Third Parties

Soundbite: Libertarian Dark Horse

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Over Memorial Day weekend the Libertarian Party gathered at the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta and chose its presidential nominee: a former computer consultant from Austin named Michael Badnarik, who teaches a one-day course on the Constitution. He won in an upset on the third ballot over two better-known and better-funded competitors, talk show host Gary Nolan and movie producer Aaron Russo. Senior Editor Brian Doherty interviewed a stunned Badnarik two days after his victory.

Q: How did you come to run for president?

A: After giving a well-received speech supporting another Texas Libertarian candidate, I called a Libertarian friend, and that friend's first words were, "We want you to run for president." And I said, "Of what?"

I resisted the idea of running—yes, I had run for state representative, but I'd never held any significant office. The excuse they gave me was that they were familiar with my Constitution class. I could not only teach for eight hours, but anytime I'm in a conversation, it's always on a libertarian issue, and the person I'm conversing with almost always goes away agreeing with me.

Q: You ran a remarkably shoestring campaign.

A: My driver and I would occasionally get to a new location and realize we only had eight bucks, and have to sell books to buy lunch and gas. We had an e-newsletter we'd send out periodically with a plea for help: "We're stranded. We have no money!" When we arrived in Atlanta, we couldn't afford a room at the Marriott.

Q: You're suddenly getting lots of media attention; what interests them about you?

A: The human interest fascination of the come-from-behind dark horse, and also the realization that all three candidates were basically expressing the same message. When you vote for the L.P., whether you know the candidate or not, you know the platform.

Several friends cautioned me I'd have to modify my message so as not to scare voters. I said, if you want to vote for a modified message, you'll have to vote for a Democrat or a Republican. Some things are not negotiable, and the Bill of Rights is one of those things. I deliver the libertarian message the way I see it. If you don't like that, you are not required to vote for me.

Q: There has been some controversy over your stances against the legal obligation to pay income taxes or use driver's licenses.

A: I have been an activist fighting smaller battles in the past, but right now those are no longer the important issues, and I'm not willing to waste time—I know that I have bigger fish to fry.