Louisiana GOP Isn’t Ready To Ban Former KKK Leader David Duke From Running For Office

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke at the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office in Baton Rouge, La., on Friday, July 22, 2016. CREDIT: AP Photo/Max Becherer

Louisiana Republicans decided this weekend that it’s not worth the political capital to ban former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke and other white supremacists from running for office on their ticket.

The state’s GOP was scheduled to hold a vote Saturday on whether to amend its bylaws to automatically ban any former felons and to allow a vote to ban anyone else party officials dislike from running on the Republican ticket. The vote could have prevented the former KKK leader from running in state elections after November.

But according to the New Orleans Times Picayune, the group deferred Saturday’s vote because of fears that deciding to ban the KKK leader would lead to costly litigation. The party will not reconsider the rule change until 2017, after Duke appears on the ballot.

Duke announced in July, one day after Donald Trump officially accepted the GOP nomination, that he would run for Louisiana’s open seat in the U.S. Senate. Citing Trump’s success this year, Duke said he saw an opening for his white supremacist, anti-Semitic, and racist agenda.

“I am overjoyed to see Donald Trump and most Americans embrace most of the issues I’ve championed for years,” Duke said in a video announcing his candidacy.

Because of Louisiana’s jungle primary, the state GOP can’t do anything to prevent Duke from being listed on the ballot. Charlie Buckels, the party’s finance chairman, told the Times Picayune before the scheduled vote that Duke “has every right to run for office, but we believe he does not have the right to run under the Republican banner.”

It’s also too late for the party to block Duke from appearing on the November ballot as a Republican, but the group could have decided on Saturday to prevent him and other white supremacists from affiliating with their party in future elections.

Duke plead guilty in 2002 to bilking his supporters and cheating on his taxes and was sentenced to 15 months in prison. Before his incarceration, he served one term in the Louisiana House in the late 1980s and attempted to run for the U.S. Senate in 1990, for Louisiana governor the year after, and for the House in 1999, losing all three times.

The Louisiana GOP has clear rationale to block a man who formerly led the state’s KKK from running on their ballot, but the decision to use his felony conviction as a disqualifier is problematic. Committing a crime does not constitutionally disqualify someone from serving in Congress, although individual state parties are free to decide who can run under their banners. Some states put time restrictions on felons, blocking them from running for office for ten or 15 years after their crime, while others permanently ban those who have committed crimes of “moral turpitude” from running for office. But more and more states are reconsidering, noting the importance of rehabilitation post-incarceration, and lifting bans blocking former felons from both voting and running for office.

In addition to banning felons, the proposed bylaws would allow the party to block others from running as Republicans if three-quarters of the State Central Committee voted to bar that person. The state was not clear what criteria could be used, or whether the party would attempt to bar other white supremacists or those with connections to white supremacists like Trump.

Hillary Clinton has highlighted the connection between Duke and Trump, releasing a video and speaking last week about the Republican nominee’s close ties to white supremacists.

The Louisiana GOP and Duke’s campaign did not respond to ThinkProgress’ requests for comment, but Duke’s campaign coordinator Mike Lawrence provided a letter to the Daily Beast last week in which Duke blasted his pending expulsion, comparing it to the work of the Communist Party “in the Soviet Union.”

“This is the right of the people not the bosses,” Duke wrote.

Lawrence added that the Louisiana GOP, which he claims tried to sabotage Trump’s nomination and give its delegates to Ted Cruz, “function[s] as a totalitarian organization and done so for years.”