Campaigns/Elections

Libertarian Party Blog of the Long Knives

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For those looking to see the recriminations begin on what happened with the $400 thousand plus raised and spent by the Michael Badnarik campaign for a House seat from Texas, with only 7,603 votes (4 percent) to show for it, you might find this blog post, starting with a post-election comment from Badnarik's campaign manager Allen Hacker, and its comments thread, worth your time– from the always very interesting Third Party Watch.

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  1. Goes back to what I’ve said in these types of threads previously:

    Win the winnable races rather than wasting money in the races in which you have no chance. Township supervisors, county commissioners, municipal councils – THAT is where you get the bang for the buck. That $400,000 could have easily put 10 people into local offices.

  2. I agree that the local races are the winnable races, and I think they would payoff long term in more viable state & national candidates. Ironic for me to agree, because I am more excited about the impact libertarians would have on national issues. I am not as concerned about my local gov’t. I don’t have a problem, for example, with my town restricting teardowns as long as current homeowners are grandfathered in. A libertarian town councilman would probably vote against a teardown ban.

  3. TPG-

    Hell, $400k could make for a very competitive state legislative campaign.

  4. Possibly, with the right candidate, they could make a dent. But LP candidates have zero name recognition. The only way to build that is for the LP to hold offices that allow them access to the local media.

    Get an LP into one of the seats mentioned above for 2 or 3 terms to get his name out there. Then drop some big money into the bigger races. They need to build small bases of support before they try to win a big election. Between Badnarik and that guy in Wisconsin, the LP has now pissed away $600,000 on two completely unwinnable races. That $600,000 would look much better with 15 county commissioners around the country.

  5. TPG-

    They have a bunch of people on city councils and county boards. Those offices have a lot more name recognition and more chances to make a difference (budgets, taxes, ordinances, etc.) than single-issue offices like the school board or water commission or whatever. If Badnarik had devoted his efforts to raising $400k for one of them to run for state legislature, and the money had been spent on ads rather than office space, I think the LP would have won a state legislative seat this year.

    I once asked Jim Gray, a sitting Judge and LP member in Orange County, why he ran for US Senate (where he had no chance) rather than State Assembly (where he had a chance). I never got a straight answer.

  6. The Libertarian Party was a possibly good idea that had to be tried to prove that it was a bad idea. It’s been tried, and proven. Give it up.

  7. Robert,

    You’ve got me, Robert. I guess I’ll go back to writing myself in for everything. If it ain’t Libertarian Party, at least I want to vote for someone I trust to have my liberty and best interests at heart.

  8. Voting in this country reminds me of magicians, you know, the way the are always waving something sparkly and shiny that diverts your attention with the one hand, while the other hand is in a pocket or up a sleeve doing the real work… The entire campaign/fundraising/petition-drive/convention/”how can you complain if you didn’t get involved, if you didn’t vote?” thing strikes me as an awfully effective way for what little resources libertarians have to be diverted from having a chance at making a difference. Voting, and parties, and a shot at the presidency, they are shiny and sparkly; but that’s not where change is going to happen, and meanwhile it is sucking resources… And I mean this even at the local level.

    A third party has no more chance in our current system than a second party had in the USSR: the parties have formed a mutually advantageous coaltion vis a vis third parties, they control all of the rulemaking having to do with elections, and they’ve slowly mutated and tweaked those rules to the point where it is systemically impossible for a third party to succeed. I certainly applaud the effort of libertarians to try to affect change via the LP (I even ran for local office under the LP), but it has become clear that we’re wasting the vast majority of our attention on a shiny bauble.

    Increasingly, libertarians are trying to affect change through other means: invading existing parties, moving to a FreeState, etc. Do I know which of these will work, if any? Oh heck no. But we need to start looking at the hidden hand, the one that actually does something down in the pockets and sleeves, and see if we can figure out a more pragmatic way to affect change. The LP has become, unfortunately, a sink into which effort and resources go with no chance of success. To the small extent that dems and republicans fear libertarianism, I think they are more than happy to have libertarians continue to pointlessly fritter their energies away on the LP.

  9. Actually I think there’s hope for the LP, thanks in part to the efforts of the Libertarian Reform Caucus, a group which is working to change the party from a debating club into a real political force.

    Additionally, although many LP state chapters are weak, there are a few which are kicking extreme ass. One of the most prominent is Texas, where 29 Libertarian candidates earned over 20% of the vote in the election just ended. Another is the Indiana LP, which is tightly run and extremely well-organized. Their candidates ran very strong campaigns in 2006 with TV, print, radio, and Internet advertising, and were included in most debates and news stories.

    Both state chapters are brushing right up against major party territory. Georgia and Vermont are not far behind in organization and vote percentages. Granted, that’s only 4 out of 50 U.S. states, but it shows that it’s possible.

  10. “One of the most prominent is Texas, where 29 Libertarian candidates earned over 20% of the vote in the election just ended.”

    How many of those were running in races with both Republican and Democrat candidates? Flake’s libertarian opponent got 26% of the vote, but that was merely because the Democrats weren’t on the ballot and the libertarian was the only other choice besides the Republican.

    Under those circumstances the LaRouchies have a good shot at 20% of the vote.

  11. They have a bunch of people on city councils and county boards. Those offices have a lot more name recognition and more chances to make a difference (budgets, taxes, ordinances, etc.) than single-issue offices like the school board or water commission or whatever. If Badnarik had devoted his efforts to raising $400k for one of them to run for state legislature, and the money had been spent on ads rather than office space, I think the LP would have won a state legislative seat this year.

    Oh, no doubt. But they need more.

  12. TPG,

    Maybe we ought to figure out what Bernie Sanders did right.

  13. Squirrels ate the oh-so-eloquent reply I composed to Again’s question, so here’s a quick and dirty rewrite:

    20%+ is way higher than LP candidates usually pull in a 2-way race. It’s usually more like 8-10%. The 20%+ is significant because it happened not once in Texas, but in *29* separate races, despite the usual media shutout.

    If that baseline can be built up to 25-29%, it obviously will still not win races. But, at that point the media will no longer be able to ignore and dismiss LP candidates. They will have no choice but to treat Libertarians as serious contenders. And, the ensuing media coverage could easily vault the LP into major party status in Texas.

    Inevitable? No. Achievable? Absolutely.

  14. When elected at the local level, libertarians are somewhat adept at keeping things moderately under control. In my area we have had several libertarians in office for long periods of time.

    In practice, they seem like fiscally conservative Republicans but seem constrained by, for example, the rest of the city council members who are not libertarians.

    The results are not unpleasant but not revolutionary either. Less corruption, less cronyism, better contracts, more efficient services, more private sector involvement, but certainly not a roll back in the role of the local government.

  15. Robert, I like having a large LP presence on the ballot. We’ve had that in So Cal for decades. Unlike many of my fellow travelers, I’m not voting for gridlock or holding my nose and voting for someone who is the lesser of two evils. Screw that noise.

    We all sort of think voting doesn’t matter anyway so why vote for someone who holds 20% of your values when you can vote for the LP and be assured that the candidate holds 80-100% of your values?

  16. On the fruitcake issue. My father, who is a libertarian leaning Republican, explained it to me this way: To be effective, every political party has a core of fanatical nutcase true believers who are bat poop crazy. Pop says, the LP is so small that there isn’t anybody else but the core of true believers.

  17. Although this feels like B-1 Bob Dornan giving a speech to an empty chamber (okay the C-Span cameras are there), I have more to say. 🙂 I believe that every aspect of our movement is needed.

    We need the LP, we need Cato, IJ, FIRE, Kelley’s group, & Reason to provide us with outreach & philosophical underpinnings. We need the other unsung side of Reason as well. Those guys are working on the nuts and bolts of incremental public policy change.

    That said, as Highnumber said, the LP could take a lesson from the Club for Growth and focus on a very few targeted, winnable races.

  18. I only see two ways the LP will ever be viable nationally.

    1. Elect MANY people to small time city and county based offices, do a good job, show you can actually win re-election, then move up to seek higher office. You know the way most Ds and Rs actually do it. BUT you cant do this with 1 guy. You need many. Like you need to takeover the whole city council,county commission,etc and show you can elect multiple people. Just electing 1 guy here and there just leaves him vulnerable and will eventually lose if he’s the lone wolf. If you are ready for Congress it wnt be until you have a few hundred elected in state level offices, preferably with a high concentration ( for example, if you have many state delegates in TX, easier to run real races for US Rep from TX)

    2. Do the same thing at the local level, but you infiltrate the D or R party. You keep your libertarian slate moving up the ranks while recruiting and replacing with new blood. Then one day you all convert to the LP while in office. You know like when you get 20 guys in the state house as Ds and Rs, switch.

    This would only work if you have a base and a lot of allies. All the US Congressmen who have “switched” to Independent ( well, for one thing, they mostly just become Ind., not an actual other party) still Caucus and are seen as major party members. A lot of people might hope someone like Ron Paul, for example, would just switch to LP. But this would be stupid and he would just lose the next election ( not that he would any). Even if Smither or Badnarik won at this point the same would happen. One term and out.

    What would be the point of electing ONE Libertarian for 1 term in a high level office ( that would be the highest anyone could possibly hope for at this point) when you can’t even get 2 guys elected to a state house somewhere.

    I mean I can dream, right.

  19. To me, America needs the LP and other third parties more than the associated ideological movements need third parties.

    If you focus on one or two major issues, you could probably do more for those issues working inside a major party than inside a third party. And so the libertarian ideological movement would benefit.

    What we need third parties for is the overall health of the system. We need more than just 2 options out there, people reminding us that there are more ideas than the two steaming piles of crap that the parties offer. We need a third and fourth voice in debates. We need the occasional spoiler to keep the major parties on their toes. We need some people in local office who aren’t beholden to a major political machine. And every now and then we need a guy like Jesse Ventura, a total outsider, who may not exactly change the world but will at least shock the system a bit.

    The system is healthier if the big parties face a little competition now and then.

  20. I suggest people go look at the expense reports for the Badnarik campaign. A huge amount of money was spent on management and consulting fees. A good deal was spent on rent. Only a small amount was spent on campaigning directly. From July to November they only spent $1000 or so on brochures and then only two weeks before the election. But they had “business meals” almost every day and twice on some days. In one quarter they had 72 different business meals. They spent more eating out then they did on campaign literature. So read the FEC filings yourself, add up the numbers yourself. It is rather appalling.

  21. “Elect MANY people to small time city and county based offices, do a good job, show you can actually win re-election, then move up to seek higher office. You know the way most Ds and Rs actually do it…. You keep your libertarian slate moving up the ranks while recruiting and replacing with new blood. Then one day you all convert to the LP while in office.”

    Why convert to LP if you’re doing well (and doing good) in other parties?

  22. Aha, the bienniel flogging begins.

    It’s interesting to see so many saying that “the way to success is through local offices — build your foundation.” But in a few months, people who say that will be told that the party “isn’t a success” because its members hold no “high-visibility offices.” Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Truly, there is no satisfying or winning with some people, and I long ago learned to turn up the squelch control to eliminte their useless noise.

    I agree that it is important to build foundation strength at local levels. The LP has actually been rather good at this. What is probably necessary next is for some of those longstanding officeholders to shoot higher AND to get targeted support in those races from state and national parties. At the same time, some of our upper-ticket sacrifices (Gray, for example, in CA, Schansberg in IN, Smither and perhaps Badnarik in TX, Guthrie in WA, Nolan in AZ, and several others) should shoot lower, also getting targeted assistance. Somewhere above town council and below US congress, we may be able to establish a cadre of office-holders who can increase the visibility of the LP, get even more people used to the idea that society doesn’t go to hell with libertarians in charge, and set the stage for higher-level electoral gains.

    As we have seen, there is no silver bullet strategy, no miracle approach. Many have been tried. What I have described above seems like a promising “meat and potatoes” plan. I’d like to see something like it tried in earnest in 2008.

    Also, we must get started NOW, to mitigate the many obstacles in our path. No time for flogging. Let’s take the lessons of this cycle and do our best to turn them into victory next time.

  23. Also, if there is one guy who, I think, could get to Congress with the right support, it is Wisconsin’s Ed Thompson. Perhaps a “draft Ed” movement for 2008?

  24. One thing being overlooked on all this discussion here, is that the Libertarian Party did poorly this year on electing its members to local offices. One of the poorest years for local LP victories in decades. Only 5; 3 Soil & Water Board members and 2 County Commissioners in TN.

    As a matter of fact, the LP lost some key races like an incumbent County Commissioner in New Mexico.

    The Republican Liberty Caucus had a tough year too, but at least the RLC scored some key victories, like in Governor’s races and some State Rep. seats.

    The LP is still a good tool to get the word out sometimes, but for actually electing libertarians to office, the RLC is the only hope.

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