The Libertarian Party Marches On


I spent last weekend at the Libertarian Party's National Convention in Portland, Oregon. A full report about what happened there, focused on the changes made to the LP's platform, should be posted as an article on the front page sometime Friday. In the meantime, some bits of news not stressed in that piece. In addition to the platform drama, the party held elections for some of its officers.

Former national chair Geoffrey Neale was elected treasurer of the still cash-strapped party (accounts payable outpacing assets by around $80 thousand right now–such imbalances are pretty common in LP history, and pretty commonly resolved, only to crop up again later); longtime party activist (and financial analyst in his day job) and ballot-access maven William Redpath was elected national chair; and Libertarian Reform Caucus member Chuck Moulton was elected vice chair.

In LP typology, Redpath is seen as the competent, nuts-and-bolts career guy, not running for any particular ideological faction. He wants more national effort spent on ballot access and candidate recruitment; he beat out the more radical red-meat Ernest Hancock, who wrote that "The idea that votes are more important than freeing the minds of the people who would freely support us when we demonstrate that we seek freedom above recognition is counterproductive to all we hope to accomplish"–the kind of statement of purity above electoral success that drives party pragmatists crazy. Still, Hancock did pull 23 percent of the chair vote, better than the 16 percent he pulled running for chair in 2004 (though a smaller number of votes in pure numbers, because of the much lower turnout at this convention vs. 2004).

Full disclosure: among the slate of new at-large Libertarian National Committee members is my wife, Angela Keaton (who pointedly refuses to discuss any LP-related business with me).

In other random convention goings-on: A motion to impeach George Bush failed to pass, further aggravating LP purists who see the Libertarian Reform Caucus types (though LRC members by no means made up enough numbers in and of themselves to have stymied this) as GOP suck ups. Among the convention speakers were former Rep. Bob Barr and former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, whose new cause is electoral reform.

Novoselic's topic choice was quite relevant to the LP, and jibes well with new National Chair Redpath's thinking. Redpath tells me one of his goals is to get the party more active in general election reform issues, fighting hard for ballot access while also fighting for systematic change of the "instant runoff voting" variety (which helps eliminate the "wasted vote" argument, crazy as such an argument is in the first place, by allowing you to vote your conscience while still getting to express a preference between the two "real," major party candidates).

Without such systematic change, which would shift the balance of power that is currently so against third parties in our first-past-the-post, single-member-district system, third party platform brouhahas can seem sadly irrelevant. But Redpath does recognize that even in the face of such insuperable difficulties represented by American politics as constituted, the role of a political protest party running races that it pretty much can't win is not a dishonorable one, and can be pursued with energy, cheer, and head held high, even in the face of consistent electoral defeat. And even if they might scoff at the idea expressed that baldly, so, by demonstrated preference, do most active Libertarian Party members.

Way back in 1996, Nick Gillespie wrote on the Libertarian Party's political dilemma, in the context of the first Harry Browne presidential run.

My account of the 2004 LP convention.