Larry Sharpe, Libertarian Candidate for Governor of New York, Quits the Party's National Committee
Controversy over LNC Vice-Chair Arvin Vohra's comments on veterans, age of consent laws makes Sharpe realize he doesn't belong on the national party's governing board.
Larry Sharpe, who came in a close second in the vote for vice presidential nominee at the Libertarian Party's 2016 convention, was recently lauded by Politico as a "rarity…a serious Libertarian candidate" in his current race to be governor of New York. (Sharpe is also the subject of a feature interview in the February Reason, conducted by Matt Welch.)
Vohra had generated a ton of social networking controversy for some remarks on Facebook. A sampling:
If a 14 year old has a kid, I would prefer the other person to be an adult, with a job….Statist Logic: "Teenagers cannot consent to sex." "It is totally okay to force teenagers into useless government schools against their wills." Government schools do a thousand timesmore damage to teenagers than consensually dating adults ever possibly could. Nonconsensual brainwashing masquerading as education is far more damaging than, for example, young marriage….
Should a man be allowed to have sex with another man? Only the two men in question should have a say. Should an adult be allowed to have sex with a teenager? Only the adult, the teenager, and their families/culture should have a say. There is no reason to bring government into it.
Vohra also condemned all soldiers as paid killers and all public school teachers as supervisors of indoctrination camps.
As the suspension motion stated, some LNC and party members believed that:
Vice Chair Arvin Vohra's public discourse has repeatedly included inflammatory and insulting remarks which bring the Party, its candidates, and its principles into disrepute;…Mr. Vohra's remarks have destructively stereotyped party members and large segments of the population, a behavior completely at odds with our Party's philosophy of recognizing and treating people as individuals; and…Mr. Vohra's comments have caused wide-spread offense, and the result is that the LNC, its committees, and Party affiliates are distracted from productive activities…
The party's special counsel, Oliver Hall, conducted an investigation of Vohra's comportment and statements. The investigation concluded that "despite the controversial nature of the content of some of his ideas, Mr. Vohra generally communicated them in a manner that is professional and respectful" and, further, that nothing he said rose to the level of the accused "collective deprecation" based on "sex, race, color, national origin, disability, age, religion or any other protected category."
That decision vindicating Vohra came down on January 25; motions to censure and suspend him were voted on in a video meeting of the LNC on February 2. The suspension vote failed, 8–8. (Two-thirds of the LNC would have had to vote "yes" according to bylaws for the suspension vote to pass.) The censure vote passed, 9–7. (Vohra was permitted to vote against his own censure, and did.)
"The recent reaction from the LNC," Sharpe wrote in his public resignation letter, regarding the suspension vote, "has clarified for me that Arvin does fit on the LNC. Clearly, the one who does not belong is me."
Sharpe said in a phone interview this week, "In any other organization in this country if an officer who represented that organization had made statements way Arvin did, in some way shape or form members of that board would say, 'hey, stop.'" To Sharpe, the failure to suspend Vohra is an organizational failure that he does not wish to be associated with.
Sharpe is "still a proud lifetime member of the Libertarian Party," he stresses, and still a candidate for governor of New York. He sees his resignation as, among other things, a necessary move as a candidate to make it clear he's distancing himself from Vohra's statements, including Vohra saying that he would "probably" not personally have sex with a 14-year-old.
Someone in Vohra's position, Sharpe thinks, should have the "empathy to know that if someone asks you if you would have sex with a 14-year-old, you don't answer 'probably not.' It's common sense to just say no."
Sharpe says he's been making motions to have Vohra removed for months before last week's vote, but didn't want to make a huge public cause out of it. At this point, though, he believes the LNC is "not prepared to be like a professional organization." And though "they have every right to not be like that," he thinks it's not good for either side for him to stay a part of the LNC. (As an alternate, he didn't have the power to actually vote in last week's censure or suspension votes.)
Some have written off the importance of anything Vohra says on Facebook as an internal controversy that no one outside narrow L.P. social orbits would even be aware of, something that ought to have nearly zero effect on L.P. candidates. Sharpe disagrees, noting first that in modern politics social networking is terribly important; "Donald Trump won because of Twitter. Social media matters."
Sharpe grants that the vast majority of Libertarian candidates don't even make enough waves for major-party foes to bother attacking them, but says "I'm a long-term thinker, I'm not worried about the next election but this party is going to get bigger, and people are going to bring this stuff back to hit us. Part of the dirt will be things the LNC has done and not done. Candidates becoming serious need to be prepared to handle it, and I handled it by in writing calling for Vohra to step down twice and then resigning myself."
Sharpe also worries that recruiting of serious people to run with the Libertarian Party will be harmed by people who see Vohra's style and say, "I don't want to touch this, this is a disaster." He also worries that failing to boot Vohra will lead to fundraising being harder down the line, with "people saying I give you guys money and you make mistakes [like this] and shoot yourself in the foot? Why should I give you more money?"
Others on the LNC were worried about launching endless social media–driven witch-hunts against any thoughts they'd express. Sharpe's response: "We are responsible to [party members]. Let them come after us" if they think what LNC members say or do is bad for the party's image.
While Sharpe disagrees with Vohra's view on age of consent laws and his opinion that everyone in the military should be seen as an immoral hired killer, he does not want him driven from the L.P. or the movement; he even grants that were Vohra running for public office, "I would vote for him. I do know he's a real libertarian, that's for sure. I would avoid his campaign like the plague, because it would be a dumpster fire, but when it comes to Election Day, my vote goes to Vohra."
But he doesn't think someone like Vohra should be a party official. "I'm not mad at him," he says. "I'm mad at us. We should have acted. Being mad at Arvin is like being mad at a dog for barking."
He also believes from his communication with other party members outside the LNC that the vote to not suspend Vohra from his position was "not what the [general Libertarian] public wanted, 100 percent no."
Vohra, in a written statement prior to the vote, defended himself, saying:
My "crimes" so far include failing to sufficiently worship those who carry out the foreign and educational policies I find ineffective and morally abhorrent. I know that the prevailing attitude among the less sophisticated parts of America is that the federal government's soldiers and government school teachers are "heroes", against the evidence of their actual actions. I consider it part of my responsibility to work to change that.
My other "crime": daring to suggest that age of consent laws should not exist, at least in their current form. As a believer in individual self determination, and a very open anarchist, this position should hardly be surprising. I don't think government should have any involvement in sex, period. I also don't think government should exist at all.
Joshua Katz, an at-large representative on the LNC, argues that voting against suspending Vohra was not the same as thinking his comments were wise or correct. "We must tread carefully in policing the speech of LNC members when not using Party resources," he writes in an email. "It sets a dangerous precedent and can lead to endless factional infighting. This party needs a board that devises workable strategies for political success and safeguards its assets, not one that spends its time arguing about what its members say and do. For that reason, I was cautious on censure, and opposed suspension."
In Katz's view, suspension would be warranted only by things like "breaches of fiduciary duty, such as misuse of party assets. While I disagree wholeheartedly with Mr. Vohra's statements, and do not think they are reflective of any libertarianism with which I am familiar, or of which I would be a part, I do not think that Mr. Vohra's personal social media speech is part of his fiduciary function."
Katz isn't very worried that an average voter moving forward will note nor remember anything Arvin Vohra wrote on Facebook. "Even the amount of time and energy spent on the question of what our Vice Chair says on social media, in my view, demonstrates our excessive internal focus, and lack of focus the things that matter," he says.
If the party's membership at large disagrees with Vohra's statements and style as much as Katz does, he says, they should express their opinions via "board elections at the convention. I respect the fact that others disagree on the scope of where suspension is appropriate."
Whitney Bilyeu, LNC representative for Region 7, agrees that it should be up to members voting at the convention to judge whether Vohra's comments were or were not something party members wanted representing them. "I asked for, and considered, the input from members and candidates in my Region representing both sides of the votes," she says via email. "The vast majority either were indifferent, or thought censure was more appropriate. However, there were some who called for removal of Vohra. It was a difficult decision, in light of the circumstances, but I hope that my decision will serve to protect current and future members from a dangerous precedent, overreaching authority by the LNC."
LNC representative for Region 1 Caryn Ann Harlos voted for Vohra's suspension. Except for the age of consent stuff, she agrees with most of Vohra's views about issues such as war (though not his apparent personal enmity toward veterans), public schools, and legalization of all drugs. Her vote to suspend him, she says, was not about his opinions; it was about "professionalism and empathy." She says the majority of state chairs from her nine-state region agreed with her votes to suspend and censure.
While Harlos isn't confident there will be any trouble for candidates down the line based on things Vohra wrote, she does think it better to sell libertarian ideas in a "relatable, kind, human" way that doesn't go out of its way to offend or insult state employees or non-libertarians in general. She thinks Libertarians need to remember we were all non-Libertarians once and to retain a sense that even those we strongly disagree with deserve to be treated with dignity as fellow humans. If Libertarians are to convince the world that, for example, private charity can meet needs government currently meets, it might be best to have a public face with "empathy and sympathy" and not the style of an "edgelord on Facebook…who would believe a society of [that type] will take care of people?" Despite voting against him, Harlos says she's angry at people who have tried to personalize a philosophical discussion about age of consent laws to state or imply Vohra is a pedophile.
Vohra responded via Facebook video to the vote result. Pleased that he was still vice chair, he doubled down on the importance of his particular communication content and strategy. He thinks, for example, that not enough Americans understand that the proper Libertarian position is to be against the existence of public schools, and that Libertarian messaging fails to be "blunt enough, brutal enough" to make that clear at all times.
He insisted that his comments about soldiers and teachers do not bring Libertarian candidates or causes into disrepute. They are "just stating some uncomfortable and unpleasant facts," he said. It is the proper Libertarian position that no one should join the military or work for public schools, he argued, and anyone offended by hearing such things "should be offended." Libertarians should socially "treat statism like racism" and refuse to tolerate or be friends with anyone who exhibits un-libertarian beliefs, he declared. That way, "I know we can make freedom happen, we can win federal elections, we can win the presidency, if you actually fight to change the culture."
Vohra also read and endorsed portions of a recent article by Ron Paul condemning the party's messaging with the 2016 Johnson/Weld campaign.
Vohra has certainly let party members who show up to the 2018 convention in this summer in New Orleans know exactly what they are endorsing if they choose to re-elect him.
In the big picture, the national party's finances are doing fine, with 2017's take (minus bequests and convention revenue) being 5 percent above the running previous 10-year average, and 17 percent above the previous 10-year average for odd-numbered years (which generally have less political activity of all sorts).