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Felon/racism resolution unhelpful for LA GOP

It’s not so much that a resolution by the Louisiana Republican Party’s State Central Committee to prevent convicted felons and racists would be an empty gesture, but that it promotes unenforceable mischief.

In the wake of disgraced former state Rep. David Duke running again for the U.S. Senate seat up for grabs this fall, Republican officials appear set to consider at their next meeting this ban on candidates qualifying for office using the GOP label. According to preliminary reports, if two-thirds of the RSCC vote accordingly, this change in bylaws will disallow individuals fitting these categories from running as Republicans. Had not the judiciary recently struck down the state’s ban on felon participation in elections for a period after end of sentence, Duke could not have qualified.

It won’t work. The American system drafts parties as instruments to conduct elections and, like other states, Louisiana defines what parties to recognize for registration and candidacy purposes. Party bylaws can’t change that. In Louisiana, candidates who meet qualifications for an office must employ their party designation according to their elector registration, paying an extra filing fee if they registered as a member of a recognized political party that has chosen to impose one. Pay the fee for the particular office consistent with registration, and legally that affiliation appears on the ballot next to the name. A party cannot change that law unilaterally, and only change in statute would make such a restriction effective.

So any such ban would have only symbolic value. But even this launches the party down a slippery slope it should avoid. “Felons” appear straightforwardly-defined, although this probably will become moot sometime in the near future when the Legislature gets around to reintroducing an amendment restricting felons from running for office in a constitutionally-valid manner and it gains approval by the electorate.

However, defining someone as a “racist” becomes fraught with peril. Duke’s white supremacy views certainly fit, but what evidence reveals one? Membership in some group somebody designates as racist? Attendance at a function of this group? A publication? In print? On social media? An oral statement? How verified by how many witnesses? The permutations possible and specificity needed border on the endless, and would consume large amount of party resources not only to define, but also once defined to employ procedurally if such cases arise.

And in having such a qualification, the potential for the politicization of this seems boundless. A well-meaning attempt to dissociate use of the party from someone with politically unpopular speech may become an exercise in going far beyond the mandate envisioned in the relevant bylaw. The political world presents many such examples of an organization using such labelling divorced from any reality to support its political agenda, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center’s designating some as “hate groups” when no intellectual justification exists to maintain as such in certain cases; it applies the label to groups that disagree with its ideology regardless that these exhibit no characteristics of “hate” to any reasonable, unbiased observer.

For example, would the party’s presidential nominee businessman Donald Trump qualify as a racist because he insulted a judge of Hispanic origin? Supposedly the supermajority threshold would limit any such politicizing of judgment along the lines of the putative bylaw, but does not completely eliminate it. In essence, the party could penalize symbolically an unpopular figure among state party regulars for speech or activities not at all reasonably related to “racism.”

Given this temptation to mischief that will sow hard feelings, party leaders should not have such a nebulous instrument at their disposal that submerges the party into disputes that could make for unfavorable publicity. Add to that it would have no substantive impact, and this proposed measure should not come up for consideration.

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