Libertarian Candidates

California Libertarian's Victory Could Be a Roadmap for Others

Winning candidates need to offer practical approaches that are appropriate for the offices they are seeking. Jeff Hewitt did exactly that.

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Many of my Republican friends chide me for being a "Losertarian," a member of a party, the Libertarian Party, that is far better known for its sometimes-bizarre candidates, bitter internal disputes and unrealistic policy positions than it is for winning elections. Never mind that the GOP has its share of strange candidates (including one who managed to win a presidential election), but the criticism always has had an uncomfortable ring of truth to it.

So it was with much enjoyment that I watched Libertarian candidate Jeff Hewitt certified as the winner of a seat on the Riverside County Board of Supervisors. In an election that saw Republican candidates obliterated for statewide and legislative seats, it was unusual seeing a Libertarian win a powerful office in one of the nation's most-populous counties. These races are "nonpartisan," but Calimesa Mayor Hewitt never hid his party affiliation. He beat a well-known Republican former Assemblyman.

His victory offers some national political lessons, although Hewitt seems far more interested in rolling up his sleeves and addressing the county's public-policy problems than he is in becoming the poster child for any party or movement. Therein lies the key lesson. Winning candidates need to offer practical approaches that are appropriate for the offices they are seeking. "I'm not the guy to get rid of all your taxes or pull us out of Libya or stop the border wall," Hewitt told me in an interview last week. "I don't deal with any of that."

But he does want to get the county's unfunded pension liabilities under control, reduce regulations that limit housing supply and drive up home prices, and implement other practical free-market reforms. As a Libertarian he's not just Republican Lite. In fact, he first ran for City Council at the urging of a Democratic councilman who was retiring. That brings us to another lesson: It takes a lot of work and commitment for any candidate to win a major election. He has been working toward this goal for 14 years, starting with a stint on the planning commission.

For years, I've rolled my eyes at third-party candidates who simply put their names on the ballot for some kamikaze mission for Congress, state Legislature, governor and president and then send out press releases championing their "historic" 2 percent vote. Hewitt wasn't running a symbolic candidacy. He wasn't interested in helping Libertarians get enough support so that they could play kingmaker between the Democratic and Republican candidates. "That's not how you change things," he added. "You change things by being elected."

So Hewitt did what all candidates do when they actually want to win an election. They craft a plan. They gain experience. They chalk up accomplishments. I wrote about Hewitt for this publication in January after he led Calimesa to end its costly Cal Fire contract and create its own fire department, thus enabling the city to innovate and cut costs. That helped him gain publicity and support from donors. He also gained a key endorsement from the Riverside Press-Enterprise, which "strongly" endorsed him as "the rare sort of politician who can get straight to the point about the problems of county government and speak honestly about what needs to be done."

Hewitt was down on Election Day, but like many candidates on Nov. 6 he pulled ahead in the late vote tallies. That's not a surprise. He said his campaign knocked on 60,000 doors and had a strong grassroots effort that was able to overtake the early voting, which tends in a more Republican direction. What's the big deal? That's how one runs a successful political campaign, you might be thinking. But that's exactly my point: If Libertarians want to win elections, they need to embrace the same old-school retail politics that winning candidates embrace. Hewitt told me that this was the hardest work he's ever done—and he has a background digging thousands of swimming pools!

This leads to a final lesson. Hewitt did not discuss the kind of esoteric Libertarian issues that make Libertarians the butt of jokes, but he was refreshingly outspoken in the positions he championed. Addressing pension issues can be the kiss of death for politicians who must endure the wrath of the powerful police, fire and other unions. Indeed, his Republican opponent had a good bit of union support. Yet, Hewitt was able to win. Most important, he believes he has the skills to effect change, on a board where he'll be a swing vote. Because he has years of experience dealing with pension matters at the city level, Hewitt says he is ready for the tough union negotiations that will come before the county government.

I'm not arguing that one victory in one county office will usher in a new era of Libertarian politics, but it's proof that the party's candidates can atleast occasionally be Winnertarians if they practice some tried-and-true political strategies.

This column was first published in the Orange County Register.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. He was a Register editorial writer from 1998-2009. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

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23 responses to “California Libertarian's Victory Could Be a Roadmap for Others

  1. If you listen to any of the talks Steve Bannon gives, he marches into the belly of the beast and pleads his case in broad strokes that addresses the audience’s concerns. He freely admits he has many of the same concerns as Bernie Sanders, but offers up a different tack on how to address them. For all the dismissiveness given to progtards here, there’s more than enough who have a moment of doubt after Bannon makes his case.

    Point being, he’s smart. He is in it for the long game, and understands the work needed to make incremental changes that leads to cultural shifts. He even applauds his ideological opponents when they run better campaigns.

    Libertarians look like prima donnas in comparison.

  2. Never mind that the GOP has its share of strange candidates (including one who managed to win a presidential election), but the criticism always has had an uncomfortable ring of truth to it.

    MAGA Trump!

    One of the more Libertarian-ish presidents in a loooooooooooooooong time.

    1. When you call yourself a libertarian, it’s not surprising you’d think the same of Trump.

    2. Poor trolls dont even know what a Libertarian or stands for.

      Of course, they think Trump has never done anything Libertarian-ish.

  3. Gotta admit, ever since Johnson held the slot, I’ve thought about trying for the Governorship of NM.

    Guess I should start lower, though, but holy fuck, there’s only so much stomach I have for politics. I’d rather do something productive than wrestle pigs like that. You both end up covered in shit, but only the pig enjoys it.

    1. I think that if you work hard enough at it, you become one of the pigs.

  4. Very, very few people wake up one day and decide to make a difference, run in the next election and win. I have a Republican friend who has been building his political career for the four years that ive known him. He spends his evenings going to community meetings, weekends are spent volunteering and networking. He sits on committees goes to fundraisers and never stops,working toward his goal.

    I usually use him as an example when my feminist-leaning friends start wondering why there aren’t more women in political office even though most women don’t work towards a career in politics. But it’s a lesson for the libertarians too- if you want to win an election, do the work, put in the time and learn the game.

    1. Yes, for many it’s a long hard slog to win office. Yet for others I’ve known they win on their first try because they were in the right place at the right time with a compelling resume (e.g. winning a wide open primary when an incumbent steps down and you happen to have been a female fighter pilot).

    2. You gotta work for it!

      Women tend to think you gotta complain to get it. (Not all women but quite a few)

    3. The election numbers indicate that this was not a chance win, nor one man propelled by circumstance. Jeff Hewitt’s initial early absentee numbers (25% of the vote – 26,233 of them precisely) were only at 43.9% in favor of him. After the first absentees, the absentee result shot up to 49.4% for the next 19% of the vote (17894 votes) received by the registrar chronologically. After that the rest of the absentee ballots, some 29,100 ballots (or 29.9% of the vote) were 54.5% in favor of Hewitt. On election day he did better than 57.4% of the ballots for him out of 32,542 votes cast that day. The changes in voter attitude were so discrete, and the sentiment so decisively persistent in the results that there is no doubt that Jeff Hewitt’s campaign did significant and successful engagement of the public. The campaign’s ground work not only drew the voters out, but strongly attracted the public to Jeff Hewitt with a whopping 14 point move. There was no devastating news stories about the opponent. The other guy was an establishment regular and everyone “politically connected” in the county thought he was a shoe-in likely to take the seat with 70% of the vote. No special interests donated to Jeff Hewitt’s campaign, the public labor unions, the whole county administration and GOP leadership expected this election to be in the bag… silly rabbits…

      1. I wasn’t saying Hewitt’s win was a chance win. I was talking about the whiners who think there aren’t women in office because of the patriarchy etc. when really, it’s because they haven’t done the work for it.

  5. But Shackford keeps assuring us the problem isn’t candidates, it’s evil California not allowing things like this!

    Now you’re telling us that if a candidate actually puts in the hard work, they can win, even in commie California?

    Someone fetch me my feinting couch!

    1. Your feinting couch? Is it trying to deceive you from its true intentions?

    2. The problem is a bunch of people all thinking they are generals in the party and interfering with candidates and activists who are naturally pursuing their own interests without the need nor the desire for a commander. For decades the party has been frozen – not by bad candidates, not for radical messages and not for lack of intelligence and talent. The one and only thing that has held the LP back is the brinkmanship of its leaders. Everyone wants to define themselves as the “savior” of the movement. These narcissists take a fine hat and try to direct this loosely coupled coalition of anti-authoritarian politicos, most of whom are likewise pursuing the same futile control, and they eat each other instead of the statists that are their enemy. Instead, the only significant win in the party’s entire history was accomplished by a group of activists that is radical in messaging, raising candidates from scratch (not recruiting GOP rejects) and kept their relationships and talents close to home – cohesive as a group and empowered by 15 years of independent field organizing – free from the aggression of their fellow party members.

  6. Jeff Hewitt built a political resume. He spent his life making friends. With those two strong political foundations when he ran for office, he won because he had an expert ground team ready to go. The LP activists in So Cal have advertising and PR people as well as artists, copy writers, data scientists, IT experts, and multiple people trained in field leadership. When they brought in precinct walkers from a YAL associated company, there was no down time. A dozen people hit the streets with walk lists, maps, literature and strong training in engagement and messaging on the first day. They knocked on doors 6 days a week for the length of the campaign. It took 15 years for libertarians in SoCal to build a field team. It took Jeff Hewitt longer than that to build his reputation. There are no silver bullets to winning elections, but the good news is that where there is opportunity, the LP is maturing into an organization that can take advantage of it.

    1. He spent his life making friends.

      Are you questioning the man’s libertarian credentials?

      1. I think I am more so questioning the capabilities of “old school” libertarians to deal with people on a human level. The defense of principle is not the same as sociopathy. Sociopathy is a symptom of establishment politics and in the LP it is a manifestation of Nietzsche assertion that fighting the monster causes one to become the monster. The party was frozen in this cycle of violence until more recently as groups of younger activists have managed to be successful despite the vicious and personal attacks that “leadership” in the LP uses as a control tactic.

        Jeff Hewitt’s campaign was a distinct and specific manifestation of activists being successful despite the party leadership’s unhealthy penchant for cargo culting the worst and most destructive aspects of GOP control structure.

  7. “press releases championing their “historic” 2 percent vote. Hewitt wasn’t running a symbolic candidacy. ”
    1. The Prohibition party averaged 1.2% of the vote over the course of 11 campaigns to inject the Prohibition (and Marxist Income Tax) Amendments to the constitution. Thousands of people were murdered and the use of asset-forfeiture to enforce felony beer drove money from banks and brokerages. The Great Depression was the result. When Libertarians got ONE electoral vote in 1972, abortion became legal 45 days after the votes were counted. Remember the draft? Bombing Southeast Asia? Those ended thanks to the leveraged law-changing clout of “symbolic” Libertarian spoiler votes. Where was Greenhut during history, math and economics classes?

    1. LOL. Seriously? Abortion became legal and the Vietnam War ended because Libertarians got a single electoral vote? What color is the sky in your world?

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  9. Today the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, tomorrow some other county’s board of supervisors.

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