More than 200 Republican activists and elected officials gathered inside a Baton Rouge church Saturday for a state GOP meeting where Louis Gurvich, chairman of the party, fended off state Rep. Lance Harris’ bid to unseat him.
The Republican State Central Committee, the sprawling elected body that comprises the infrastructure of the state GOP, voted 134-61 to re-elect Gurvich to head of the party, putting an end to a battle between Gurvich and a faction of Republicans who pushed for change at the party’s helm.
Party leadership didn’t enforce what they called a mask requirement, and the vast majority of people attending the meeting at Parkview Baptist Church in south Baton Rouge were not wearing masks for most of the roughly five-hour gathering. A small section of the pews were adorned with signs saying they were reserved for “mask wearers only.”
The meeting came less than a week after former state Rep. Steve Carter, a well-known Baton Rouge Republican, died battling COVID-19, and a month after Republican Luke Letlow died of COVID-19 complications just before taking office as congressman for Louisiana’s 5th District.
The party passed resolutions honoring both men Saturday.
The committee voted unanimously to endorse Julia Letlow, the late Congressman-elect’s wife, in her bid to fill his seat. And members voted to endorse Claston Bernard, a Jamaican-born athlete who ran track at LSU, in his bid for the heavily-Democratic 2nd Congressional District left vacant by senior Biden aide Cedric Richmond. Both seats will be filled through special elections March 20, with April runoffs if necessary.
Attendees milled about the church auditorium for much of the meeting, chatting and shaking hands. The party held the meeting in person at the church despite concerns from some members that it wasn’t a safe venue during the pandemic.
Aside from re-electing Gurvich as chairman, the party also voiced its support for former President Donald Trump, passing a resolution that will be sent to Trump affirming the party still backs him and asking Louisiana’s U.S. Sens. John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy to vote against conviction in his upcoming impeachment trial. Kennedy has already said he’ll vote against convicting him, while Cassidy has said he’ll hear the evidence before deciding.
Lenar Whitney, the Republican National Committeewoman for Louisiana, gave a speech where she repeated the false claim that Trump won the election, as well as an unproven conspiracy theory that Dominion Voting Systems machines were rigged against Trump.
The party also sought to pass a resolution that expressed “disgust” with the handling of the 2020 presidential election, repeating many of the Trump campaign’s unfounded theories about irregularities in the contest that were tossed out by a host of courts across the country. But the resolution failed because the committee lost a quorum, with fewer than 80 people remaining at the end of the meeting.
Harris, who entered the race for chair less than a week before the vote, conceded the race despite there being more votes cast than eligible voting members. One hundred ninety-five votes were cast, while only 190 members were eligible to vote at the time. The committee later accepted a revision to acknowledge 195 voting members were present.
Harris was supported by several of his colleagues in the Legislature, including House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, of Gonzales, as well as well-known Republican donor Eddie Rispone, of Baton Rouge. Rispone had entered the race himself in late December, calling for a cleaning up of what he called a lack of transparency and organization at the party.
After losing a close race for governor in 2019 to incumbent Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, Rispone had recruited several candidates to the state central committee. He dropped out of the race for party chair earlier this month, and Harris emerged as a last-minute candidate a few days before the vote.
Gurvich, a New Orleans businessman, took over the helm of the party in 2018 after long-time party chair Roger Villere stepped down. Villere now runs a private political consulting firm and serves as Republican National Committeeman for Louisiana.
Gurvich touted the party’s growth – there are now more than 1 million registered Republicans in the state – and his paying off of debt left over from Villere’s tenure.
“The party grew by 11%,” Gurvich said. “The party happened to grow faster than any other Republican party in the nation.”