Saturday, the state party postponed votes on a proposed rule to keep convicted felons from running as Republicans, and another provision that would allow the state party to keep any candidate from running as a Republican with a three-quarters vote from the party’s State Central Committee, the Times-Picayune reported.
After the state party swiftly condemned Duke’s Senate bid when he announced his campaign in July, the Times-Picayune reported that some members of the Louisiana GOP began to work on changes to its bylaws that would keep convicted felons and individuals associated with racist organizations or hate groups from running as Republicans.
“We have an egregious situation going on with David Duke,” state GOP finance chair Charlie Buckels, who helped draft the new rules, told the newspaper in July. “He has every right to run for office, but we believe he does not have the right to run under the Republican banner.”
Before the rules were brought up for a vote on Saturday, however, the provision banning candidates affiliated with hate groups was dropped, according to the Times-Picayune. Members of the state GOP’s rules committee were concerned that the provision could impact people like Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, which has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The rules committee ultimately recommended two provisions for the Saturday vote: one that would keep convicted felons from running as Republicans unless the state party granted an exception, and another that would let the state party keep any candidate from running as a Republican with a vote from three-quarters of the State Central Committee.
Leaders in the state party supported the measures, including chairman Roger Villere.
“I think we should have control over who runs under the Republican banner,” Villere said on Saturday, as quoted by the Times-Picayune.
But some other members of the party balked at the proposed rules, raising concerns about whether they were legal and whether the provisions would allow the party to ban candidates from running under the Republican banner on a whim.
“We need to review the legal options or we are going to lose thousands of dollars with this tied up in court,” Republican State Central Committee member Michael Bayham said, according to the Times-Picayune.
The party previously had discussed the legality of the rules with both Secretary of State Tom Schedler and Attorney General Jeff Landry, according to the Times-Picayune.
Duke’s campaign coordinator, Mike Lawrence, attended the Saturday meeting, where he protested that the state GOP would not let Duke appear and state his case, as the Times-Picayune documented. The campaign also had protested the proposed rules in a letter to the state GOP before the meeting took place, according to the Daily Beast.
Lawrence told TPM on Monday that he thinks the proposed rules are “a violation of Mr. Duke’s constitutional rights.” He attributed the rules to Villere, the party chairman, claiming that he has a “has a personal vendetta” against Duke because he was elected to the Louisiana state House over Villere and several other candidates in 1989.
Lawrence claimed that the Louisiana GOP tried to similarly undermine Donald Trump, referencing March reports that unbound delegates in Louisiana would back Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) over Trump.
If the party tries to remove Duke, Lawrence vowed that the campaign would consider legal action. The campaign has already reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union, he told TPM, adding that members of the state GOP were aware that Duke could sue.
“I think a lot of the members in the organization realized it would be along drawn-out legal fight,” Lawrence said.
He also said that some attendees at the meeting told him they believed Duke should be able to run as a Republican.
“I spoke to several attendees at the meeting,” Lawrence told TPM. “And what I came away with is, you know, whether one supports David Duke’s candidacy or is against David Duke’s candidacy, that what I came away with is that he felt— they felt, rather—that he had a right to be heard. And they did not feel that he should be removed from the Republican Party.”
With the vote postponed, the state party now plans to consider the proposed rules in early 2017, according to the Times-Picayune.