Newly elected state Rep. David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, said Sunday that blacks and Jews have nothing to fear from him and scoffed at the notion he would be banned from the GOP and not be seated by the Legislature.
"I repudiate any racial or religious intolerance," Duke said at a news conference. "Any group - racial or religious - has nothing to fear from David Duke."Duke, 38, squeezed out a 227-vote victory over homebuilder John Treen, 63, to represent a nearly all-white House district in Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans. Duke received 8,459 votes, or 50.7 percent, to Treen's 8,232, or 49.3 percent, in Saturday's election.
Duke registered as a Republican two days before qualifying for the race. After Duke's stunning success in the Jan. 21 primary, the national party sent three advisers to help his mild-mannered opponent and persuaded President Bush and former President Reagan to endorse Treen.
Duke became an international spokesman for the Klan in the 1970s as grand wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. As a teenager he was photographed in a Nazi uniform.
U.S. senators, the governor and other community leaders of both parties warned that a Duke victory would ruin the state's reputation and harm already tenuous race relations.
While Duke said he was extending a hand in friendship to the Jewish community and inviting his opponents to talk with him, he did not mince words on where he stands on civil rights and affirmative action.
"I'm for getting the government out of our personal lives. I'm not for any law for segregation or integration," he said. "The right not to associate is just as precious as the right to associate."
Duke's victory was denounced by national Republican Chairman Lee Atwater, who vowed to have Duke censured and barred from using the GOP name.
"David Duke is not a Republican," Atwater said in a statement. "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 are taking immediate steps to see that he is disenfranchised from our party."
"Is he going to censure me for my past? How many Republicans, how many Democrats have done controversial things in the past?" Duke asked. "The actions of Mr. Atwater are really un-American."
Several lawmakers said they expect an attempt in the Legislature to refuse to seat Duke by challenging his qualifications, namely his residency in the district.
It would be the first time the House has ever taken such action. The Legislature convenes for a special tax session on Wednesday.
"It all depends on what the majority of the House wants to do," said House Speaker Jim Dimos, a Democrat. "Unless someone makes a motion to disqualify him, then he will be sworn in. I know the people in his district elected him by a small margin, but he still was elected and has to be treated as a member."
JACKSON WANTS RACISM STUDY
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Sunday the election of a former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke to the Louisiana legislature is a reflection of a widespread racial tension in the United States and called for a national commission to study the problem. Jackson said Duke was elected Saturday "by people trapped in racism," but stressed Duke's election "must not be seen in isolated terms. It's a real challenge for us to ease racial tensions," Jackson said, calling for the appointment of a commission to study racism in the United States. "It is a problem the entire nation has to deal with." Jackson said former President Ronald Reagan's years in office had been marked by racial insensitivities, such as Reagan's visit to a cemetary in Bitburg, West Germany, where Nazi SS officers were buried, and his lack of support for divestiture of investments in South Africa.