LITTLE ROCK (AP) — A former Republican official in Arkansas who resigned from another GOP post less than a month ago over his ties to a group that calls itself "pro-white" has been elected to another position in the party.
More than 100 Republicans in the state’s 1st Congressional District unanimously chose John Casteel for the job over the weekend, officials said Monday. In his new post, Casteel would recommend candidates for state offices should a Republican become governor. He has no duties now, with Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe at the helm.
Casteel had served as a Republican county chairman in northeastern Arkansas until earlier this month, when the state GOP called for his resignation over his ties to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a St. Louis-based group that grew out of organizations that battled school integration in the 1950s and 1960s.
The council’s CEO, Gordon Lee Baum, has denied claims that the group is racist but has characterized it as "pro-white."
Casteel said he’s not a white supremacist and his election on Saturday confirms his support among the GOP.
"Republicans know who I am," he said. "They know I’m not a racist."
The state Republican party did not call for Casteel’s resignation on Monday, saying that his new position is powerless at the moment.
"Until a Republican president or governor is elected, the Appointee Recommendations Committee is considered inactive," GOP spokeswoman Katherine Vasilos said, adding that it’s been that way since Gov. Mike Huckabee left office. "Therefore, the 1st and 2nd District Committees and Chairman Doyle Webb felt it unnecessary to elect or appoint any members."
Casteel, 70, said he’d probably resign in two years to give a younger Republican a crack at the job. In the meantime, he doesn’t see any reason why the state GOP would ask him to step down from his new position.
"If they made me resign — which I probably would — it’s probably going to cause dissention in the party," Casteel said.
Benny Speaks, who chairs the 1st Congressional District for the GOP, wouldn’t comment on whether Casteel’s election already marks a fissure within the party. Instead, he said Casteel is well-regarded within his district.
"I don’t know what the big problem is with John Casteel," Speaks said. "I think we lost a good man as committee chair in Jackson County."