Beth Rickey

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Elizabeth Ann "Beth" Rickey
Born (1956-06-11)June 11, 1956
Lafayette, Louisiana, USA
Died September 12, 2009(2009-09-12) (aged 53)
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Alma mater

University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Tulane University
Occupation

Political activist

Professor
Political party
Republican
Spouse(s) Single
Parents Horace B. Rickey and Flora Ann Womack Rickey
Notes
At the time of her death, Rickey was credited by many as the person in Louisiana most responsible for turning public opinion against the gubernatorial candidacy of the controversial David Duke. She gathered evidence of Duke's neo-Nazi connections.

Elizabeth Ann "Beth" Rickey (June 11, 1956 – September 12, 2009)[1] was a Republican political activist from Louisiana who exposed the neo-Nazi connections[2] of former State Representative David Duke, who ran for the U.S. Senate and for governor of Louisiana in 1990 and 1991, respectively, under the GOP label though opposed by the party leadership.

Early years and family[edit]

Rickey was born in Lafayette to Horace B. Rickey, Jr. (1901–1967), a veteran of World War II, and the former Flora Ann Womack (1921–1998). Rickey, who was single, had a brother, Robert Harper Rickey and his wife, Karen Elizabeth Rickey, of Devon, England.[3]

An uncle, Branch Rickey, was a Major League Baseball executive who in 1947 signed Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the first African American so designated.[4][5]

Rickey's family was Republican. Horace Rickey was the early 1960s the secretary of the Louisiana Republican State Central Committee[6] on which his daughter would later be a member. The Rickeys supported both Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984 for President. She received her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in government at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She taught government at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond until she entered Ph.D. studies at Tulane University.[7]

Targeting Duke[edit]

David Duke has not changed his views even though he says he has. ... There is a difference between being a conservative and being a racist. He's trying to blur that distinction.[8]

In 1988, Rickey received only 135 votes but won the House District 93 slot on the 144-member Louisiana Republican State Central Committee.[9] She was considered one of the more moderate members of the RSCC. Living in New Orleans, and attending Tulane, Rickey began to follow Duke in 1991 to various appearances across the state and nation, and discovered his continuing involvement with radical groups that he had supposedly repudiated. On more than one occasion, Duke met with Rickey to try to convince her that he was a mainstream conservative who could be trusted with political office. Duke called Rickey on the telephone, took her to lunch, and even introduced her to his two daughters."[2]

Quin Hillyer of the Washington Times in Washington, D.C., a personal friend of Rickey's, said that her revelations did the most to stop the election of Duke as governor. With three weeks before the election, Duke was running in a dead heat in public opinion polls against the Democratic candidate, former Governor Edwin Washington Edwards. Hillyer said that "Duke had the momentum. What Duke could never escape, though, was all the evidence that he truly was a neo-Nazi, rather than what he claimed to be: a next-generation Reaganite conservative with a long-ago tawdry Ku Klux Klan past that he had thoroughly put behind him. Much of that evidence was unearthed by Beth Rickey."[2]

Rickey had supported David C. Treen for governor in 1972, when Treen was defeated by Edwards, and in 1979, when Treen was narrowly elected to the state's highest post over the Democrat Louis Lambert. She also campaigned for Treen's brother, John S. Treen, a businessman from Metairie, who lost the District 81 state representative special election runoff to Duke in 1989. Rickey even left her Tulane studies to work in the Treen campaign. The House seat opened when Republican Charles Cusimano of Jefferson Parish resigned to become a state court judge.[2]

Rickey followed Duke to a national gathering in Chicago, Illinois, where she taped him making a racist remark. She released the tape and arranged for detectives to visit Duke's residence and legislative office where he was found selling Nazi books. As a Republican central committee member, she introduced a resolution to censure Duke, but the move was tabled because the committee has jurisdiction only over its own members, and Duke has never been a member of the state committee. The publicity generated by Rickey hurt Duke among Republican leaders and voters who questioned his Nazi ties. Signs appeared saying, "Vote for the Crook. It's Important", a reference to Edwards' ethical conduct. The campaign was also known as "the election from Hell." Rickey started getting death threats and hired security guards to watch her apartment.[4]

Duke tried to convince Rickey, that he was a mainstream conservative in the post-Reagan era. As their communication developed, Rickey said that Duke told her that Jews were responsible for most of the nation's problems.[2]

Rickey, journalist Quin Hillyer, and eight other Duke critics formed a new organization to hound the candidate in the weeks left in the gubernatorial campaign. The Louisiana Coalition against Racism and Nazism included figures from both parties, Christian ministers, Jewish activists, and various liberal scholars. The coalition prevailed, as Edwards defeated Duke, 61.2 to 38.8 percent. Duke never recovered politically and was later incarcerated for tax and mail fraud.[2] Edwards himself was sent to federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, on a conviction of racketeering.

Treen endorses Edwards[edit]

David Treen, whose political career had been launched in part to defeat Edwin Edwards, in 1972 and 1983, wound up supporting Edwards in 1991 to block the potential election of Duke as a Republican governor. He also later tried to get the George W. Bush administration to commute Edwards' prison sentence.

Treen declared that Duke "simply is not believable. He is an opportunist who will say whatever is necessary to gain him votes. . . .To my Republican friends, therefore, I say do not be persuaded in favor of Duke simply because he has adopted the Republican label…. Duke affiliated with the Republican Party for one reason and one reason only: pure political opportunism. It is my judgment that David Duke must be defeated. He can't be defeated by voters staying at home out of disaffection for both candidates for governor.… There are but two names on the ballot: David Duke and Edwin Edwards. To defeat David Duke, one must vote for Edwin Edwards. That's what I will do."[10]

The GOP state convention in the spring of 1991 had endorsed neither Duke nor incumbent Democrat-turned-Republican Governor Buddy Roemer, but instead conservative U.S. Representative Clyde Holloway of Forest Hill in Rapides Parish. Holloway, now a member of the Louisiana Public Service Commission, finished far behind in the nonpartisan blanket primary. Duke then went into the general election with Edwards on November 16, 1991. Roemer finished a strong third but was eliminated in the primary.

Rickey said that "some members of the Republican Party are not sure what Duke's views are. My point is there is a difference between being a conservative and being a racist. He's trying to blur that distinction."[11]

Times-Picayune analysis[edit]

The New Orleans Times-Picayune theorized that Louisiana voters might not have rejected Duke if Rickey had not made his exposure her life's crusade.

". . . Without Rickey, [voters] would never have known how big a fraud and unreconstructed Nazi [Duke] was. The media never had a more prolific and intrepid source [than Rickey]. If you weren't around here at the time, you could hardly credit what a threat Duke posed, although he was best known as a former Grand Wizard in the Klan who had at various times spoken warmly of Adolf Hitler. Duke's meteoric rise obviously signified that plenty of voters shared, or were at least prepared to overlook, his racist views. But he had been at great pains to create a more moderate persona, appearing in natty suits, and adopting the pose of a mainstream conservative politician who happened to have been a 'rascal"'in his long-ago youth. He was glib and, thanks to his plastic surgeon, quite photogenic.

"With an electorate in a fit over welfare cheats and high taxes, there was no need, at least in polite society, for an explicit, white supremacist spiel. Duke was adept at telling white voters what a lot of them wanted to hear, and that is always the best way to come across as smart and reasonable."[12]

Rickey's last years[edit]

In her later years, Rickey fell on hard times with declining health and financial woes. She took a church mission trip to Mexico in 1996 and returned with a mysterious virus which ruined her health.[2] Thereafter, she was diagnosed with Crohn's disease and hypertension. She was a former Presbyterian who had converted to Roman Catholicism.[citation needed] Unable to find steady employment and with high-deductible health insurance coverage, she had practically exhausted her life savings before being found dead with a pitcher of ice tea in her hand at the Silver Saddle Motel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A friend had paid for a week of lodging for Rickey. Ironically, a concerned social worker found a philanthropist willing to help, but the offer came too late. Rickey first came to Santa Fe to escape Hurricane Katrina but had been in the New Mexico capital for the last time for just a few weeks prior to her death at the age of fifty-three.[4]

David Treen died at the age of eighty-one just six weeks after the passing of his longtime supporter Beth Rickey.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Social Security Death Index". search.ancestry.com. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Quin Hillyer, "Beth, what can we do? Against David Duke, a tale of courage"". Washington Times, September 15, 2009. Retrieved May 2, 2010. 
  3. ^ "Social Security Death Index". search.ancestry.com. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c "Tom Sharpe, "Eizabeth Ann 'Beth' Rickey, 1956-2009: David Duke nemesis dies in Santa Fe Activist who helped scuttle neo-Nazi's political career had hoped to rebuild life here"". Santa Fe New Mexican, September 13, 2009. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  5. ^ The author is unable to determine exactly how Beth Rickey is descended from Branch Rickey.
  6. ^ "List of Officers, Republican State Central Committees, October 3, 1961". nixonlibrary.gov. Retrieved September 2, 2013. 
  7. ^ Patricia Sullivan, "Beth Rickey dies with an immune disorder and Crohn's disease," Washington Post, September 16, 2009
  8. ^ "Duke denies he's maintaining ties to controversial neo-Nazis," Minden Press-Herald, June 8, 1989, p. 1
  9. ^ Louisiana Secretary of State, Election returns, March 8, 1988
  10. ^ "Quin Hillyer, "Dave Treen, Political Builder"". American Spectator, October 30, 2009. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  11. ^ "Duke denies he's maintaining ties to controversial neo-Nazis," Minden Press-Herald, June 8, 1989, p. 1
  12. ^ "James Gill, "Republican crusader Beth Rickey exposed the real David Duke"". New Orleans Times-Picayune, September 16, 2010. Retrieved May 1, 2010.