Libertarian Party Wars in D.C.: The "Take Who We Can Get" Folk vs. the Neo-Professionals


The Washington, D.C., Libertarian Party gets the kind of detailed in-fighting reporting in Washington City Paper that third parties (and indeed even local and state branches of major parties) rarely get, with news about how a Party with newfound ballot access in D.C. sees conflict between those who are happy to get the Party rolling with anyone and those said to be seeking a higher level of professionalism.

Thanks to Bruce Majors winning the L.P. relatively trouble-free ballot access by earning 6 percent in the 2012 election for D.C.'s non-voting House member (Eleanor Holmes Norton kept the gig), the L.P. needs to collect merely a couple of signatures to get candidates on the ballot for local elections–literally just a couple, representing one percent of the number of registered Libertarians in D.C.

Now Majors is working hard to get other Libertarians to run for local office:

So far, his candidate slate—all white men and [Sara] Panfil, a white woman—doesn't do much to disprove the stereotype of Libertarians as a party for nerdy white people. Majors has had trouble convincing people of color to take a trip to the Board of Elections, even when, in an attempt just to get another candidate on the ballot, he promises that their campaign work would be limited to signing a few papers and appearing on the ballot.

In other words, Majors had to promise potential candidates they would not win.

Still, Majors hopes to find a more diverse roster before his party's primary. "Not that I think of these people in that way, but the media and the electorate will, so I have to also," he says.

Conveniently for his plans, he's setting the bar low. When out trawling Libertarian gatherings for candidates, Majors says he's just looking for someone intelligent and presentable—and, of course, willing to run for office.

But casting a wide net has its downsides, especially with a party known for dislike of being told what to do. Before meeting his candidates at the Board of Elections, Majors sent out a press release declaring that [Frederick] Steiner would be running for Council chairman; he decided to run for the at-large seat instead.

Steiner's on to something. Because of Home Rule Act requirements, two of the Council's four at-large seats have to go to a candidate who's not a member of the District's majority party—in other words, now and forever, the Democrats….

The significance of the set-aside seat isn't lost on John Vaught LaBeaume, another would-be Libertarian candidate recruiter. While Majors will sign anyone with a copy of The Road to Serfdom and a pulse, LaBeaume is trying to recruit local business owners to run for the at-large spot. If he succeeds, his candidate will be going up against Majors'.

"Just me personally, I'm not going to work without a really solid candidate," LaBeaume says….

And like the old saying goes, find two Libertarians and you'll find at least two factions:

In a nod to their cantankerous party, Majors and LaBeaume give each other a wide berth. Majors described LaBeaume to LL [Loose Lips, the columnist writing this] as "my parallel person," but declined to give LL his rival's name. (Fortunately, the paucity of Libertarians in D.C. politics meant LL didn't have to look far.)

Majors contrasts his candidate-heavy approach with LaBeaume's criteria, which he describes as "anybody more famous than me." He says he has only occasional contact with LaBeaume—an impressive feat, since, as Steiner jokes, you could accommodate the District's entire Libertarian Party membership at a very large dinner party.

LaBeaume spoke in my feature on the Sarvis campaign aftermath, and wrote his own Reason piece on the L.P.'s future.