If you want to see just how fractured the Republican party is around the country as it tries to please the Tea Partiers, the more traditional business types and the Ron Paul acolytes, look no further than the Louisiana state GOP convention. That event took a turn for the bizarre as Ron Paul supporters revolted against the decisions of the chair, split the convention and were roughed up by the police who were called to remove them.
Several supporters of Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) sustained injuries while being arrested during the Louisiana Republican Party’s state convention over the weekend, in a conflict that engulfed the meeting after Paul’s supporters overwhelmed other delegates and voted in new leadership, only to be ignored.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) won the Louisiana primary and received 10 delegates, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) took second, earning five delegates along with it. Paul finished fourth in the primary, behind former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), but his supporters dominated the state’s caucusing process in April, meaning he stood to gain as many as 30 delegates at the state convention.
And with an audience widely stacked in his favor on Saturday, it seemed likely that Paul would again emerge from a state convention the unexpected victor… That is, until the LAGOP chairman turned the process on its head.
The conflict hinged upon an alleged violation of the state party’s rules by Chairman Roger Francis Villere, Jr., who’s headed up the LAGOP since 2004. Paul supporters claim he called upon a former Rules Committee chairman, who had been defeated the night prior, in order to implement rules that would marginalize Paul’s delegates. That’s when Alex Helwig, a Paul supporter who’d claimed he had won the race to chair the rules committee, stood up and objected to the chairman’s actions, only to be ignored.
As Helwig’s protest continued, cameras caught Villere saying: “This is not debatable. He is the chairman of the rules committee. I would ask you to sit down. We told you to sit down… I’m going to ask you to be seated, or I’m going to have to ask you to leave. I’m going to have you escorted out if you don’t leave.”
The police dragged Helwig out of the room, apparently breaking several of his fingers in the process. Here’s the video of that:
And that’s when the convention split:
Paul delegates moved to request more information on the chairman’s decision, but he continued as if they weren’t present. So, they decided then and there to elect a new chairman, picking state central committeeman Henry Herford Jr., a Paul supporter, to lead the party.
When Villere refused to acknowledge the vote, Paul’s delegates picked up their chairs and turned away from him, forming a new convention on the spot and passing a microphone to their new chairman.
Moments later, Herford, too, was seized by police. Camera-wielding Paul supporters surrounded the fracas as Herford pleaded with officers to be gentle due to his prosthetic hip. “I have a handicap! I’m handicapped!” he said as they pulled him to the ground.
Herford said later, after he was treated for dislocating his prosthetic hip, “It felt like somebody had kicked me, brought me down. They said I was resisting arrest, but they never said I was under arrest. I didn’t leave when they told me to leave, but I never was told to leave… I have a room here in this hotel and I’m on the state central committee. I don’t know how I could be in an improper place.”
So now there are two entirely different sets of delegates, one selected by the Ron Paul alternative convention and one selected by the regular convention, and there’s going to be a big fight over which ones will actually represent the party in Tampa. A similar problem is going on in Nevada, where the RNC has threatened to block the entire state delegation from the national convention after Paul supporters took it over.
This is a serious problem for the RNC. They know that, from a purely political standpoint, they have to keep Ron Paul and his supporters in the fold through November. They don’t want a repeat of 2008, when Paul refused to endorse John McCain and held his own alternative convention in the same city as the party’s convention. But Paul and his supporters have been intent on using parliamentary rules at the state conventions to get more delegates than the candidate actually earned at the polls, putting the GOP in a very difficult position.
And yes, this is very fun to watch, thank you for asking.