“We are all on this life for a short time” is how the cliché goes and this is an undeniable truth of life. All of us, rich or poor, influential or average Joe, gets to live on this earth for a series of years before we die. We all have a few moments in our lives where we deal with an issue and how we do so reveals all we need to know about our character. Whether it is the famous like George Washington or Winston Churchill or a parent, relative or friend, we all see times where someone made a decision in a key moment that illustrates the fortitude of the person.
Late last week Haywood Hillyer, III passed away in New Orleans.
Mr. Hillyer was a husband, a father (Haywood’s son Quin is a prominent writer with the Washington Examiner and American Spectator), a lover of traditional New Orleans Jazz, an accomplished sailor, a noted attorney and long-time member of the Republican Party in Louisiana. It is this last hat that Mr. Hillyer wore which should be of keen interest to all who hold dear our republican form of government in the United States. Hillyer was at the vanguard of nurturing the birth and growth of the GOP in Louisiana greatly influenced nationally by the late William F. Buckley, Jr., and fomented locally by the late David Treen. He served with distinction for many years on the State Central Committee of the GOP in Louisiana.
Late in his active political career in the Louisiana Republican Party, Haywood Hillyer had the unenviable task of calling out David Duke as the charlatan and chameleon he was, but to also rally the state GOP to forcefully reject the man from any home in the party. In 2010, this may seem obvious, especially in lieu of how Duke conducted himself after several close races for US Senate and Governor in Louisiana. However, in the late eighties and early nineties, Hillyer’s loud and constant hounding of David Duke was a key element in rallying the core base of the GOP against Duke. These efforts led to Duke’s massive defeat in the 1991 Gubernatorial runoff and effectively ended his viability as a candidate for elective office in Louisiana.
There was an element of risk in Hillyer’s actions, given that Duke actually received a majority of the white vote in the 1990 Senate race versus Senator Johnston running as a Republican. After the fact, all sensible people in the political class in Louisiana agree Duke had no place in the mainstream of either political party (Duke was a member of the Democrat party for approximately 20 years and ran for office as a Democrat before switching parties). However, it was the strong actions by Haywood Hillyer that helped create the consensus that ended Duke’s mayhem before it could really take hold and cause even greater damage to the body politic of Louisiana.
Life all comes down to a few seminal moments and it is how we respond to them that reveal a man’s character. I only had the opportunity to meet and speak with Haywood Hillyer, III on a handful of occasions. He was cordial to me but that is not why he is a man to be revered in the political history of Louisiana. No, when the chips were down, Hillyer did what was right even as it risked his standing with some elements in the Republican Party at the time. He wisely knew his judgment would stand the test of time and history. His decision was correct and we are all better off today for this bold and aggressive action.
RIP, Haywood Hillyer, III, you made a difference during your time on this earth for the betterment of our state and will be missed.