Election 2012

Libertarian(ish) Candidates

If you want to find a few liberty-loving politicos, look lower on the ballot

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We know one thing for certain: The winner of this year's presidential election will not be libertarian in any way, shape, or form. But with a little luck, there will be some libertarian-flavored opposition on Capitol Hill to greet our next commander in chief when he takes the oath of office in January.

Many small-l libertarians are running in competitive down-ballot races across the country, and several may actually win. Some (Richard Tisei of Massachusetts) are more libertarian than others (Ted Cruz of Texas). Still others (Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan) are already being touted as "the next Ron Paul." Rhode Island's Barry Hinckley and Minnesota's Kurt Bills have tough races ahead of them in their pursuit of a less intrusive federal government, while Kentucky's Thomas Massie just needs to hold off token opposition. Meanwhile, Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona is looking to make the big jump from Congress to the U.S. Senate, and Mia Love of Utah is looking to make history in her newly drawn district. If some of these players make it to Washington in January, they will join a growing circle of libertarianish, Tea Party-approved Republicans that includes Kentucky's Rand Paul, Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey, Tennessee's John Duncan Jr., and others. 

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) may be leaving Congress in January, but the following candidates might make sure there is still somebody in Washington reliably voting "no."

BEST BETS TO WIN

Ted Cruz

U.S. Senate, Texas

Ted Cruz's primary victory in Texas over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in July was arguably the biggest primary upset of the year. With his call to eliminate multiple cabinet-level departments and support for a full audit of the Federal Reserve, Cruz, the Ivy League–educated son of a Cuban immigrant, knows how to warm the cold hearts of fiscal conservatives. Cruz has talked vaguely about his support for a "fairer" or "flatter" tax system while getting behind a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. With endorsements from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Young Americans for Liberty, Club for Growth, plus libertarian kingmakers Ron and Rand Paul, Cruz's economic credentials are solid.

His positions on social issues are less impressive. Cruz, like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), is a tough talker when it comes to immigration. In a June 2012 statement to the Houston Chronicle, Cruz said that he "categorically oppose[s] amnesty." He has called for building a wall across the southern border with Mexico and opposes the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM Act, which would provide a path to legal residency for illegal immigrants brought to the United States as minors. He opposes marriage equality for gays and lesbians and is reliably pro-life. At one point in his legal career Cruz was actively involved in defending the placement of a Ten Commandments monument on public property. His record in the courtroom is packed with cases on the social conservative side of the ledger.

But the campaign has focused so much on economic issues that both social issues and foreign policy have barely registered as topics of discussion. Cruz's foreign policy positions are not fully formed, but he has stated that we should use the "threat of overwhelming force if we see any evidence that (North Korea or Iran) might pass nuclear weapons on to terrorists or threaten us with nuclear blackmail." Cruz was against the Libya intervention but his reasons for it are more procedural than anything else.

The Cook Political Report, a highly respected handicapper of political races across the country, predicted as of mid-August that Cruz's general election race should be in the "solidly Republican" camp. Texas hasn't elected a Democrat statewide since 1994, and his opponent, former state Rep. Paul Sadler, is mostly a sacrificial lamb. The Libertarian Party is running restaurant owner John Jay Myers, but it does not appear that he will be a major factor in the race.

Thomas Massie

U.S. House of Representatives, Kentucky's Fourth District

Rand Paul's first endorsement victory of the year came in his home state of Kentucky this May, with the congressional primary win of Thomas Massie, the executive judge (think county manager) of Lewis County. Massie has already built up an impressively libertarian record in his short time in office: rejecting federal funds for projects his county couldn't afford, selling off county-owned property, focusing on local services that constituents actually care about.

As a potential congressman, Massie supports the elimination of the Federal Reserve and wants to repeal the Dodd-Frank financial regulation package. He favors both lower taxes and balanced budgets, helping him earn the backing of the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Republican Liberty Caucus.

Massie, unlike many fiscal conservatives, would also like to repeal the PATRIOT Act and National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, along with abolishing the Transportation Security Administration and Department of Education. He is hostile to the drug war, and he supports medical marijuana as well as the legalization of industrial hemp. 

Massie is running in a heavily Republican district, so his election is all but a lock against Grant County Democratic Party chairman Bill Adkins, who once compared the Tea Party to "terrorist suicide bombers." The Democratic Party spent big national money on the district in the heavily Democratic year of 2006 and still failed to win. The Republican incumbent, outgoing Rep. Geoff Davis, won the next two races with at least two-thirds of the vote. 

Justin Amash

U.S. House of Representatives, Michigan's Third District

The man most frequently touted as "the next Ron Paul" and "Congress's only libertarian," Michigan Rep. Justin Amash is seen by many in the libertarian community as their modern legislative standard bearer. Amash, a 32-year-old graduate of the University of Michigan and former Michigan state representative, was elected to Congress during the Tea Party wave in 2010 after running on a very libertarian platform. He has kept his word in office, becoming one of just three Tea Partiers to have earned a 100 percent rating from the fiscally conservative Club for Growth. He has picked up endorsements from the Republican Liberty Caucus and Young Americans for Liberty.

Amash's opposition to the Federal Reserve, military intervention, the PATRIOT Act, and ridiculous government subsidies like the National Capital Area Performing Arts program are all well documented. He's a deficit hawk who votes "no" on nearly every bill that comes before him. And unusually in Washington, Amash uses social media to explain in detail every single vote he makes.

Like many Republicans in the Ron Paul mold, Amash is a social conservative, opposing marriage equality and abortion rights. (Amash did lose the endorsement of Right to Life earlier this year due to a handful of "No" votes on abortion legislation.) He is on record saying he supports the Defense of Marriage Act.

"I consider myself a libertarian, traditional conservative, classical liberal," he told reason in an interview. "I think all those names are applicable."

"The reason I use those interchangeably, I think, is traditional conservatism as I view it is conserving the founding principles of our country and those founding principles are classical liberal, libertarian principles," he said.

Even though Amash's seat appears safe (Cook rates it as "likely Republican"), he will need to work the pavement because his district has been redrawn and his Democratic opponent, a former state representative and circuit court judge Steve Pestka, has the ability to self-fund his campaign. With the help of Ron Paul and his vast political organization Amash has developed a national following, allowing him to quickly raise large sums of money from beyond the district. His libertarian views and unorthodox engagement with constituents have helped him grow a diverse base of support in his home district. 

MAYBE 

Mia Love

U.S. House of Representatives, Utah's Fourth District

Mitt Romney has extremely limited appeal to serious libertarians, but Utah freedom-lovers may thank him for helping to carry Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love to victory in her race for Congress. Love, a fast riser in Utah politics, has attracted the support of establishment and anti-establishment Republicans alike not just because of her potential to make history as the first African-American Republican woman to be elected to Congress, but because of her clear western Republican views.

Love was born in Brooklyn and raised in Connecticut by her Haitian parents before moving to Utah and getting married. She started her political career in 2003 when she was elected to the Saratoga Springs City Council. In 2009 she successfully ran for mayor.

Love has been positively described as a "Trojan horse libertarian" by some conservative bloggers for her positions on homeschooling, federal control of land, and other issues. Liberals have attacked her for her backing entitlement reform and the privatization of student loans. Libertarians should enjoy Love's serious talk about eliminating the federal Department of Education and Department of Energy.

Love does not support marriage equality but opposes the Defense of Marriage Act on the grounds that the federal government has no business in dictating how states should handle marriage.

Love is challenging Rep. Jim Matheson, a very conservative Democrat and six-term incumbent who voted to repeal ObamaCare and opposes marriage equality. There are more Republicans in the district's newly drawn boundaries than before, and only a small portion of it overlaps with Matheson's previous constituency. National Democrats and Republicans are pouring money into this race as they see it as extremely close. (Cook rates it a "toss up.") Matheson has withstood strong challenges before, but that was when his district was constructed in his favor.

Richard Tisei

U.S. House of Representatives, Massachusetts's Sixth District

Richard Tisei is another GOP candidate looking to make history: He'd be the first openly gay Republican elected to Congress. Tisei, a longtime Massachusetts state senator and onetime lieutenant gubernatorial candidate, probably would have been better off running in the Tea Party wave election in 2010, but an ongoing family scandal involving his opponent, Rep. John Tierney, has made this campaign one of the most competitive congressional races in Massachusetts since the late 1990s.

Tisei supports gay marriage and gay rights, but like all of the candidates profiled here is focused overwhelmingly on economic issues. When talking with The Hill he described himself as a "live and let live Republican."

"I consider myself a libertarian in a lot of ways," he says. "I think the government should get out of your bedroom, off your back, and out of your wallet. That is, I think, the traditional northeast libertarian viewpoint."

Even though he has not signed Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge, Tisei has a track record of opposing tax increases and fighting for tax cuts. He led the charge in the Massachusetts state senate for years to lower the state income tax back to 5 percent after its scheduled rollback was halted at 5.3 percent in 2002. In 2010, while running for lieutenant governor, he did sign the Massachusetts equivalent of Norquist's pledge. 

As senate minority leader in Massachusetts, Tisei opposed legislation that banned smoking in newly legal casinos, though the law eventually passed after he left office. Though not campaigning on the drug war, Tisei supports medical marijuana and backed a successful 2008 state ballot initiative that decriminalized possession of small amounts. When asked his thoughts on full legalization Tisei said he was open to it. He also opposes portions of the PATRIOT Act.

The big mark against Tisei is that he supported Mitt Romney's health care reform bill when it was before the Massachusetts state senate. He opposes ObamaCare, and would vote to repeal it, but still defends his vote for the state version of the individual mandate. "The RomneyCare bill was 70 pages long. The ObamaCare bill was 2,700 pages long. It creates a whole new generation of government commissions and departments and bureaucracy that we'll never get rid of," he explains.

Tisei is challenging embattled Rep. John Tierney, an eight-term incumbent. Tierney's wife Patrice and her family are caught up in a federal investigation involving her brother's illegal offshore gambling operation. The arrest and conviction of his wife on multiple counts of "aiding and abetting the filing of false tax returns" for her brother's offshore operation wounded Tierney's re­election prospects in 2010, but he was still able to fend off inexperienced Tea Party Republican Bill Hudak, a Massachusetts attorney. The scandal died down before resurfacing as a major part of the 2012 campaign when one of Patrice's brothers, Daniel Eremian, was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison for his involvement in the operation. 

The Cook Political Report has slowly but surely moved the race to its "toss-up" rating. Tisei has had stronger fundraising than Tierney in recent quarters and is clearly benefiting from the very negative press surrounding his opponent. The major wild cards for Tisei are the historically incompetent Massachusetts Republican Party and whatever boost Tierney will receive from having President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket. 

Jeff Flake

U.S. Senate, Arizona

With endorsements from FreedomWorks, the National Rifle Association, and Citizens Against Government Waste, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is considerably more Barry Goldwater than his fellow Arizonan Sen. John McCain (who has also endorsed him). Flake, a five-term congressman, has a 100 percent lifetime rating from Club for Growth and a rating of "Libertarian" (the highest possible ranking), from the Republican Liberty Caucus. Flake spent most of the 1990s heading up the Goldwater Institute, an Arizona free market think tank, before successfully running for Congress in 2000.

Flake is a social conservative on abortion and gay marriage, but he voted to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell and has worked to liberalize immigration laws. He is definitely not a nativist when it comes to national immigration policy. "I have no sympathy for those who are running drugs or doing human smuggling or criminal activity but that's a very small part of those who are simply coming here to make their lives better," he says. "I think we ought to make sure we have a legal framework for them to come and work and then return home."

Flake is strong on taxes and spending, with a 91 percent rating from the National Taxpayers Union. Flake has voted with libertarians on some civil liberties issues, though he is uncomfortable with the libertarian label and does not consider himself one. He has been critical of the PATRIOT Act, particularly the warrantless surveillance aspects, and has offered a variety of amendments to weaken it by requiring the head of the FBI to personally approve requests for library or bookstore records, allowing for recipients of national security letters to consult an attorney and challenge them in court, and putting a stop to judges preventing people from knowing about impending government searches of their homes. Flake has also pushed to end the trade embargo with and ban on travel to Cuba.

The strikes against Flake are serious: his initial votes for the PATRIOT Act and the Iraq War. Still, Flake has the potential to pull the Republican caucus in the U.S. Senate in a more libertarian direction. But only after he faces the toughest challenge of his political career, former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona.

Arizona may be a red state but it's also a magnet for people looking to escape heavily regulated and taxed blue states such as California. Carmona, a retired vice admiral in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, excites Democrats because of his Hispanic background and his bipartisan appeal as an appointee of George W. Bush. Unlike Flake, Carmona did not face any primary challengers, allowing him to steadily raise money while focusing on the general election. Every poll has shown Flake with a lead, but an ugly Republican primary against Will Cardon, a wealthy businessman, has had an impact on his favorability and has some local Republicans worried.

LONGSHOTS

Barry Hinckley

U.S. Senate, Rhode Island

People often point to Massachusetts as the most perfect exemplar of a one-party state, but that's because they often overlook its tiny, densely populated neighbor to the south, Rhode Island. The nation's smallest state is very much like Massachusetts, with its Puritan settlers, ethnic Catholic immigrants, love for baseball, and strong accents. And the mostly one-party rule of Rhode Island is similar, too, with moderate Republicans or former Republicans occupying the governor's office for nearly two decades even while Democrats have held large majorities in the legislature. It's not exactly a breeding ground for small-government types.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Barry Hinckley is a Rhode Island businessman, so he's familiar with the awful climate for business and innovation. (In its annual rankings for 2012, CNBC listed Rhode Island as the worst state for business in the country.) Hinckley got his start in the Ocean State working in his family's shipbuilding business, but he eventually left the industry and moved to Massachusetts where he started his own software company in 1999. In June, Hinckley sold his stake in the firm, Bullhorn Software, for an undisclosed amount; in various news reports he has said he made out "very well." Since 2010 Hinckley has co-hosted a libertarian Internet radio program called Revolution Radio.

Hinckley says he shares the values of the American Founders, whom he considers libertarian. While he lived in Massachusetts, he says, he was registered as a member of the Libertarian Party "for years," walking away from the Republican Party when George W. Bush was in office. He credits the Bush years for leading him to explore the ideas of limited government. "The Republicans are too socially conservative and the Democrats are too fiscally liberal," he says. When Ron Paul visited the state in 2012, Hinckley was the one who introduced him at the University of Rhode Island. "I consider Ron Paul the grandfather of political honesty," he said. 

Hinckley says the war on drugs has been a total failure. "I think marijuana should be legalized. I am not a big fan of legalizing all hard drugs but at the same time these people shouldn't be put in jail for life. If you're going to willingly do harm to your body the government shouldn't pay for it. That includes unhealthy foods and tobacco as well."

Hinckley supports gay marriage, is pro-choice, and is a strong defender of the Second Amendment, but insists his main focus is on fiscal matters. He would, among other things, repeal the income tax. "I used to like the fair tax and I am not a supporter of the flat tax. We have to get rid of the entire tax code and start over. The income tax is incredibly regressive, it punishes labor," he says.

Hinckley has a mountain to climb if he is to be successful in his challenge to incumbent Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. Cook rates the race as "solid Democratic," and Hinckley's fundraising has been disappointing. Aside from the Republican Liberty Caucus, national groups that could dive in and spend heavily are not actively engaged in the race. Hinckley reportedly has the ability to self-fund his campaign but that would only go so far, since his roots in the state are nowhere near as deep as the incumbent's.

Kurt Bills

U.S. Senate, Minnesota

Kurt Bills has the cut-from-stone looks, booming voice, and background story that make him a candidate straight out of central casting. An average student in high school, Bills worked for a few years in road construction before going to college to become a police officer. A growing interest in education led him to change his trajectory. Since 1996 he has worked as a teacher at Rosemount High School in Rosemount, Minnesota, where he teaches history and economics. His political career took off in 2008 when he was elected to the city council, then he ran successfully for state representative in 2010. Now he's making the big jump to national politics with a challenge to incumbent Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Bills says he jumped into politics because of his students. "If my kids ever asked me, 'Mr. Bills what we are supposed to do about all this?' at least I could say 'Well here's what I did. I tried to get involved and you can do this, too. Doesn't matter what party you're in, just get involved.'?" 

Bills touts the curriculum for his economics courses, saying "I am an educator, not an indoctrinator. I don't teach them what I believe, I teach them all the schools of economic thought and challenge them on all of them." The works of Austrian economist Carl Menger sparked his interest in the field. 

He is not really comfortable with the libertarian label, preferring to call himself a "libertarian-leaning constitutional conservative," but most of his positions align with mainstream libertarian ideas. He is hostile to the drug war, favors a non-interventionist foreign policy, and embraces Austrian economics.

Unfortunately for Bills, Minnesota has shown itself to be a Democratic stronghold in recent campaign cycles, despite being the home to former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and national conservative icon Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Klobuchar was elected with almost two-thirds of the vote in 2006, and all polls indicate that she is poised to cruise to reelection again this fall. The wild card in this race is the Ron Paul movement in Minnesota, which is backing Bills vigorously. If the organizational chops that Paul's machine displayed during the Republican caucuses mean anything, this race could be closer than the "solid Democratic" that Cook currently predicts.  

CORRECTION: The original version of this article said that Flake initially voted for the Troubled Assets Relief Program. He did not.