Regulation

Portrait of a Winning Libertarian Party Candidate

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He once tried to get on the ballot as Norm "Incumbent" Westwell, but was told that's against the rules. So this tenacious Libertarian Party activist was, forevermore, Norm "Firecracker" Westwell instead, and after a string of failed candidacies in which he never broke 10 percent of the vote, this year he won a seat on the Ocean View School District board in Orange County, California, with 53 percent.

Spurred by anger over fireworks bans (he got ticketed last year in Huntington Beach for violating one), using such innovative techniques as reusing other candidates' old signs and stenciling his own name on them, his is an interesting tale of how tenacity can eventually win the day for even the most eccentric and poorly-funded of Libertarian Party candidates. The Orange County Register tells his story.

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  1. I’m generally against fireworks prohibitions and am baffled by laws against even the mildest fireworks. I also remember fireworks on the beach at Huntington Beach back in the bad old days.

    Here’s an honest question.

    I live in an area where fire danger is extreme and all fireworks are illegal, including the desert areas and the Colorado River areas where fire danger is minimal.

    Can we, as libertarians, make an ethical and moral case for an outright ban on fireworks based upon the argument that the danger posed to the public (fire danger) is severe in the extreme.

    I admit to being really pissed at one of my neighbors a few years ago for igniting a series of Disneyland style skyrockets. Didn’t start a fire though. Did explode at the level of my windows, woke up both kids who were scared shitless because it sounded like we were being bombed.

  2. Great, just what we need. More children maimed for life because of unregulated fireworks.

  3. There is already a political party that uses trickery to get elected on a regular basis. It starts with a D. See elections in New Jersey and a failed attempt in Florida (apparently the only ellectronic voting machines that “didn’t work” in that Florida case).

    ‘Glad’ he finally got elected on an issue, rather than a stunt.

  4. Regulated is a bit different than banned.

    Oh and for the record, Disneyland style fireworks have never been legal in California, at least not in my lifetime. We are talking about your basic Red Devil Safe & Sane fireworks that are banned in Huntington Beach and many other communities. You couldn’t maim a child if you set one off on his bare belly.

  5. There was an insane write-in candidate in Tulsa who tried (and failed) to legally change his name to the same name as the incumbent. He later managed to get on the ballot as “Accountability Burns” and “Boss Einstein Five.”

  6. The fire danger of fireworks I believe is a suitable reason for banning, however this might not preclude fireworks being set off in predominantly concreted neighborhoods, if cops so care to give a crap. Banning fireworks because dipshits can’t use them safely is an example of the nanny state and shouldn’t be tolerated on the principle of libertarianism.

  7. On a side note: What the hell is wrong with the Libertarian Party? Why do they attract wack-jobs?

  8. he won a seat on the Ocean View School District board

    So this means he’s what … 29,523rd in line to the Presidency?

  9. You couldn’t maim a child if you set one off on his bare belly.

    TWC,
    And how exactly do you know this?

  10. So what exactly does a libertarian do on a public school board, since libertarians are against the entire principle of public school?

  11. He says the opposite of what everyone else thinks.

  12. Can we, as libertarians, make an ethical and moral case for an outright ban on fireworks based upon the argument that the danger posed to the public (fire danger) is severe in the extreme.

    No. The libertarian position would be to allow the shooting of fireworks everywhere, and then to punish a person for destruction of property after the fact if his fireworks caused a fire.

  13. Heh, you don’t think the major parties attract crazies?

    My favorite political candidate of all time was a guy who changed his legal name to “Absolutely Nobody” and then ran for lieutenant governor in the state of Washington. His platform? He said the position of Lt. Gov. was superfluous and should be abolished.

    He got something like 10% of the vote.

  14. So this means he’s what … 29,523rd in line to the Presidency?

    No, 29,525. You forgot Geena Davis and Dennis Haysbert. (Martin Sheen is term-limited, of course.)

  15. Bramblyspam,

    My favorite D is Dennis Kucinich. Every time he has a microphone it is a treat better than slogging through an Al Gore slide show or a Noam Chomsky ramble.

  16. “On a side note: What the hell is wrong with the Libertarian Party? Why do they attract wack-jobs?”

    All political parties attract whack jobs. It’s just that libertarian whack jobs are different and therefore scary, as opposed to the whack jobs on the right (theocons) and whack jobs on the left (goose-stepping prohibitionistas, environmental nutbars, etc.)

  17. Reading the OC Register story, it appears that the candidate is neither an eccentric wack job (as “76” alleges), nor especially crazy in his campaign tactics (he recycles OLD campaign signs into his own new signs, which is crazy like a fox!), nor previously ineffective in his political activism. He’s just a regular guy, with family and kids, who got the crazy idea in his head that maybe, by running for office, he could make a difference. He’s not a blow-dry guy in the mold of a Robert Redfordian Demo-GOP candidate, but what’s wrong with that?

    Of course, if you DIDN’T read the story, you might be taken in by the HitAndRun blurb, or the several uninformed, dismissive comments in this thread.

    Hey Reason: The mainstream media doesn’t need help marginalizing third parties. They can zero in on the faults and eccentricities of various candidates just fine without you. The story here is that this guy kept at it DESPITE the willful miusunderstanding, mischaracterization, and kneejerk dismissal of himself and his positions, eventually climbing up to the bottom rung of the ladder. Getting even that far puts him ahead of probably 98% of the wannabe opinion drovers here, including Reason staffers.

    If you want to criticize him eventually for not being Libertarian enough, or even betraying libertarianism, or giving it a bad name, in his public acts and demeanor, great. But as the late Harry Browne said, “I would never stick out my foot and trip someone who was going in the same direction as I.” For now, why not celebrate this long-in-coming victory, however small, and give “Firecracker” a chance to show what he is made of, now that he is “one of THEM” (the elected).

  18. There are already political parties that use trickery to get elected on a regular basis. They start with either an R or a D. See elections in New Jersey and a failed attempt in Florida (apparently the only ellectronic voting machines that “didn’t work” in that Florida case) plus Watergate and the 2000 kerfuffle which dragged the SCOTUS into it.

    There, I fixed it for you.

  19. prohibitionistas
    MG, this is a scrabble-worthy word!

  20. Can we, as libertarians, make an ethical and moral case for an outright ban on fireworks based upon the argument that the danger posed to the public (fire danger) is severe in the extreme.

    No. The libertarian position would be to allow the shooting of fireworks everywhere, and then to punish a person for destruction of property after the fact if his fireworks caused a fire.

    Dan’s actually got it right, regarding what I would call the pure libertarian position. Those not as pure might be inclined to allow for wreckless endangerment type laws, such as drunk driving, as long as they have a rational basis and are enforced on a “reasonable cause” basis. Can you imagine fireworks checkpoints?? (I hope I’m not giving Dan T ideas!!) (BTW, I recognize that “rational basis” is ultimately subjective; in fact, that’s one of the problems with that position!)

  21. mediageek | December 6, 2006, 1:42pm | #
    “On a side note: What the hell is wrong with the Libertarian Party? Why do they attract wack-jobs?”

    All political parties attract whack jobs. It’s just that libertarian whack jobs are different and therefore scary, as opposed to the whack jobs on the right (theocons) and whack jobs on the left (goose-stepping prohibitionistas, environmental nutbars, etc.)

    ======================

    Thank you, Mediageek. The other thing to keep in mind is that “Firecracker,” according to the OC Register Story, at least, isn’t really much of a “whack job.” The same phenomenon, which accords some level of respectability to the GOP/Demo whack jobs you mention, simply because those parties are in power, taints even the most respectable of third-party and independent candidates with a tinge of strangeness and eccentricity, simply because they or their parties are not “in the mainstream.”

    If even the alleged libertarians at Reason can’t get past that particular reality warping field and give honest, sincere credit where it is due, then what hope do we have for any real improvement in the political/electoral situation, ever?

    Fair coverage of the LP. It’s gotta start somewhere. Why not here?

  22. It’s gotta start somewhere. Why not here?

    Especially when the position of dog-catcher is currently unavailable.

  23. This is really the only way that a third party will advance in the political sphere, by starting at the bottom and proving the worth of thier positions. I am impressed that he actually garnered over 50% of the vote.

  24. Unsafe fireworks use in a libertarian societ could be regulated:

    A.) By means of your agreement with your insurance companies. Failure to agree not to set off bottle rockets without the appropriate training and safety equipment would result in your paying higher premiums and/or being refused coverage.

    B.) By means of your agreement with your fire suppression provider. (In the RL, The Fire Department – governmental or Volunteer)

    No need to bring the gubmint into the process at all, unless one party to a dispute refuses to accept arbitration.

    I always smiled when a certain fellow, refused permisssion to add a description to his ballot listing as an independent, changed his name legally to James Libertarian Burns.

    Kevin


  25. “hopping freight trains”

    “After lots of negotiating, the city relented and bought a laptop”

    What the Libertarian movement needs is more profiles of candidates like this.

    Candidates with a history of trespassing and asking for the city to buy them computers.

  26. Can you imagine fireworks checkpoints??

    You jest but…

    Here in Illinois, where fireworks are illegal, around the 4th of July, State police stake out the state border, since Indiana and Wisconson all sell fireworks legally. Some times they even send scouts to see which Illinois plates are in the parking lots and they pull people over just as the cross the border and enforce the fireworks bans.

    Stories like this are rather common in the newspapers around that time of year.

    It’s odd though because there are some area in Chicago and the burbs where, despite the illegal status, it’s like a war zone with all the fireworks going off (there are some really impressive shows by local fireworks lovers on the 4th) and the cops, for the most part don’t do anything. In fact there were a couple of times where the cops sat and watched the local fireworks show.

  27. what?!?! a libertarian gets elected in blood red republican orange county?!?!! I am shocked…i mean as we all know we should spend all our energy going after blue districts and try to get the the democrats voting for us. And if that fails we should vote for democrats.

  28. In Washington state, various police and governmental authorities have threatened fireworks and untaxed tobacco checkpoints on the outskirts of Indian Reservations with Smokeshops and Fireworks stands. I haven’t witnessed any yet, but I know people who are paranoid enough to transfer their purchases to another vehicle before leaving the reservation just in case the police are taking license plate numbers in the parking lot.

  29. James Anderson Merritt,
    Thanks for taking on the ‘Libertarians are nuts’ meme. It is a sore spot with me and my head explodes every time I come across it.

    But I think you may have substituted the ‘Reason staff hates Libertarians’. I don’t see anything in the original post that is disparaging of Firecracker Norm. Indeed I can’t even detect any of the snark nominally required in an H&R headline and post.

  30. No Star & Chicago Tom,

    Y’know, now that you’ve mentioned it, I believe such stuff has been blogged about here. Figures.

    Kevrob,

    Good points, though I wonder, do insurance companies or fire departments do that already where fireworks are legal? If not, why not? Also, it occurs to me that an insurance company could also theoretically base its rates for you on your neighbors’ behavior, which could get sticky…

    Chicago Tom,

    FYI (and anyone else’s), I’ll be playing some sorta rock n roll at Bar Vertigo, 523 N. Western (in Chicago) on Thurs, Dec 21, in case you’re interested (a Moose we know thought you might but your linked email doesn’t work). Click through my linked website if you want more info…

  31. And how exactly do you know this?

    Well, er, my sister is a LOT younger……….

    Random thanks for the input on libertarian thought on fireworks with respect to fire danger. I might also point out that any burning in my area requires a permit that will not be forthcoming unless it has rained recently.

    TWC, from the ever brown hills of Sunny So Cal

  32. One of our libertarian finest is mayor of a nearby city and I can say that in that capacity she functions more as a safety valve and restrainer than anything else. As someone pointed out it isn’t likely that a person on a school board is going to change public policy and that is also true for a mayor. On the flip side, what she is able to accomplish is to introduce the idea of outside contracting, accountability, and the question of limiting the reach of local government. Essentially, she looks like a fiscally responsible conservative Republican but is an elected libertarian. Best we can hope for in this era where government interference is not only tolerated, but welcomed by the vast middle class.

  33. FYI (and anyone else’s), I’ll be playing some sorta rock n roll at Bar Vertigo, 523 N. Western (in Chicago) on Thurs, Dec 21, in case you’re interested (a Moose we know thought you might but your linked email doesn’t work). Click through my linked website if you want more info…

    fyodor,

    Cool…I will mark my calendar and try to make it. Thanks for the info.

  34. FYODOR said:
    “can you imagine fireworks checkpoints??”

    Yeah, I can, they have them on the borders of states that do not allow fireworks to be sold, and those that do. I am 100% serious.

  35. James Anderson Merritt,

    Sorry, I bumbled in here from Slashdot and we have a strong tradition of never reading a story before making our first (and several after) comment.

  36. Important! Wine Commonsewer, you mention in your post an elected libertarian Mayor in a nearby city but you don’t give us her name, nor even a clue. Who is she? Where is she from? I’d like to add her to the List of Elected Libertarians and libertarian Republicans at http://www.mainstreamlibertarian.com

    “Firecracker” will be added shortly.

  37. This is not to say there are no interesting ways

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