Louisianans Defy Reagan, Bush, Elect Ex-Klan Chief

Times Staff Writer

Former national Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, running against a local businessman who received endorsements from President Bush and former President Ronald Reagan, captured a hotly contested seat in the Louisiana Legislature by 224 votes Saturday.

Duke, 38, publisher of a newspaper for the National Assn. for the Advancement of White People and a proponent of relocating minorities to segregated sections of the country, ran as a newly registered Republican. He received 8,456 votes, or 51%, in this almost all-white New Orleans suburb to defeat John Treen, 63, who got 8,232 votes.

Nearly 78% of the registered voters in the 81st House District turned out on a chilly, wet day for the runoff election, which was a larger vote here than in the presidential election last November, officials said.


“This election is the greatest political upset in Louisiana history, maybe in American history,” Duke said. “The people of Metairie have spoken.

“I don’t think there’s been a candidate in recent history who has been more attacked, slandered, lied about and hurt in the way I was hurt, and our good people were hurt, in this campaign,” he said in a victory speech.

Brother of Ex-Governor

Treen, a Metairie home builder and brother of the state’s former governor, David Treen, called Duke “a disaster for our area.”

“I know what this man really is,” he said. “The public . . . doesn’t or they wouldn’t have voted the way they did. He’s a master of deception. He conned them into believing he is something he is not.”

The usually run-of-the-mill election drew worldwide coverage after the controversial Duke surprised political observers by changing his party affiliation last December and entering a seven-man primary, capturing 33% of the vote to Treen’s 19%. Since neither candidate received more than half the vote, both Republicans were forced into the runoff election.

Duke, who said he left the klan in 1980 but still lists his home phone number as the New Orleans klan office, delivered a blow to local, state and national Republican leaders with the victory Saturday. They quickly disavowed his election.

‘Not a Republican’

“David Duke is not a Republican,” Republican National Chairman Lee Atwater said in a statement released by the party Saturday night. “He’s a pretender, a charlatan and a political opportunist who is looking for any organization he can find to try to legitimize his views of racial and religious bigotry and intolerance.

“We repudiate him in his views, and we will take steps to see that he is disenfranchised from our party if he is declared the official winner,” Atwater said.

Party officials in Washington said that if Duke is certified the winner, Atwater will hold an executive meeting of the Republican National Committee to consider a motion of censure that was called “the political equivalent of excommunication.” The motion would condemn Duke and deny him any form of party aid or assistance.

Many other political and civic leaders also opposed Duke.

“He espouses the same philosophies of many Republicans, being against affirmative action and set-asides,” state Rep. Quentin Dastugue said. “The problem is that he backs it up with racism and bigotry.”

Efforts by Bush, Reagan

In the last week of the campaign, Bush, Reagan, Atwater and nearly every Republican politician in the state threw their support behind Treen. Letters from Bush promoting Treen’s candidacy arrived at most homes in the district by Election Day and a radio advertisement by Reagan urged voters to support Treen.

Treen’s campaign sought to remind the voters of Duke’s past as a neo-Nazi follower of George Lincoln Rockwell and as the imperial wizard of a branch of the klan.

In New Orleans, the Roman Catholic archbishop urged voters not to vote for Duke, while the president of Loyola University dispatched 785 letters to alumni in the district suggesting that they not vote for Duke.

But Duke supporters said that Reagan and Bush, who received more than 80% of the vote here in their presidential campaigns, were out of their element in this campaign.

“Reagan’s never eaten at the Popeye’s chicken where I grew up,” said Joseph Breau, 31, an electronics engineer. “He never went to the Time Saver (store) where I go.”

‘Slime and Sham’

“The people saw through the slime and the sham being spewed forth by our competition,” said Howie Farrell, Duke’s campaign manager. “What does (Reagan) know about this place and the people of Metairie. The only thing he knows is that when he goes from the airport to New Orleans, this is where they hold up the traffic for two hours so he can get through.”

Saturday’s election was Duke’s latest foray into politics. In 1975 he ran for a state Senate seat, making no attempt to hide his klan affiliation, and won a third of the vote in an affluent Baton Rouge district. In 1979, he ran for the 10th District Senate seat in Metairie and won about a fourth of the vote.

In 1988, he ran for the presidency as a member of the Populist Party. In the general election, he ran in 15 states and drew less than .05% of the national total vote. He began his presidential bid as a Democrat but was repudiated by party officials. He got no delegates at the Democratic National Convention.