Libertarian Party

I Ran for Governor of Oklahoma Against Tiger King's Joe Exotic

Lessons learned from the zookeeper Netflix made famous

|

I was the first member of the Oklahoma Libertarian Party to enter the 2018 gubernatorial race, but I wasn't the most famous. Approximately 45 days after I declared my candidacy, I learned that a man with much more notoriety had entered the Libertarian primary: Joseph "Joe Exotic" Maldonado.

The world knows Joe now, thanks to the Netflix documentary Tiger King. He's a mulleted zookeeper, ordained minister, amateur demolitions expert, country-music lip-syncher, former write-in presidential candidate, and gay polygamist with two straight husbands. After the race, he would achieve even more attention, thanks to a murder-for-hire charge and a slew of animal cruelty violations. I had expected to spend the campaign talking about improving the education system or renegotiating the state's contracts with private prisons. I spent more time trying to shield the Libertarian brand from an eccentric showman whose peculiar platform didn't exactly match the party's usual positions.

My first few weeks as a candidate went pretty much as I expected—better, even. I was interviewed on radio and television. I shared the stage at candidate forums. I communicated with all sorts of voters on Facebook. I laid out libertarian approaches to a range of important issues, from reforming the school funding formula to solving the western Oklahoma water shortage.

Then my campaign manager called to tell me that Joe Exotic had entered the race. I wasn't aware of his minor celebrity status, so when I Googled my opponent, I was more than a little surprised at what I saw.

Have you ever seen one of the videos Maldonado posted during his independent presidential campaign? If you haven't, you should watch one: They're wild.

Picture an angry two-tone mullet with a hand cannon on his hip stomping angrily around a cage full of tigers, ranting in a nasal southern drawl. He made around 50 of these, and I watched every one of them.

This video binge taught me a lot about Maldonado. For one thing, it taught me that he wasn't actually a libertarian.

Joe's health care policy was socialized medicine, straight out of the Bernie Sanders playbook. His environmental policy was to shut down any businesses that pollute—period. His immigration policy was to sell citizenship: "Charge 'em 60 bucks for a visa. Make 'em spend thousands on citizenship. We don't want their poor people. We want their rich ones."

And he had a knack for attracting an audience. This flamboyant, charismatic guy would campaign from the top of his limo, passing out condoms and rolling papers with his face imprinted on them. He was a media magnet, but he was dragging a bunch of contradictory, statist proposals with him. It could undo everything the other candidate and I were doing to explain our platform to the public. This, I decided, was a threat.

Joe, on the other hand, didn't see us as a threat. Indeed, he welcomed us with open arms at his zoo. To my surprise, I liked him.

We spent several afternoons at his animal park, walking around, talking about politics, philosophy, and life. He seemed like a nice guy. No, seriously: He's friendly and engaging, he's sincere in his beliefs, he listens when you speak, and his comments are usually thoughtful, even when they're also off-color or extreme.

"You don't have to shut down a refinery because they pollute. You could make them pay restitution and fix as much damage as possible," I told him once.

"Fuck 'em. Some damage can't be undone, and there's no amount of money that can fix losing your kid from cancer. Them bastards don't care until you hit their wallets." he replied.

I especially enjoyed listening to him talk about cats. Get him going on the subject, and he'll give you a primer about feline genetics and how environmental specialization has contributed to tigers' near extinction. One thing the Netflix series didn't cover was his cooperation with research facilities around the country to find ways to help cats survive in more diverse environments. Thanks to Netflix, we know that his treatment of the animals was sometimes questionable, even criminal. But I can't dispute his devotion to the species.

Given his jumbled ideology, he would have done better running as an independent than as a Libertarian. I don't think he understood his disadvantaged position until after the first debate of the campaign. Besides me, he was up against Chris Powell, a former chairman of the state party. Joe spoke in his typically energetic style, telling the group that he wasn't going to change, that he wouldn't wear a suit, that he'd be real and not "blow smoke up their butt." The big-government elements of his platform did not sit well with the liberty-minded audience. He wanted to legalize marijuana (great!) and "tax the shit out of it" (ouch!) to get $8 million a month. That $8 million dollars was supposed to provide free health care for every Oklahoman (the state Health Board estimates that this would actually cost $260 million annually) and meet the public schools' budget shortfall (another $80 million that year, according to the state Board of Education).

Joe Exotic (left) and Rex Lawhorn (right)

He also commented that Chris Powell wasn't his type, sexually speaking, but that it was too bad I was straight because he'd like to "give me a shot." I wasn't sure how to answer that in a political forum.

His performance elicited polite applause, and more than a few uncomfortable chuckles. But the enthusiasm he was anticipating wasn't there.

After that, I started receiving text messages and calls from him on a more regular basis, asking how different policies would sit. His campaign manager, Josh Dial, also started contacting both my manager and myself on a frequent basis. Over the course of the campaign, Dial became a bona fide libertarian. But Joe was going to be Joe.

In informal online polling, Maldonado could mobilize his following to create the appearance of success. But when the actual voting happened, he lost pretty badly. Chris Powell finished first, with 48.9 percent. I was second, with 32.4 percent. Joe Exotic got just 18.7 percent. Powell then beat me in the runoff.

Meanwhile, some people associated with Joe's zoo started sending me cryptic messages declaring that they "knew where the bodies were buried." (This turned out to be a literal reference to the bodies of executed tigers.) Less than a month after the runoff, he was arrested. At the 2019 state convention, his party membership was revoked by unanimous consent.

People say any coverage is good coverage, but it's not true. When I ran into outreach problems on the campaign trail, it wasn't because of my sometimes radical policy prescriptions: Almost everyone was willing to discuss and at least think about those. It was because people had heard the Libertarians were the party whose candidates for national chair included a guy who took off his clothes onstage. The party whose national vice chair had called veterans murderers. The party that attracted a candidate like Joe Exotic, the Tiger King.

Advertisement

NEXT: Did Justice Alito lose the majority in Ramos? (Updated)

Libertarian Party Oklahoma Campaigns/Elections Third Parties Netflix Television

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

Please to post comments

35 responses to “I Ran for Governor of Oklahoma Against Tiger King's Joe Exotic

  1. >> It was because people had heard the Libertarians were the party whose candidates for national chair included a guy who took off his clothes onstage. The party whose national vice chair had called veterans murderers. The party that attracted a candidate like Joe Exotic, the Tiger King.

    Yup. One reason I’m not a member any more, and have no plans to go back. The party needs to take itself seriously. They have the right ideology but the wrong style. Bad enough that libertarians have the rep of being conservative stoners, but these freak shows need to be kept off the stage.

    p.s. A perennial candidate in my district is a convicted child molester. He continues to run because the party can’t find a way to get him not to run. Thankfully he never makes to news, but it’s still fucking embarrassing.

    1. “Bad enough that libertarians have the rep of being conservative stoners, but these freak shows need to be kept off the stage.”

      That’s not very ex-Libertarian of you.

      1. They can be Club Libertarian all they want, but if they ever plan to win races they need to start taking themselves seriously.

        1. The Democrats have shown they may be able to win in spite of letting nut jobs like Sanders and Warren on the debate stage. Sanders and Warren seemingly can’t even do basic math, understand basic economic reality (odd in the case of Warren), or read the Constitution and were self made caricatures. In spite of that the Democrats eventually picked a candidate that, in spite of being senile, may actually win.

          If the Democrats can’t take themselves seriously yet have a reasonable shot at winning the Presidency, I don’t know why Libertarians can’t as well. (FWIW, I’m a libertarian, but not a Libertarian).

      2. Facebook is paying $530 Per day. Be a part of Facebook and start getting Extra Dollars every week from your home. JVc..I just got paid $8590 in my previous month……….,Visit Site

    2. The dislike of harmless freaks by the average mainstream person perfectly captures why most people dislike libertarian principles. Accepting a libertarian ideology means accepting harmless freaks as human beings.

      1. Oh shit, I’m agreeing with Chipper.

        Anyway, well said.

      2. If you made it all the way through Tiger King, you should know that Joe Exotic is most definitely NOT harmless.

    3. Couldn’t agree more. The duopoly putting up every road block they can certainly doesn’t make it easy, but having the party look like a clown car is definitely is just shooting itself in the foot.

      Whatever fumbles Gary has as a speaker, he should have been able to debate. The media took one sound bite and never let it go which was also BS. No regrets voting for him twice, and think the party members who expect the mass voters to overthrow things all at once are delusional.

      Bernie succeeds in the DNC because he’s a more extreme example of a message people are used to and he talks passionately about causes people are very angry over.

      It’s easier than convincing people of how the government’s size and scope is making things worse. But the people who want to reform a system that’s hard to change are run out as , so it goes nowhere.

      We should be arguing to reform at the margin, not with a message that causes mass disruption in lives. The LP needs a road map for getting where we are to where we’d like to go that doesn’t frighten the common man, and try to enhance a narrow competency of what government does rather than the “it shouldn’t exist” caricature that makes everyone else roll their eyes at us.

      1. I’ve been on the floor at LP conventions where the anarchist wing deliberately blocked every motion. On principle. It’s like it’s a game to them.

    4. Think I know whom you are referring to. I ran against him once and won (in the primary).

    5. Most U. S. citizens are peaceful and productive. Some are not. Does the fact that some U. S. citizens are not peaceful and productive justify giving up on the U.S.?

      Most LP members take the party seriously. Some do not. Does the fact that some LP members do not take the party seriously justify giving up on the LP?

  2. Felon, homo, bigamist, sounds like the perfect Libertarian candidate.

    1. Better than Gary “Bake the Fucking Cake” Johnson, anyway.

      1. You realize that bar is so low, people could crawl over it, right?

  3. “I spent more time trying to shield the Libertarian brand from an eccentric showman whose peculiar platform didn’t exactly match the party’s usual positions.”

    Sounds alot like the Republican Party of today with one exception, nobody in today’s Republican Party gives a shit!

    1. Because if you give a shit in today’s party you’re kicked out.

      Q: But what about the deficit?
      A: YOU’RE FIRED!!

      1. Exactly!

  4. This Tiger guy is WAY too nice to be a politician.

    Way too nice and WAAAAAAY too honest.

    1. “Way too nice and WAAAAAAY too honest.”

      He was convicted on a murder for hire plot and at least a dozen charges of animal cruelty.

      1. Still better than Hillary.

  5. mulleted zookeeper

    Nice band name. Or Zappa song, perhaps.

    1. i like Watermelon in Easter Hay

  6. Libertarians have always been unserious about winning. I mean third party candidates have had some successes. Anderson in 1980 got 7% of the vote. Perot got 19% his first time. No electoral votes in this messed up state system. But the best libertarians can do after 50 years is 3% with two former republican governors. And they can’t even spoil it for other republicans. Unlike third party left wingers. So libertarians can just suck it.

  7. People shouldn’t be kept in cages. They should outlaw prisons. Joe should be rehabilitated.

    1. Joe was set up.

  8. Thanks for the article. I watched the series and was curious about the Libertarian angle. Good to get your first hand perspective.

  9. My response to when someone does something Whacko & we get tarred with it is to explain that we’re a small party, and that makes us vulnerable to that sort of stuff. An idiot can get up in front of a camera and strip off. Probably not as bad as Rob Lowe making a sex tape with underage girls at a Democrat National Convention, but that’s the difference in the coverage we receive. A guy like Rob Lowe can’t damage the (D) brand, but Tiger King can damage ours.

    1. “Charge ’em 60 bucks for a visa. Make ’em spend thousands on citizenship. We don’t want their poor people. We want their rich ones.”

      Essentially Canada’s pre-Trudeau immigration policy. It worked well.

  10. I’m starting to think the problem is with primaries. The party should just choose its candidates internally in a completely undemocratic process by people who are looking at winning general elections. Parties can save their time and resources and stop running miniature campaigns that serve no good purpose.

    1. Parties aren’t required to hold primaries. And the Libertarian primaries and delegates function differently from those of other parties anyway. Not that it has helped the Libertarian party one bit.

  11. spent more time trying to shield the Libertarian brand from an eccentric showman whose peculiar platform didn’t exactly match the party’s usual positions.

    The “Libertarian brand” is about as rotten and worthless as any brand can get, thanks in part to people like you and magazines like Reason.

    This flamboyant, charismatic guy would campaign from the top of his limo, passing out condoms and rolling papers with his face imprinted on them. He was a media magnet, but he was dragging a bunch of contradictory, statist proposals with him.

    So his political faults were really no different from that of any other big-L Libertarian politician, who usually also drags around a bunch of contradictory, statist proposals. Unlike other big-L Libertarian politicians, Joe Exotic at least had a bit of charisma and personality.

  12. ery nice post AO Puff are happy to read.

  13. i make money extra pachup $17 k in a month .its really change my life. if you want change your your life. just now COPY THIS WEB…..► Read More

  14. I don’t think I could vote for this guy but I’ll be damned if that video wasn’t fucking fun to watch!

Comments are closed.