Bill “Mr. Republican” Duke Deserved More

Davis W. “Bill Duke Jr. was his formal name.  In Broward County, he was known as Mr. Republican.

The Sun-Sentinel had an obit paid for by his family in today’s newspaper announcing his death.

He deserved more.

Duke, a courtly, well-spoken lawyers’ lawyer, died last week. He was 76.

 Duke was a Republican leader in Broward starting in the Barry Goldwater days.  Goldwater ran for president and lost his conservative crusade in 1964, but the folks involved in the campaign like Duke went on to change the party. 

The year Goldwater ran, Duke was president of the tiny Broward Young Republicans.  It was a time when Supervisor of Elections Easter Lily Gates’ staff warned new voters not to register Republican. 

This county was heavily Democratic like the rest of the Deep South and most elections were decided in the primary.  Gates’ staff felt registering Republican was wasting a vote since the voter couldn’t cast a ballot in the primary.

But the Times They Were A Changing.

Three years after Goldwater’s disastrous defeat, the battered and bruised Broward GOP elected the 35-year-old Duke its chairman. 

The Broward party at the time was split between country club Republicans and far right loonies.

The country club Republicans were pols like Ed Stack, E. Clay Shaw and J. Herbert Burke, who later became congressmen. 

The right-wing loonies were aligned with the John Birch Society, who saw Communists in every effort to afford equality to blacks.

One of these crazies was Ben Klassen, a John Birch member born Jewish and elected to the state Legislature from Northeast Broward.  Klassen later flipped out even more and went on to found the violent Church of the Creator, a neo-Nazi group.

Duke helped clean up the party

“I had people telling me the party was dead, Duke told me in an interview 15 years ago. 

Boy, were they wrong.

In 1968, the Broward party went on to win everything.  EVERYTHING:

The County Commission, the School Board, Port Everglades Commission, the state attorney, the public defender, supervisor of elections, property appraiser and the entire Broward Legislative Delegation.  

“Republicans couldn’t lose anything, Duke recalled.

By 1978, it was all over.  The influx of elderly condominium voters from the New York City area threw out the Republicans.   Democrats captured the School Board, County Commission and the Legislative Delegation.

Duke became an elder statesman of the Broward Republican Party.

He was a Broward Community College trustee, appointed by a Republican and Democratic governor.  He was a member of the Judicial Nominating Commission, helping name judges to the bench.

Most of all, he was a lawyer.  He practiced with three of the most influential firms in Fort Lauderdale.  For over four decades, he was with McCune Hiassan, the firm that was old Fort Lauderdale.  Then he was with two other Republican-laden firms — Gunster, Yoakley and Tripp Scott.

He handled numerous major cases, including the challenge to Connie Mack III’s campaign tactics in his 2000 race for state representative.  Mack went on to win and is now a congressman.

Through his political and legal career, Duke was a major force shaping Broward.  He deserved more than a paid obit in the Sun-Sentinel.

He deserved a front page story.


3 Responses to “Bill “Mr. Republican” Duke Deserved More”

  1. anon says:

    Great man, RIP.

    As for you other comment Buddy, much as not changed.

    “The Broward party at the time was split between country club Republicans and far right loonies.”

    Instead of commie fighters they are fighters for the Lord now.

  2. calfloridia says:

    Bill Duke was one of the first Republican leaders I had the pleasure to know here in Broward County. My best wishes to his family and friends – he will be missed and RIP.

  3. Broward Republican says:

    What else do you expect from the Sun-Sentinel?