Inch by inch, the Libertarian Party is moving toward ballot status in 1976. The announced target is to be on the ballot with the MacBride-Bergland ticket in at least 30 states. Hopes have ranged as high as 37 states. The national Executive Committee held its semi-annual meeting in New Orleans, Jan. 31-Feb. 1, to review the campaign so far and to debate the nitty gritty of party politics.
SOME GOOD NEWS AND SOME BAD NEWS
The bad news is that the various state and local party organizations are much in need of basic training in political skills. For example, "precinct workers" are needed almost everywhere and most volunteers have no idea how to do the job. Another problem is that (surprise!) many people are unreliable, and promise to do things which they subsequently drop. The saddest case in point is the state of Nebraska.
Bob Meier, chairman of the MacBride for President Committee, 1516 P Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005, was not at the meeting in New Orleans because of the discovery of the Nebraska disaster. It seems that the person in charge of the ballot drive was some sort of nutty person who told open lies to Meier and L.P. Chairman Ed Crane over the telephone, in order presumably to keep the national office happy, so that they would continue to praise him or something. Over the telephone, this sort of fraud could not be detected. Bob Meier made a routine trip to Lincoln and Omaha just before the New Orleans meeting to check on the progress of the campaign. He found that he had to stay, in an attempt to organize the petition drive from scratch. The petitions were not even printed, and yet the national office had been informed that the drive had already collected 2,000 signatures (one-third of the necessary total) before Meier uncovered the lie.
After a week of effort by a number of volunteers which Meier located, it was clear that the total could not be obtained in so short a time period. With only two weeks to collect the total, the petition drive in Nebraska had to be abandoned. The Nebraska disaster is much worse than many other cases, but there is still a lot of incompetence at the local level which libertarians need to overcome. The national headquarters will be taking a more active part in local petition drives, at least in terms of checking up on reports of progress and passing the word to neighboring states about the campaigns to get on the ballot, so that volunteers can be sent from state to state.
In other states, the petition drives are almost completed. In Utah, the L.P. is on the ballot and Steve Trotter has already launched a very aggressive campaign for the U.S. Senate. Contact the Trotter for Senator Committee, Box 9164, South Ogden, UT 84403 for more information. Other states which are doing very well are Hawaii, Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire, Vermont, Idaho, and Ohio. In New Mexico, no petitions are needed at all; the L.P. need merely file with the state government some organization documents. In Kentucky only 1,000 signatures are needed and they have over three months, as of this writing, to obtain them. Teams of interstate volunteers have been scheduled to work in Michigan and Alabama, and both states seem likely of success.
Some of the big states, such as New York and Illinois, have a major uphill job ahead of them, both requiring more than 25,000 signatures by mid-summer (Illinois wants to collect over 50,000 as a safety margin, to insure against that state's traditional corrupt ballot problems). A complete review of the various states counted 25 with no significant problems in achieving ballot status, and perhaps eight more with success possible given a little help from the national office and some volunteers from other states and money to help pay the per diem expenses of the workers.
On the donations question, the MacBride Campaign committee anticipates qualifying for Federal matching funds in mid-March or early April, but this will be used only as a publicity initiative. The Libertarian Party intends to refuse a tax subsidy and to demand that the other candidates give back the money they received earlier.
A SYMBOLIC POLITICAL PARTY
One question on the agenda at the New Orleans meeting was the proposed change in the "crossed arrow" Libersign. Toni Nathan proposed a rising sun "new dawn" alternative design. Following the debate on the Libersign, Greg Clark, the National Secretary, protested that the L.P. should not have an "official symbol" at all. He quoted Ludwig von Mises, from the book Liberalismus (1921),
…no party flower and no party color, no party song and no party idols, no symbols and no slogans. [The Party of Principle] has the substance and the arguments. These must lead it to victory.
The Executive Committee voted to repeal its official endorsement of the crossed arrow. David Nolan pointed out, however, that the symbol had already become a common identification for libertarians. In the spirit of "voluntary association" and suchlike, he said (and the group generally agreed) that it will continue to be used by many people. Nolan suggested that the Party think about other informal symbols, for example New York's mascot, the porcupine, with quills erect and the motto "Don't Tread On Me!" This individualistic mammal would fit in well with Thomas Nast's famous symbols for the Big Two, the mule and the mastodon—the one sterile and the other extinct.
THE 1976 NATIONAL CONVENTION
The Libertarian Party will hold its 1976 national convention in the middle of September in Washington, D.C. The convention should be the highlight of the MacBride-Bergland campaign and every effort will be made to arrange a major gathering of over 1,000 libertarians "to petition the government for a redress of grievances." People from all over the country should be there, as there are no restrictions on delegates—anyone can attend.
There was at first a stirring debate and a fierce competition for the honor of sponsoring the national convention. The cities most likely to have major media value were preferred. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Oklahoma City were suggested. The committee ruled out any state where the party would not be on the ballot. Chicago was Chairman Ed Crane's personal choice. Andrea Millen, on behalf of New York (which didn't want the job two times in a row), asked what would happen if the Executive Committee should draft Chicago. Richard Suter, chairman of the L.P. in Illinois suggested that Chicago might go to Canada to evade the draft, considering the amount of work which would have to be diverted to such a project. The Illinois petition drive will require about 1,000 man-days, or 80 active people, through mid-July. The small but experienced Illinois party can only do one thing or the other, not both. Chairman Ed Crane was clearly not pleased with the added work, but he took it in good humor.
At the end of the meeting, Crane, slightly embarrassed, accepted a vote of appreciation from the Executive Committee with the statement that it was heartening to realize that in only four years the L.P. has grown from two states to a majority of the states and has started to get its platform and arguments out into the streets and the corridors of society. More and more people are picking up a familiarity with the name "Libertarian" and its strict meaning. A copy of Crane's letter to Ronald Reagan was circulated, requesting that the Republican not refer to himself in public as a "libertarian" because of the great likelihood of ambiguity as to what the L.P. stands for and what Reagan supports.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Frontlines".