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Appeals court dashes Missouri GOP hopes of blocking ‘honorary KKK member’ from ballot

A photo of Darrell McClanahan in front of a blue and red flag. A cross symbol is to his right.
Campaign photo
Darrell McClanahan of Milo, a candidate for governor who the Missouri Republican Party attempted to remove from the ballot for being an ‘honorary’ KKK member. He is shown in a photo from his 2022 campaign for U.S. Senate, standing in front of the flag of the Missouri State Guard, a military force formed in 1861 to oppose the Union in the Civil War.

An “honorary KKK member” will lead the list of Republicans on the ballot for Missouri governor in the Aug. 6 primary, in part because it is too late for an appeal court to hear a case seeking to remove his name.

And eight candidates for county office in Vernon County will also be on the ballot despite efforts by the county Republican central committee to have them stricken.

In decisions handed down Tuesday, the Western District Missouri Court of Appeals dismissed the two cases as moot. State law doesn’t allow the courts to change ballots later than eight weeks before the primary, the judges wrote.

“The names of the eight candidates cannot now be stricken or removed from the ballot, and the ballot cannot be modified in any way,” Judge Lisa White Hardwick wrote in the opinion dismissing the Vernon County appeal.

In the Vernon County case, the eight candidates refused to participate in the vetting process devised by the county committee to test whether candidates are truly Republican enough to represent the party.

The candidates who the party wanted to exclude are four incumbents – the current county assessor, county treasurer, public administrator and an associate commissioner as well as two candidates for sheriff and two candidates for a commission seat.

A trial court in Vernon County sided with the county central committee, which refused to accept the filing fees of the eight candidates, and directed the county clerk to remove the candidates. The court of appeals ordered them restored to the ballot when the appeal was filed but since that date, Hardwick wrote, the last date for the courts to make changes to the ballot has passed.

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In the other case, from Cole County, the Missouri Republican Party lost a lawsuit seeking to kick Darrell McClanahan III off the ballot for governor. McClanahan, a resident of Milo in Vernon County, is listed first, with eight other candidates.

The state party doesn’t want McClanahan on the ballot because he admitted being an “honorary member” of the Ku Klux Klan in a lawsuit against the Anti-Defamation League. McClanahan also faces felony property damage and stealing charges in a case being heard in Wright County.

The state Republican Party sued Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft to remove McClanahan, but Circuit Judge Cotton Walker wrote that by accepting his $500 filing fee, the party was stuck with him.

Walker issued his order on May 17. The state Republican Party waited until June 17 to file its notice of appeal, almost a week after the June 11 deadline for the courts to order changes to the ballot.

The order signed by Chief Judge Anthony Gabbert does not discuss the merits of the appeal. It cites the law limiting judicial power and states the court “would be unable to grant relief.”

The core of both cases is whether political parties can control who appears on the primary ballot by refusing filing fees.

For state candidates like McClanahan, the fee must be paid directly to the political party. Candidates for county offices can pay the fee at the local election authority office and it is then forwarded to the local party.

The secretary of state’s office won’t allow a candidate to file if they do not have the receipt showing their filing fee has been accepted. In the Vernon County case, the clerk accepted the fee and the filing paperwork at the same time, only to learn later that the party refused the money.

In 2018, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that a political party had no legal duty to accept the filing fee. The case involved a state candidate and the law that allowed candidates to pay the fee to the secretary of state as local candidates can to their election authority has since been changed to require direct payments to the party.

There is no similar precedent covering filing fees that are payable to local committees. In the ruling on the Vernon County case, Hardwick noted that both parties asked that the case be heard to provide guidance in future elections.

“Because there is no practical effect on the ballot from taking either of these actions,” Hardwick wrote, “we decline both requests.”

The Missouri Independent is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering state government, politics and policy. It is staffed by veteran Missouri reporters and is dedicated to its mission of relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Jefferson City are made and their impact on individuals across the Show-Me State.
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