La. GOP divided over national convention delegates

Updated: Jun. 7, 2012 at 8:15 AM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The divvying up of the state Republican Party's delegates to the national convention has melted down into a dispute between party leaders lining up behind presumed nominee Mitt Romney and supporters of libertarian Ron Paul.

If the two sides can't work out their differences, national party officials might be called on to decide which delegates from Louisiana can go to Tampa, Fla., in August.

A Republican meeting in Shreveport over the weekend led to dueling conventions in the same room, delegates carted out by the police and Paul supporters describing injuries from the melee. YouTube videos and GOP bloggers have charted the meltdown on the Internet.

Similar arguments have broken out in other states, with Romney backers worried that Paul's supporters will protest during the convention, detract from Romney's message and harm efforts at uniting the party to unseat President Barack Obama.

"From the state party standpoint, we want to send a delegation to Tampa that's respectable, that's not going to cause a scene on the floor and that, to the extent possible, supports the eventual nominee," said Jason Dore, executive director of the Republican Party of Louisiana.

Louisiana's GOP leaders chose delegates to the Republican National Convention, but so did Paul supporters.

The state has 46 delegates to the national presidential nominating event. The state party leaders have yet to fill 13 seats, with Dore saying they hope to work out a compromise with Paul backers.

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal - considered a potential vice presidential pick for Romney - has sided with state party leaders, supporting their list of delegates.

The Paul faction claims Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere violated party rules governing the selection of delegates.

Alex Helwig, a Paul supporter from Baton Rouge who attended the Shreveport convention, said Villere didn't like the results of the caucus so tried to rig the outcome of the state party convention to get more Romney supporters to Tampa.

"He didn't like the fact that people in Louisiana aren't excited about Mitt Romney. He didn't like the fact that people in Louisiana are excited about Ron Paul. We got more people to the convention than he got, so rather than being satisfied with the results, he cheats," Helwig said.

The state GOP has a two-part process to choose the delegates to its state convention, who in turn choose the delegates to the national convention.

Rick Santorum, who has since dropped out of the presidential race, won Louisiana's Republican primary earlier this year with 49 percent of the vote and got a specified number of delegates from that win, with Romney winning a few delegates as well.

But supporters of Paul, who received only 6 percent of the primary vote, took a majority of delegate seats in the caucus that followed, giving them an ability to sway the outcome of the delegate selection for the national convention. Paul supporters were nearly two-thirds of convention members.

Helwig was removed from the convention last weekend by police, as he objected to the way the convention was proceeding and after Villere refused to recognize Paul supporters who were raising complaints. Approached by several policemen, Helwig said he refused to leave, arguing he was a member of the convention and had a right to be there.

"Somebody jerked my arm and twisted it over my head and backwards," he said. "I pretty much lost my footing, and I was dragged and half-carried out of the hall."

Dore said the state GOP requested 10 police officers for security after receiving warnings from Republican leaders in other states who described widespread disruptions at state party conventions by Paul supporters.

"Everything was designed in a way so that the process would move forward and wouldn't just allow for one group of people to completely dominate," he said. Dore described police removing "a couple of people from the room so that the legitimate convention could continue in an orderly manner."

A nine-member executive committee of the state party enacted rules in the days before the Shreveport convention that changed the selection of the state convention chairman, made it more difficult to remove him and lowered the threshold for the quorum needed to choose delegates.

Charlie Davis, state chairman of the Ron Paul campaign, said the changes were improperly enacted and took power away from the people attending the state GOP convention in favor of the party leaders. Davis is a former executive director of Louisiana's Republican Party.

"Ron Paul activists want to be treated with respect and be treated fairly and to follow the rules," Davis said, denying that Paul supporters had any intention of disrupting the convention or "stealing" delegates.

Davis said the Paul faction has submitted its delegate slate to national party leaders.

Dore said that doesn't matter, because only the state party has access to the official filing forms for delegates. He said the Louisiana GOP has until July 28 to submit its delegate list and party leaders will continue trying to negotiate a final slate with Paul supporters until then.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)