Roger F. Villere, Jr.

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Roger Francis Villere, Jr.

State Chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party
In office
2004​ – 2018​
Preceded by Pat Brister
Succeeded by Louis Gurvich

Born August 16, 1949​
New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Spouse(s) Donna Gunckel Villere ​
Children Roger F. Villere, III​

Mark Charles Villere
​ Jacques Philip Villere​

Residence Metairie, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana​
Occupation Businessman
Religion Roman Catholic

Alma mater:
Archbishop Rummel High School​

Roger Francis Villere, Jr. (pronounced VILL ARY) (born August 16, 1949), is a businessman from Metairie in Jefferson Parish in suburban New Orleans who on March 26, 2004, was elected state chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party by the 144-member GOP State Central Committee.[1] He succeeded Patricia Phillips Brister of St. Tammany Parish, the first woman to have been the state GOP chairman, her tenure having been a single term from 2000 to 2004. Villere's tenure ended as party chairman ended in 2018.​

Run for legislature, 1989

​ In 1988, Republican state Representative Charles Cusimano resigned his seat to become a state court judge, and a special election was called early in 1989 to fll the position. At thirty-nine, Villere entered the race in District 89. His opponents included two fellow Republicans, John Treen, a brother of former Governor David C. Treen, and David Duke, formerly affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan. Treen and Duke went into a runoff election from which Duke emerged victorious and served for three years in the state legislature.[2] Duke used attention from his new position as a base from which to launch unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. Senate in 1990, governor in 1991, and President in 1992. Villere did not again seek office but thereafter concentrated his political activity within his party organization.[3]

Political analyst Stephen Mark Sabludowsky (born 1950) of Metairie noted certain ironies in that 1989 special legislative race:​

David Duke won that legislative seat, became a political nightmare for Governor Buddy Roemer and Republican chairman William A. "Billy" Nungesser. Of course, Duke ran against J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., and Edwin Edwards. Duke's fortunes soured as he attempted to run for President, later spent time in jail, then peddled his racism and Nazism and 'loony tunes' philosophies in the likes of Russia, Iran, and elsewhere.​

Meanwhile, the young Roger Villere worked his way up the ladder of the Louisiana Republican Party, ultimately earning the position of chairman."[3]

Political spotlight

​ ​Villere is no stranger to political controversy. He has withstood his critics, some in his own party, with a take-no-prisoners approach as chairman. When he asked Democratic state Representative and Speaker Pro Tem Karen Carter Peterson of New Orleans to submit certain public information about herself to him, at least two Republican lawmakers, Joe Harrison of Napoleonville and Ernest Wooton of Belle Chasse—Wooton later deserted the GOP and turned Independent—defended Peterson and urged Villere to apologize or to step down from the chairmanship. Villere's open records request came after she had criticized Villere's ally, Republican Governor Bobby Jindal. Villere neither apologized nor resigned.[4]

In 1996, Villere joined then state chairman Michael Gordon "Mike" Francis, a Crowley and Lafayette businessman, in supporting U.S. Senator Phil Gramm of Texas for the Republican presidential nomination, but Gramm withdrew from the contest even prior to the New Hampshire primary. In 2002, before he had become state chairman, Villere endorsed Tony Perkins, a state representative from Baker in East Baton Rouge Parish and the most conservative of the leading candidates for the U.S. Senate. However, the incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu was reelected in a general election against Republican Suzanne Haik Terrell, whom Villere and Perkins then supported. Perkins later became president of the Family Research Council.​

Another Republican figure, former legislative auditor Dan Kyle, served as party vice chairman early in Villere's tenure.​ ​

Promoting party unity

Chairman Villere often called for Republican unity, citing U. S. President Ronald W. Reagan's "Eleventh Commandment,"[5] which discourages Republicans from speaking against fellow party members in other factions. He urged Paul Sawyer, a primary opponent to Woody Jenkins, a former state representative from Baton Rouge who in 2008 sought a vacant seat in the United States House of Representatives, to withdraw a particular advertisement attempting to link Jenkins to past support of David Duke.[5]

In the fall of 2008, Villere threatened to "discipline" Louisiana Republicans who endorsed Senator Landrieu for a third term, rather than the party choice, state Treasurer John Neely Kennedy, who switched from Democratic affiliation in 2007. Among those supporting Landrieu was former Governor Treen, who died less than a year after that race, and Moderate Republican Pat Brister, Villere's predecessor as state chairman. Despite his apostasy regarding Landrieu-Kennedy, Treen was eulogized by Senator David Vitter, a former Treen intra-party rival, as the "father of the Republican Party in Louisiana." Others backing Landrieu were the sheriffs in Jefferson and St Tammany parishes. In addition, U.S. Representative Rodney Alexander attended a Landrieu fund-raiser at the home of former Louisiana State Senator Randy Ewing, a Democrat from Jackson Parish who served as the former State Senate President and who in 2003 ran unsuccessfully for governor.[6]

Upon Treen's death in 2009, Villere, like Senator Vitter, issued a gracious statement of condolences, having called the former governor "a courageous man who loved our country and our state. He fought the political establishment in the 1970s and 1980s when it was very difficult to elect a Republican in our state, and his career in political office was marked with integrity and fiscal discipline. It is important for younger voters to understand that Louisiana's commitment to high ethical standards and the existence of a viable two-party system in our state are relatively new developments. ... Dave Treen laid the foundation to change all that, and for that, millions of Louisiana citizens owe him a profound debt of gratitude.”[7]

In January 2009, Villere joined then Oklahoma state chairman, Gary Jones, in endorsing Ken Blackwell, the former Ohio secretary of state, for national party chairman. The position went instead to the Moderate Republican, Michael Steele, an African-American former lieutenant governor of Maryland.[8] Steele was subsequently replaced as national chairman in 2011 by Reince Priebus of Wisconsin.​

After U.S. President Barack H. Obama proposed a national health care plan, popularly known as Obamacare, Villere replied by calling the president an "able orator [who is attempting] to convince Americans that more government and more spending is the only way to move our nation forward. Despite the President’s plans, the Democrat plans advancing in Congress increases the role of government in decisions best made by their patients and their doctors, increase taxes, and increase our national debt. The President admitted that there needs to be some significant details to be ironed out, and just as it has always been, the devil will be in those details."[9] Instead, Villere called on the White House to consider the Republican alternative health proposals advanced by Louisiana U.S. Representative Charles Boustany, Jr., a retired physician from Lafayette and a nephew by marriage of Edwin Edwards. Boustany said that "working in a bipartisan way, we can truly lower the cost of health care while improving quality for the American people".[9]

Stephen Sabludowsky considers Villere a particularly effective state chairman, noting that the GOP has become a "potent force in shaping the state. While Villere could not win an election in District 81 in 1989, he has since become one of the most influential individuals in Louisiana, helping to set policies and pass legislation. ... When Roger Villere and the Louisiana Republican Party speak, the Louisiana Republican legislators and conservatives listen and vote almost in lockstep. ... Rarely do the Louisiana Republican legislators veer from the words and warnings of Roger Villere. ... Governor Bobby Jindal rarely speaks out publicly giving a stern warning or rebuke. In a sense, Jindal is often playing the 'good cop' and Villere the 'bad cop'. ... the formula appears to be working quite well.”[3]

Running for lieutenant governor, 2010

​ In March 2010, Villere announced that he would seek the position of lieutenant governor, which was vacated on May 3 by Democrat Mitch Landrieu, who in 2010 became the mayor of New Orleans, a post that he held for two terms. Several other Republicans also entered the October 2 special election for the fifteen months remaining in Landrieu's term: Country music Sammy Kershaw, who lost to Landrieu in 2007; Louisiana Secretary of State John Leigh "Jay" Dardenne of Baton Rouge, and Kevin Davis, the parish president of St. Tammany Parish in the New Orleans suburbs.[10] Meanwhile, state Representative Cameron Henry of Jefferson Parish tried earlier in 2010 to abolish the office of lieutenant governor,[11]​ the principal function of which is to promote tourism and recreation.

Several of Villere's opponents claimed that his continuing role as party chairman represented a conflict of interest in that he should remain neutral when several Republicans are running for an office. There is no rule, however, that a party chairman must step down when himself running for office. Ken Coon and Lynn Lowe, former Arkansas state Republican chairmen, for instance, remained as party chairman while running unsuccessfully for governor in 1974 and 1978, against David Pryor and Bill Clinton, respectively.

With higher name recognition as secretary of state and a large vote in East Baton Rouge Parish, Jay Dardenne led the field of candidates in the special election. Finishing second was the Democrat Caroline Fayard, a favorite of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who came to Louisiana to endorse her candidacy. Villere finished sixth among eight candidates. Had his 44,096 votes (7 percent) gone instead to Sammy Kershaw, the November exchange would have been an all-Republican affair between Dardenne and Kershaw.

Dardenne said that Villere's party leadership post did not appear to have "transferred into broad support" outside the 144-member Republican State Central Committee which reelected Villere as chairman in 2010. "It [Villere candidacy] has not been a problem for me in terms of raising money and garnering support. I've been able to raise a lot of money from Republicans and the major Republican donors across the state are lining up behind me," said Dardenne.[12]​ Kershaw called Villere's candidacy "a direct conflict of interest on several levels. His job is to raise money and get Republican candidates elected. While running his own campaign, there's no way he can effectively do his job. I think Mr. Villere should have resigned [when he announced for lieutenant governor]. He's a nice guy, as far as I know, but if he can't win the race without being chairman, he shouldn't run."[12]

Villere was endorsed by the Lafayette Tea Party, the Tea Party of Louisiana, the Republican parties of Jefferson and Rapides parishes, and the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce.[12]​ ​ Villere's endorsement of Dardenne, after months of having criticized the frontrunner, was met with incredulous statements like those of political scientist Pearson Cross of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette:​ "Maybe he thinks that you can at the end of the day say, 'Well, we just need to all come together.' It just seems odd."[13]​ ​ Within days after the special election for lieutenant governor, Villere faced calls for his resignation from within the state central committee.[14] Again, Villere ignored the calls that he step down. Meanwhile, Dardenne went on to defeat the Democrat Fayard on November 2, 2010.

Removal and reinstatement as state party chairman

​​ On June 2, 2012, the Louisiana State Republican Convention met in Shreveport to elect delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. The delegates to the state convention had been elected at the Louisiana caucus held on April 28. That body chose 111 delegates for U.S. Representative Ron Paul and 39 others as part of a "Conservative Delegation."​ At 11 p.m. Friday, June 1, just thirteen hours prior to the start of the state convention, the party's executive committee of which Villere is also the chairman, emailed out "Supplemental rules" for the convention. These orders appointed Villere as the chairman without need for an election by the delegates. Villere the next morning called the convention to order at 10 a.m. He failed to recognize "Points of Order" or "Points of Information" from delegates on the floor. It was hence moved and seconded from the floor that the "Chair be Vacated". Two-thirds of the Delegates voted to oust Villere as the chairman. The publication The New American reported that Paul had won a majority at the convention.[15]

The delegates then moved to elect Henry Herford of Delhi in Richland Parish as the new chairman. Villere refused to vacate the chair and called on police to remove Herford.[16] Russia Today covered the event and the resulting injury to Henry Herford:​

After the second convention began, cops stepped in and tried to apprehend Herford. A spokesperson for the Shreveport Police Department told Reuters that Herford was asked to leave the building and for failing to do so was cited with a misdemeanor. The department says that Herford resisted arrest; yet video recorded during the incident clearly shows the man pleading with police, "I’m handicapped!" His prosthetic hip was dislocated during the altercation and police are also caught on camera demanding credentials from convention goers claiming to be doctors after Herford calls out for medical aid.
​ ​

As Herford was taken to a hospital, the delegates proceeded to elect Mrs. Connie Bernard as the chairman. Police did not remove Mrs. Bernard who conducted the rest of the convention including roll call, election of convention officers, committee reports and the election of the delegates and alternates to Tampa in August. After less than an hour ... the majority adjourned the convention at 10:55 a.m.

​ Ultimately, party officials ignored the Herford-Bernard insurgency and reconfirmed Villere as chairman. The leadership said that thirty delegates were selected to the Tampa convention, including ten for former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the winner with 49 percent of the Republican presidential preference primary held in March, five for Mitt Romney, the nominee-in-waiting, who polled 27 percent in the Louisiana primary, and one for Paul, who finished with 6 percent in the primary. Officials said that the other fourteen delegates were unpledged but likely to vote for Romney.[17]

Herford and another supporter of Ron Paul, Skip Caissie of Monroe, said that an official with the Romney campaign approached his group after the meeting adjourned and promised to permit the Paul delegates to be seated in Tampa. "When we get to Tampa they'll accept our group," Herford said.[17]"As far as we're concerned we're expecting to go Tampa and be seated," added Caissie.[17]

Jason Dore, the Louisiana GOP executive director, however, discounted any long-range impact of the Paul supporters on the party:​"The delegation elected by the official convention will be submitted and certified (to the Republican National Committee). We hope to come to agreement with the Paul supporters beforehand, but if they choose to contest our delegation, we are confident we will prevail."[17]

In 2018, he was succeeded as party chairman by Louis Gurvich of New Orleans. ​

Personal life

​ A native of New Orleans, Villere is one of seven children born to Roger Villere, Sr. (1911–1996), and the former Ursula Wattigny (born November 30, 1918), a graduate of the defunct St. Mary's Dominican College in New Orleans and a schoolteacher. Mrs. Villere was recognized on the floor of the U.S. Senate on the occasion of her ninetieth birthday by Senator David Vitter. The Roman Catholic family moved to Metairie in 1955, when Roger was six years of age.[18]

In 1967, Villere graduated from the Catholic Archbishop Rummel High School in Metairie.[19] After working briefly as a night clerk for the Illinois Central Railroad, the newly married Villere launched his Villere's Florist, a family-owned and operated firm at 1107 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Suite B, which in 2009 employed fifty persons. Villere is married to the former Donna Gunckel (born ca. 1951), daughter of Joseph P. Gunckel of Franklinton in Washington Parish, and the former Marie Joyce Webre (1926–2002).[20] Their three sons, Roger, III (born 1970), Mark Charles Villere (born 1973), and Jacques Philip Villere (born 1980), all work in the family business.[21]

References

  1. LA State Party Leadership. Republican Party of Louisiana (2009). Retrieved on November 17, 2009.
  2. Membership of the Louisiana House of Representatives, 1812-2008. house.louisiana.gov. Retrieved on November 8, 2009.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Stephen Sabludowsky, "Jindal Has Mighty Duke in Louisiana GOP and Roger Villere," bayoubuzz, November 8, 2009; no longer on-line.}}
  4. "Louisiana GOP, Legislator Spat Continues Over Public Record Issue, bayoubuzz.com, May 6, 2009; no longer on-line.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Sawyer keeps ad on Jenkins: State GOP ask ad to stop. The Baton Rouge Advocate (February 29, 2008). Retrieved on November 8, 2009.
  6. "LA-Sen: Republicans for Mary Landrieu: Hey Villere: You Gonna’ Censure Rodney?", Dailykingfish.com, November 8, 2009.
  7. Statement from Chairman Roger Villere Following the Death of David Treen, lagop.com, November 8, 2009.
  8. "Roger Villere and Gary Jones Endorse Ken Blackwell," Kenblackwell.com, accessed November 8, 2009; no longer on-line.
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Villere replies to Obama," LAGOP.com, November 8, 2009; no longer on-line.
  10. Bill Barrow (March 30, 2010). Roger Villere, GOP chairman, announces for lieutenant governor. The New Orleans Times-Picayune. Retrieved on April 24, 2010.
  11. Ed Anderson (February 12, 2010). Plan to abolish lieutenant governor's position may run into legislative opposition. The New Orleans Times-Picayune. Retrieved on July 13, 2010.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Republican candidates question Villere's conflict. Alexandria Town Talk. Retrieved on August 23, 2010; no longer on-line..
  13. Melinda Deslatte, "Analysis:GOP leader creates division as candidate, The Thibodaux Daily Comet, October 11, 2010.
  14. Ed Anderson, "Calls emerge for Villere to resign: Some say he unfairly criticized Dardenne,"​ The New Orleans Times-Picayune, October 24, 2010.
  15. Thomas R. Eddlem (June 3, 2012). Louisiana GOP Convention Splits; Ron Paul Wins Majority Convention. The New American. Retrieved on September 12, 2019.
  16. Video of Police Assaulting Chairman Hereford. youtube.com (June 2, 2012). Retrieved on September 12, 2019.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Paul supporters go rogue: Rebellion at state GOP convention results in competing delegates lists. Monroe News Star (June 5, 2012). Retrieved on June 6, 2012.
  18. Tribute to Ursula Villere. Thomas.loc.gov. Retrieved on November 8, 2009.
  19. Roger Villere. classmates.com/directory. Retrieved on November 8, 2009.
  20. October 2002 obituaries. The Bogalusa Daily News. Retrieved on November 8, 2009.
  21. Maria C. Montoya, "May brings sheer exhaustion to the florists enduring the busiest week of the year". New Orleans Times-Picayune, (May 11, 2008). Retrieved on November 8, 2009.

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