The chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party fired two top officials and changed the locks at headquarters, prompting a party executive committee to strip him of check writing powers.
The episode was the latest example of a years-long split between traditional GOP members and the more conservative Christian Coalition wing, which supports chairman Mike Francis.
Since there is little money in the bank account, the action against Francis may not mean much, acknowledged Dianne Christopher, vice chairman of the party, who called the emergency meeting.
If nothing else, it's a no-confidence vote, said Christopher and the other three members of the seven-member committee who showed up.
Before the meeting, Francis said any action means nothing. He contends that only he has the power to call the executive committee into session.
"What they're doing is illegal," Francis said.
He did not return phone calls after the meeting ended.
Francis has irked party moderates by pushing for Louisiana's presidential caucus to be held even before Iowa's traditional first-in-the-nation caucus. His critics said that at a meeting Saturday, he improperly engineered approval of an early caucus plan.
Then on Monday, he dismissed the state GOP's executive director, Becky Miller, and her deputy, Terry Benham. They had not taken public stands on the caucus issue, and the reason they were fired was unclear.
"He walked in, sat down, told us that our job at the party was done. We needed to clear our desk and move out," Benham said. "He's totally out of control."
Saturday's meeting of the central committee had been called to decide how to run Louisiana's 2000 Republican presidential caucus. Francis had said it would be the nation's first even if it had to be held on New Year's Day.
The committee voted Saturday to hold its caucus one week before Iowa's, even though national GOP rules say Iowa must be the first state to choose a nominee and delegates to the national convention.
At Saturday's meeting, critics said, Francis ignored a proposal to hold an Internet primary and refused twice to make sure enough members were present for a vote.
In 1996, Louisiana held a caucus before Iowa, but most candidates shunned Louisiana because they worried about offending Iowa Republicans. Only about 20,000 out of nearly 500,000 registered Republicans voted. Conservative Pat Buchanan finished first.
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