Two faces that are quite familiar to conservatives nationwide will be moving to some key positions. David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union since 1984, is leaving the helm of the nation’s oldest conservative membership organization. Keene, who is also a vice president of the National Rifle Association, is expected to assume the presidency of the NRA once held by the late Charlton Heston.
Succeeding Keene at the ACU is Miami attorney-businessman and fellow conservative activist Al Cardenas, who has served on the ACU board of directors and as its treasurer. The 62-year-old Cardenas, who was elected today by a vote of the ACU board, has been a familiar fixture in the conservative movement in Florida and nationwide since he was in his 20s. In 1976, the 25-year-old Cardenas, barely two years out of Seton Hall University Law School, became co-chairman of Reagan’s presidential campaign in the Florida primary. In 1978, with campaign assistance from Reagan, and a feature in HUMAN EVENTS’ Races of the Week section, Cardenas waged a strong-but-losing bid against legendary Rep. Claude Pepper in the Miami-area district Pepper had held since 1962.
Born in Cuba, Cardenas came to the U.S. at the age of 12, when his parents fled Fidel Castro’s tyrannical regime. He later served as President Reagan’s special ambassador to St. Kitts and Nevis when that nation became independent in 1983.
Dave Keene is also someone who has spent most of his adult life working for conservative causes and candidates. As a student at the University of Wisconsin Law School in the early 1960s, Keene became national chairman of Young Americans for Freedom. Defeated in a special election for the state legislature on the same day that Democrat Dave Obey won a formerly Republican House seat, Keene was a special assistant to former Sen. James L. Buckley (R.,C.-N.Y.) in the early 1970s and on Reagan’s presidential campaign staff. He also worked in the presidential campaigns of George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole.
Keene is also well-known from his frequent appearances on radio and TV talk shows and for his regular column for The Hill.
It is poignant that as the nation concludes its celebration of Ronald Reagan’s 100th year, the top positions at the NRA and the ACU will be assumed by two seasoned conservatives who were major players in Reagan’s almost-successful 1976 presidential bid that mobilized a generation of young activists.