A northeastern Pennsylvania man with longstanding ties to white supremacist groups entered a polling place on primary election day and wrote in his name for a low-level position with the local Republican Party committee.
Steve Smith wound up getting elected with a single vote — his own — and now presents a headache for a GOP that doesn't want him but might not be able to get rid of him.
Pennsylvania Democrats spread word last week of his April election, linking to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center that described Smith's associations with "an extraordinary array of white nationalist, skinhead, and neo-Nazi groups," including a group formerly known as the Keystone State Skinheads.
The Luzerne County Republican Committee and the state GOP denounced Smith's election to a four-year committee post representing Pittston's Fourth Ward, saying his views in no way represent their own.
The GOP "does not endorse or represent any of the hateful views of Mr. Smith, nor did any of the voters in Pittston City or Luzerne County," Luzerne County Republican Party chief Terry Casey said in a statement. But he said the committee's bylaws indicate the only qualification for office is that a candidate has been a registered Republican for the last two years — and do not include a provision that would allow Smith to be expelled because of his beliefs.
Smith, 41, of Pittston, announced his election on a website called White News Now, posting a photo of his election certificate.
He said he's no longer affiliated with the skinheads group, but he confirmed that he founded the European American Action Coalition, which says on its website that it "advocates on behalf of White Americans" and was "founded in the fall of 2011 by a few well known White activists in the great and historic state of Pennsylvania."
Smith told The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens' Voice that he ran for the party post to help get Republicans elected and would fight any attempt to get him booted from the GOP committee.
He also rejected the white supremacist label.
"A white supremacist is someone who wants to rule over other races and I do not wish to do that," Smith told WILK-AM on Monday. "I advocate on behalf of white people, much like the NAACP advocates on behalf of blacks or La Raza advocates on behalf of Hispanics." He went on to challenge the radio interviewer to "name one majority black or Hispanic neighborhood or school district that you wish to move your kids to."
Smith didn't return several messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Court records show Smith pleaded guilty in 2003 to state charges of ethnic intimidation and simple assault, both misdemeanors, and was sentenced to one to 12 months in prison. According to a 2003 newspaper account, Smith and two other members of the Keystone State Skinheads yelled racial slurs at a black man and threw a brick at him. Smith told the Wilkes-Barre newspaper that he spent two months behind bars and said the encounter was the result of "drunken stupidity."
Smith's election with a single write-in vote demonstrated the trouble that political parties sometimes have in finding people to run for low-level committee positions, especially in regions where they are relatively weak. The April primary saw Republicans elect 270 people to the Luzerne County GOP committee — leaving about 100 spots unfilled.
While distancing themselves from Smith, Republicans accused Democrats of spreading the story to score political points.
"It's just absolutely disgusting that the Pennsylvania Democrats would throw this around," GOP spokeswoman Valerie Caras said. "There are certain issues that rise above the embers of political bickering."
Democratic spokesman Mark Nicastre said Tuesday that Republicans were slow to act once Smith's background was brought to light.
"We thought it was appropriate to raise awareness of it. We didn't think this was someone who should have a position in the Republican Party," he said. "We're happy the Republican Party is finally realizing this is an issue they should take care of."