A man who hosted a group of white nationalists on his property in Eastern Kentucky last year is now running for county-wide public office, sparking a lawsuit that claims he is not legally eligible for the position.
Ellis Keyes, who told the Herald-Leader he and the white nationalists have “common ground” in their political beliefs, filed to run for Letcher County Commonwealth’s Attorney, whose duties include prosecuting felonies and presenting evidence to grand juries.
His bid, though, faces a legal challenge. Incumbent Edison Banks has filed a motion in Letcher County Circuit Court to remove Keyes’ name from the ballot, saying Keyes is not legally eligible because he is not an attorney.
Banks cited Section 100 of the Kentucky Constitution, which says a person must have been a licensed practicing lawyer for four years to be eligible to serve as Commonwealth’s Attorney.
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“The constitutional provision seems pretty clear that to be eligible for that position the person must be a licensed lawyer,” said Joshua Douglas, an associate law professor and elections expert at the University of Kentucky.
Douglas said Keyes could challenge the Kentucky Constitution, but the U.S. Supreme Court already decided in the 1982 Clements vs. Fashing case that there is no inherent right to be a candidate.
“I think the legal challenge would be an uphill battle,” Douglas said.
Banks referred questions to his attorney, Adam Collins, who did not respond to requests for comment.
Keyes told the Herald-Leader he is qualified and legally eligible for the office, citing his belief that all men are created equal, and that elections must be free and fair.
Keyes also said state bar associations are “not the proper authority to license the practice of law” because, he claims, the bar associations are unions and do not represent the interests of the public.
His bid for Commonwealth’s Attorney is the third time Keyes has run for office in Letcher County.
He ran for sheriff four years ago, and for judge-executive eight years ago, losing both times.
Keyes also ran for mayor of San Francisco in 1995 with an unusual platform, saying in a C-SPAN interview: “My philosophy is that life is a party, and you are the Party of Life.”
He told the interviewer that he planned to stick up for the Second Amendment and to abolish the practice of searching individuals before they entered government buildings.
Keyes told the Herald-Leader he enjoys running for political office, calling himself a “perennial candidate.”
“It is in fact what I live for,” he said.
When asked about the white nationalists he hosted on his property in April, Keyes said some of his political views are “considered extremist” and that there is “no crime in practicing law or free speech.”
The white nationalists included members of the Traditionalist Worker Party, which “advocates for racially pure nations and communities and blames Jews for many of the world’s problems,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The party claims to oppose racism, saying every race deserves its own land and culture, but it is allied with neo-Nazi organizations and other racist groups, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The white nationalists originally planned to meet at a Kentucky State Park in Floyd County, but pulled out after the park asked the group to provide security and purchase insurance for its event.
Instead, they met at Keyes’ property in Letcher County.
Keyes said the white nationalists were “like an oppressed minority that I’m standing up for.”
“The entire state legislature had condemned these people,” he said. “I found this to be very offensive to the open government principles.”
The white nationalists also rallied in downtown Pikeville on April 29. Metal gates and a wall of police officers separated the white nationalists and counter-protestors, preventing any potential violence.
Many residents of Pikeville said they resented the rally.
Letcher County Sheriff Danny Webb said the meeting at Keyes’ property also was held without incident.
A hearing on the motion to remove Keyes from the ballot is scheduled for March 8 in Letcher County Circuit Court.