John Treen

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John Speir Treen, Sr.​

(Louisiana homebuilder and Republican political figure)

John Treen of LA.jpg

Born February 5, 1926​
Baton Rouge
Louisiana, USA
Died April 14, 2020 (aged 94)
Place of death and interment not specified in obituary
Political Party Republican candidate for:​

(1) Louisiana State Senator, 1972,
against M. Joseph Tiemann
​ (2) Louisiana State Representatives, 1989​,
against David Duke

Spouse (1) Missing

(2) Martha Anne Swayze Treen
(surviving widow)
​ John S. Treen, Jr.
​ Ben Marcus Treen
​ Betsy T. Anderson
​ Georgia T. Cole ​
Three stepsons
Tommy Swayze
Taylor Swayze
Bobby Swayze
Joseph Paul, Sr., and Elizabeth Speir Treen​
David C. Treen (brother)

Religion United Methodist

John Speir Treen, Sr. (February 5, 1926 – April 14, 2020),[1] was a homebuilder from Metairie in suburban Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, who lost a 1989 special election for the Louisiana House of Representatives to the former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke. Treen was the older brother of David C. Treen, the first Republican U.S. Representative and governor of Louisiana since Reconstruction. ​ ​


​ John Treen was born in Baton Rouge to Joseph Paul Treen, Sr. (1900–1986) and the former Elizabeth Speir (1899–1990). He had a second brother, Paul Treen, Jr., who predeceased him. He was married to the former Martha Anne Swayze (born 1928).[2] Treen had two sons, John S. Treen, Jr., (born 1954) of Metairie and Ben Marcus Treen (born 1956) of Greenville, South Carolina.[3] and two daughters, Betsy T. Anderson of Cypress, Texas, and Georgia T. Cole of Spartanburg, South Carolina.​[1]

Treen served as a lieutenant in the United States Navy during World War II. He was stationed on the destroyer escort, the USS Doyle C. Barnes, in the Pacific theater of operations He graduated from Tulane University in 1949, at which he was a member of Kappa Sigma fraternity. In his senior year, he was the president of the Pan Hellenic Council and the Kappa Sigma grand master.He was a member of Mensa International and a former member of the Rotary Club.[1]

John was an active member of Munholland United Methodist Church in Metairie. As a building contractor, he helped with structural improvements and built the church playground.[1], ​

Political life

​ Like his brother Dave Treen, John Treen was long active in the Louisiana Republican Party. He was a former chairman of the Jefferson Parish Republican Council and served for twenty-five years on the Republican State Central Committee.[1] While Dave Treen ran for governor in the general election held on February 1, 1972, in the first of three campaigns for the state's highest office, John Treen in that same election contested a state Senate seat in Jefferson Parish. He lost by 973 votes to the Democrat M. Joseph Tiemann, 16,153 (51.6 percent) to 15,180 (48. percent.)[4]

Considered a particularly observant political commentator, John Treen coined the expression: "All things being equal, Cajuns vote for Cajuns."[5] In most statewide and congressional races since 1972 in Louisiana, the candidate from Acadiana, regardless of party, has won statewide and district elections. An exception to that rule came in 1987 when the Democrat Buddy Roemer, who defected to the Republicans in 1991, won without a general election when his Cajun intra-party rival, Governor Edwin Edwards, withdrew. Another exception occurred in 2004, when Republican David Vitter defeated Democrat Chris John. Both were then U.S. representatives.[5]

Treen v. Duke

In late 1988, Republican state Representative Charles Cusimano, II, resigned from the Distirct 81 seat in the Louisiana House after eight years to accept a position as a 24th Judicial District Court judge. In the special election, the candidates included Treen, Duke, Republican school board member Delton Charles, Democratic real estate agent D. J. "Bud" Olister (backed by Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee), and Roger F. Villere, Jr., a young businessman from Metairie who was the Republican state chairman from 2004 to 2018. Duke finished first in the primary with 3,995 votes (33.1 percent).[6] Because no candidate received a majority in the first round, a runoff was required between Duke and Treen, who polled 2,277 votes (18.9 percent) in the first round of balloting.[7]

David Vitter, then a young Republican attorney, would have entered the special election as well had he met the residency requirement. Ironically, Vitter would become the representative for District 81 in 1992 and then win election to the United States House of Representatives.[8]​ ​ Ron Gomez, then a member of the Louisiana House from Lafayette, observed the District 81 special election:​ ​

John Treen was not a very dynamic campaigner, and he was not very well liked by the political insiders in Jefferson Parish. ... Harry Lee was quoted as saying the runoff election was 'a choice between a bigot and an asshole.' During the few head-to-head public forums Treen's advisors allowed, John wilted under the relative eloquence of Duke.[9]

​ John Treen's candidacy was endorsed by U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush, former President Ronald W. Reagan, and other notable Republicans such as the political activist Beth Rickey.[10] Treen also drew the backing of the Chamber of Commerce, The New Orleans Times-Picayune,[11] the Democrat Victor Bussie (long-term president of the Louisiana AFL-CIO), and Ed Steimel (president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry). Duke, however, hammered Treen on a statement that Treen had made indicating a willingness to entertain higher property taxes if so determined by the voters, an unpopular stance in the suburban district. Moreover, the third-place candidate, Delton Charles, did little to help Treen in the contest with Duke.[12]

With 8,459 votes (50.7 percent), Duke narrowly defeated Treen, who polled 8,232 votes (49.3 percent).[13] Duke served in the House from 1990 until 1992, his only public office.[14] The turnout was a relatively high 54 percent for a showdown election.[9] Though Duke had left the Klan in 1979, his presence in Louisiana Republican circles in the 1990s created much havoc for the party and may have delayed its advancement to near parity with the Democrats, which developed by the early years of the 21st century.

John Treen, meanwhile, decided to challenge the election on grounds that Duke had lived two blocks outside district lines prior to filing his candidacy papers. Because Treen did not file his challenge within ten days of qualifying, Duke was considered a bona fide resident of District 81. Treen's suit was tossed out of court by Judge Clarence McManus.[15]​ ​ David Treen also faced David Duke, who became a perennial candidate over the years, in a special election for the United States House in 1999, triggered by the resignation of Republican Representative Bob Livingston of Louisiana's 1st congressional district. Neither Treen nor Duke emerged victorious. The election went to then state Representative David Vitter. Ironically, Duke endorsed David Treen in Treen's close runoff election loss to Vitter. The 1999 contest was the last time that David Treen appeared on a Louisiana ballot. In that election, John Treen said of his brother: "Dave has a reputation for absolute honesty and integrity. That was one of his trademarks."[16]​ ​

Other political notes

​John Treen was an alternate delegate to the 1972 Republican National Convention held in Miami Beach, Florida, which re-nominated the Nixon/Agnew ticket. He was a delegate to the 1988 convention held in New Orleans, which nominated the Bush-Quayle ticket.[17]

In 2004, John Treen refused to endorse David Vitter in the U.S. Senate election. Treen said that he "doesn't give a damn" what Vitter thinks of him. He said that his opposition to Vitter is that "I don't like liars." John Treen, however, did not specifically endorse Vitter's opponent, the Democrat Christopher John.[18] Vitter won the first of his two Senate terms in the race against Christopher John. On Dave Treen's death in 2009, however, Vitter delivered a moving eulogy to the former governor.[19]

On March 24, 2012, John Treen was handily defeated in a race for the District 81 seat on the Republican State Central Committee. He lost that race to Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta, 447 (63.3 percent) to 259 (36.7 percent).[20]

Treen died at the age of ninety-four of complications from the coronavirus.[1] ​ ​


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 John Treen obituary. The New Orleans Times-Picayune (April 25, 2020). Retrieved on May 26, 2020.
  2. Gov. David Conner Treen obituary. The Baton Rouge Advocate. Retrieved on September 24, 2019.
  3. People Search & Background Check
  4. Louisiana Secretary of State, General Election Returns, February 1, 1972.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "General Russel L. Honoré considering run for Senate,", accessed November 11, 2009; no longer on-line.
  6. 1989 Louisiana State Representative Election. Retrieved on November 11, 2009.
  7. Michael Zatarain, David Duke: Evolution of a Klansman (Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishers, 1990), ISBN 0-88289-817-5, ISBN 978-0-88289-817-9.
  8. Ron Gomez, My Name Is Ron And I'm a Recovering Legislator: Memoirs of a Louisiana State Representative (Lafayette, Louisiana: Zemog Publishing, 2000, ISBN=0-9700156-0-7), p. 222.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Ron Gomez, p. 223.
  10. "GOP Condemns Duke," Newsday (Long Island, New York), February 25, 1989. p. 9.
  11. Frances Frank Marcus (January 23, 1989). Ex-Klan Chief Places First in Louisiana Primary. The New York Times. Retrieved on September 24, 2019.
  12. Douglas D. Rose, The Emergence of David Duke and the Politics of Race (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992), ISBN 0807843814), p. iii
  13. John S. Treen. Retrieved on November 11, 2009.
  14. Membership of the Louisiana House of Representatives, 1812-2020. Louisiana House of Representatives. Retrieved on September 24, 2019.
  15. Ron Gomez, pp. 224-226.
  16. "There Is a House in New Orleans", November 11, 2009. Retrieved on November 11, 2009.
  17. Index to Politicians. political Retrieved on November 11, 2009.
  18. "Thee Is a House in New Orleans,", October 29, 2004; no longer on-line.
  19. Debbie Glover. Treen honored as father of LA GOP. Slidell Sentry,. Retrieved on November 6, 2009; no longer on-line..
  20. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, March 24, 2012.

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