Digging Deeper: The Louisiana Surprise

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The Republicans had a big fight this week. But it attracted little attention. It didn’t involve big money. It didn’t involve the same policies that failed the economy and that are now failing in Europe. It didn’t make the media’s three-minute rounds of spin and talking points flying past each other. And it wasn’t in Wisconsin, where Democrats regained control of the state senate by a narrow margin. So where was it? And what was it over? And how could something be big but missed by all the well-paid experts?

The Republican’s biggest scrap was internal. It took place at their state convention in Louisiana. And the battle was huge. Stressing local organizing and remaining relentless about their mission of expanding their influence inside the GOP, identified Ron Paul supporters went to the state convention with almost twice the number of delegates as other party factions, 111 to 69. This outsized majority made Paul supporters veto-proof on votes about party personnel and policy positions, rule changes, and governance. But this is Louisiana. Power is not about legitimacy or legality or change or playing by the rules. This is the GOP.

Last spring, having won only 6% of the primary vote, badly trailing Santorum and Romney, Paul supporters dominated the local organizing caucuses that elect delegates to the state convention and also assign delegate votes to candidates at the national convention. This was an easy one to see coming, but none of the candidates or local party leaders bothered to muster an effort to expand the party’s outreach, mobilize its base, appeal to voters about the importance of local, grass roots organizing, or put energy into the little things that succeed in local politics. Christian conservatives, social conservatives, tea party followers, mainstream Republicans didn’t bother to work for their platforms at the local level. Ron Paul followers did.

But rather than point to their indifference and disinterest, the vested powers accused Paul supporters of “stealing delegates.” Lousiana redrew its congressional districts and has six new districts, and Paul supporters dominated and won the caucuses in four. State party rules also allow the convention to appoint five additional delegates. That would give Paul supporters 17 national delegates, although the five appointed by the convention would have to be pledged to Santorum. (Louisiana will sent 46 delegates to Tampa.)

Well, this was too much for the current leadership, including state chair Roger Vilere, who wanted to retain the right to determine who goes to Tampa, despite being in a clear minority. Vilere ordered rule changes. And his entrenched cabal made charges of stealing, citing Paul blog sites, or as the party’s credentials chair put it, “masquerading.”

Paul supporters were quick to say no. They promised their slate would vote as bound by party rules, rules they had duly followed all along. But 16 pages of new rules made Vilere permanent chair, made a third of delegates a quorum for business, and even specified a specific adjourning time. The party’s by-laws make the convention a production of the state committee. In keeping with Louisiana’s traditions, democracy is a fiefdom, a tool of a select circle of insiders who perpetuate themselves and bash threats to their powers.

Then at the convention, Paul supporters voted out the old rules committee chair and installed their own, who Vilere doggedly ignored the next day when he called for a rules report. The more Vilere ignored the new chair, the more he and others asserted his position. The state and local police were called to restore order. The new guy was dragged out. In the process, Alex Helwig, a 42-year-old business owner who had been elected rules chair for less than a day, suffered several broken fingers.

This prompted the Paul faction to turn their chairs away from the stage and declare a new convention based on their majority. This group then elected state committee member Henry Herford, who has a prosthetic hip. It was dislocated when law enforcement, too, dragged him out of the hotel where he had a  room and was a state committee member for the party holding its convention. Videos show him screaming, pleading not to be injured.

I urge readers to spend time searching the news articles, blogs, and comments for the gory details, which grow with each internet click.

Here are two; the first in the tradition of polite tsk-tsking at newcomers who behave rowdily and get what that deserve:

Wow. I was there and all I saw was Ron Paul delegates doing everything they could to create altercations. The yelling, disruptive and out of order tactics of the Ron Paul delegates were uncalled for. The police officers were all very cordial and respectful, but when someone who has been asked by the convention chairman 3 or more times not to continue acting in a manner that was disruptive or they would be removed and then after repeated requests by the police to leave the room, they intentionally started resisting security, what on earth did they expect? The Ron Paul delegates also brought in fake “security” and tried to make the police leave because they were now “in charge now.” Hats off to the police that were patient, respectful and very professional in a very difficult crowd. Those that had to be removed should be charged with resisting arrest and assault on the police officers. The only rules added were specifics on conducting the business of the state convention, not changing any rules approved by the RNC. One would think it easy to understand in the committee meetings yesterday that if it is a platform committee meeting, then anything dealing with a different committee would be ruled out of order. Very, very sad to see these Paul delegates so bent on creating a scene instead of doing the convention business.

Another view of the same events:

Today, June 2, 2012, I was in attendance as a delegate in support of Ron Paul at the Louisiana Republican State Convention in Shreveport. Before the convention began I told someone if we make it through without someone being tazed I would feel the day was a success. Why would I suggest such a thing? For some reason, the Louisiana GOP felt it was necessary to load up the Shreveport Convention Center with Shreveport and Louisiana State Police. I guess they thought us rowdy Ron Paul people would create a scene or something. (Apparently they’ve been reading our blogs) In that regard they were correct, but not in the way they were expecting.

Now, the LA GOP saw the writing on the wall… so what do the “powers that be” do? Change the rules of course, 19.5 hours before the Rules Committee was scheduled to meet. And for good measure, they appointed their own chairmen to the 3 convention committees.

These new “Supplemental Rules” could most accurately be described as…. corrupt, power-grabbing . . . I was also elected to a seat on the Rules Committee. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the committee meeting to finalize the rules for the convention. However, during the meeting, the body (made up of a majority Ron Paul supporters) voted to remove the appointed chairman and elect Alex Helwig. Helwig repeatedly insisted that he was the lawfully elected chairman. Self-appointed chair Villere then called in the police to remove Helwig who later sustained injuries during his detainment.

The Louisiana Republican convention resulted in more injuries than the New Orleans Saints bounty program. In Louisiana, politics is still as toxic as the Gulf spill, still a blood sport and as rough and tumble as a mixed martial arts tourney. Their prescription for democracy is doses of procedures that fortify those who hold power. Views that differ are a threat to undermining the social order. “No sacrifice or compromise” is the rally cry. The broken fingers and dislocated hips of their own party members and state committee chairs show their willingness to protect order and ignore justice.