The campaign in California may be the best opportunity this year for libertarians to recruit and persuade independent voters of the significance of the cause. Roger MacBride received roughly 60,000 votes in 1976 in California, and the maverick tendencies of the state's population are well known. The Libertarian Party of California is the largest in the nation, as befits the largest state.
Ed Clark received the nomination of the California L.P. in February and immediately scored media attention. He appeared on three of the Los Angeles TV channels, including CBS and NBC, and was covered favorably by the Los Angeles Times political writer. In early March, he and Dr. Thomas Szasz appeared jointly in four cities speaking on the issue of involuntary mental hospital commitment and promoting Clark's candidacy. Clark's campaign plans include weekend trips to six major metropolitan areas in the state between March and June to consolidate libertarian grassroots support and cultivate media relations.
The petition drive to attain ballot status, which is confined by law to a few weeks in mid-summer, will be a major testing period for the Clark campaign and the California L.P. The successful petition drive for MacBride in 1976 was one of the most tense "cliff hangers" of that campaign year, but in the final weeks the total number of signatures doubled and doubled again. The organization of local petitioners is one of the campaign areas in which the California libertarians have been very successful. The Libertarian Registration Effort (LIBRE), which has been under way for over a year, has dramatically increased the number of voters who are officially listed as Libertarians on the poll lists, and one of Clark's campaign goals is to boost this number to over 45,000 in the January 1979 official tally by the Secretary of State. This number of registered voters would put the L.P. within reach of permanent ballot status for the 1980 Presidential election. Ed Clark will appear on the ballot as an Independent, because of California election law, in the absence of this sufficient number of registrants.
Clark is exceptionally well suited to represent the L.P. in the governor's race this year. A graduate of Harvard Law School and Dartmouth College, he is a former naval officer, 47 years of age, married, and a father. He is Associate General Counsel of the Atlantic Richfield Co. in Los Angeles. He was one of the founders of the Libertarian Party in Denver in 1972, and was the first Chairman of the Free Libertarian Party in New York. He has served as Chairman of the California Libertarian Party in 1973 and 1974, and has been a member of the L.P. National Committee since 1972. At the national conventions of 1974 and 1975, Ed Clark was chairman of the Platform Committee.
One of the problems encountered by libertarians in political campaigns is the dilemma between "realistic" compromising issues, which seek to maximize vote totals—but usually backfire—and "purist" campaigns which warm the heart of the hard-liners but strike the media and voters at large as curiosities. The Clark campaign intends to cut a new channel by focusing on a small number of issues where the hard-core libertarian position already appeals to voter sympathies. "It just doesn't make sense to talk about eliminating public roads, when we can attract thousands of new voters by supporting popular ideas like legalization of Laetrile or expanding private schools," Ed says.
His opposition in November will be Carter's nemesis, Democrat Jerry Brown, and a Republican yet to be selected. A leading contender is former Los Angeles police chief, Ed Davis, who has cultivated a social conservative image. One of Clark's campaign brochures includes the headline, "Jerry Brown is a Thief," and lists the libertarian issues which Brown has collected as part of his own "new politician" image. The libertarian campaign would aim at winning two percent of the vote in a close race, or five percent in a race which was not so close. The minimum number of votes aimed for would be 200,000, which exceeds the margin of victory which Brown gained in 1974.
Clark has retained the consulting firm of Robert Nelson & Associates. They plan to develop a number of radio and television commercials for use following the petition drive, in September and October. The campaign plan includes a heavy emphasis on the broadcast media, as the $375,000 budget would indicate. In addition, a full-time, paid campaign manager has been included in this budget. The explicit goal of the campaign is to bring the Libertarian Party visibly into the foreground as the "balance of power" in California politics. Given Jerry Brown's eclectic approach to issues, a strong showing by Ed Clark in 1978 could produce an extremely interesting political fight among the Democrats nationwide in 1980 if Jerry Brown runs against Carter and continues to steal issues from the L.P.
One of the major issues in the period leading up to the California June primary election is the Jarvis-Gann tax limitation initiative, cutting the local property tax. This issue is expected to pass, although virtually the entire industrial and political establishment in the state is opposed to it. The tax initiative is unsettling to the politicians because to maintain the present level of government spending, some other tax would have to be increased. If this tax initiative passes, Ed Clark will be sitting right in the middle of the issue as the only candidate who favors more tax cuts, not tax increases, and who would solve the government fiscal crisis by cutting public school funding and encouraging private schooling.
The campaign of Ed Clark for Governor of California this year is clearly important to every libertarian who is serious about political change. As Clark wrote in a letter to members of the California L.P. before his nomination, "I have become a candidate because I want to participate in changing the course of history. I hope each of you will also see the campaign as an opportunity to participate in this goal." It may sound hyperbolic, but this is essentially what the libertarian movement as a political venture is all about. To achieve any part of this goal, the $375,000 campaign budget will have to be funded. You can help by sending a contribution to the Ed Clark for Governor Committee, 540 Vine Street, Apt. 1, Glendale, CA 91204.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Frontlines: Clark for Governor".