2018: A Make It or Break It Midterm for Libertarians

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Logging onto Facebook this morning I was met with a pleasant surprise – a message reminding me that it had been a year since I had signed on to the Gary Johnson campaign.  The public declaration that I was done with the Grand Ole Party meant absolutely nothing to the people on my friends list, let’s be honest most people don’t give a damn about your political leanings unless you’re constantly flaunting your beliefs.  The announcement did, however, mean a lot to me.

Prior to last July I was a Republican who had gradually lost faith in the Republican Party.  I was sick of the hypocrisy, the blatant violation of our civil liberties, the lack of fiscal conservatism, and the message of the Republican nominee for President. I felt, at the time, that Gary Johnson could legitimately carry a state in the general election.  My optimism turned out to be wrong; Johnson/Weld did not carry a state, nor did they receive an electoral vote.  Despite that, the ticket received nearly 4.5 million votes, carrying 3.27% of the vote, while appearing on the ballot in all 50 states and Washington DC. Disappointing according to my own expectations? Yes. But the election was monumental for the Libertarian Party.

For the longest time the biggest hurdle facing the growth of third parties in this country has been ballot access.  A lack of ballot access ties up a third party’s limited resources, forcing them to focus on things other than campaigning.  Heading into the 2018 midterm elections, the Libertarian Party will have ballot access in 37 states.

What’s more important than ballot access, however, is that the Libertarian Party has incumbents that need to win re-election; Nebraska State Senator Laura Ebke, along with New Hampshire State Representatives Brandon Phinney, Caleb Dyer, and Joseph Stallcop all ditched their former parties, and registered as Libertarians in the last year. Now they all face re-election bids without the backing of the powerful two party duopoly. 

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Brandon Phinney is one of 3 libertarians in New Hampshire’s House of Representatives 

All the aforementioned candidates had their own reasons for ditching their former parties. Joseph Stallcop, who serves in New Hampshire’s House of Representatives representing Cheshire 4, was elected as a Democrat. His decision to switch to the Libertarian Party, he told Authentic Liberty, was based in part because of the disrespect his ideas and views were generating among Democrats. Stallcops colleague, Brandon Phinney, explained his decision to switch parties as frustration with the direction, and leadership  of Republicans, a familiar sentiment. When Authentic Liberty asked Senator Laura Ebke why she switched parties, she pointed out several moments where she realized that the Republican Party no longer represented her values. Senator Ebke told us that “the recognition that the Republicans were going to nominate Trump, and then a “call out” for not being an adequately “platform Republican” at the 2016 State GOP convention by the Governor–when he called out a number of us by name” appeared to be the last straw. Like many people, Senator Ebke realized that the GOP didn’t care about policy, but party.

While Representative Stallcop is unsure if he will be running for re-election next year (he is set to graduate from college), the state of New Hampshire presents an interesting scenario for Brandon Phinney and Caleb Dyer, his colleagues in the only libertarian caucus in the nation. New Hampshire is one of a handful of states that allows for “fusion tickets,” which allow one candidate to run under multiple parties. Both Phinney and Dyer, former Republicans, could choose to seek both the Republican and Libertarian nominations for their districts,and in a comment to Authentic Liberty, Phinney stated that this is his intention; in doing so they would eliminate potential rivals while having their names appear multiple times on the ballot.  That scenario could be interesting, and increase their odds of reelection, but could also make them beholden to the whims of two different parties. A victory on a fusion ticket would also minimize the importance of the Libertarian Party; if, in this hypothetical situation, both candidates win both the Republican and Libertarian nominations, then win the election, outsiders could say that they only won because of the Republican Party, marginalizing the importance of libertarians.

Senator Ebke’s situation in Nebraska is also interesting. She serves in the only unicameral state legislature in the nation, and in Nebraska, all state elections are

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Senator Laura Ebke is up for re-election in 2018

nonpartisan, when voters step into the ballot box in 2018 they will see a list of names with no party affiliation. Senator Ebke believes the nonpartisan nature of Nebraska’s state elections probably helps her, as she explained to Authentic Liberty “while many people will know the affiliation, the fact that it isn’t listed on the ballot, nor do we organize by party in the legislature–probably helps me some.” Senator Ebke says that the biggest difference she has noticed during her re-election bid is her ability to effectively raise money; “Libertarians–as a whole–seem to be far less likely to part with their money–whether $25 of $100. Republican (and probably Democrat) activists are used to being asked for cash, and attending fundraisers.”  With that said, she has had some success raising money for her re-election, and she will continue to need our support, if you’ve got $10, you can make a donation here.

Winning re-election to these offices should be the focus of the Libertarian Party. As we move forward we cannot simply be content with the occasional officeholder quitting their party out of protest, and registering as a libertarian.  Libertarians need to learn how to win elections; we need an effective, proven blueprint, and we need to show the Republicans and Democrats that we can do more than just steal a few votes. The best way to do that is by continuing to seek support from the party at both the state and national level. If we cannot support our candidates and win elections as libertarians, then party members really need to question if there is any advantage to running for office as a libertarian.

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Republicans Announce 2018 Budget; Economy is Still Screwed

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For years Libertarians, and a select few Republicans have been talking about this countries out of control spending problem, and our massive debt. On Tuesday morning House Republicans introduced their 2018 budget, which if passed as is tomorrow morning, would give Republicans like Paul Ryan a “win,” but would do little to help this country in the long-term. 

Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan and the GOP are trying to trick us.

The House plan would slash federal spending by $5.4 trillion dollars over the next decade. While cutting spending on mandatory programs, like medicare and medicaid by $4 trillion over that same period of time. If passed as is, the budget would pave way for Republicans to attempt to overhaul our tax code for the first time since 1986.

Overhauling the tax code has been talked about for years, but has gained little traction, and it is unlikely that Republicans will be successful in their endeavors this time for a few reasons. First, the budget would have to pass both the House and the Senate, with no changes; which seems unlikely. Second, this congress has given us no reason to believe they are serious about fiscal change; especially after they failed to repeal the taxes created by Obamacare, which Republicans in the House and Senate both said would be vital to overhauling the tax code.

Despite that, Paul Ryan has pushed forward; calling for less tax brackets, switching to a territorial tax system, and repealing the “Alternative Minimum Tax” which, when passed, meant well, but has damaged the middle class,

[the AMT] was designed to keep wealthy taxpayers from using loopholes to avoid paying taxes. But because it was not automatically updated for inflation, more middle-class taxpayers were getting hit with the AMT each year. Congress traditionally passed an annual “patch” to address this until, in January 2013, as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal, they passed a permanent patch to the AMT.

What the budget doesn’t contain, however, is any cuts to defense spending. In fact, the budget calls for  $621.5 billion in national defense spending, up from $598 billion in 2016.  Just for comparison, the next biggest defense budget in the world last year was China, at $146 billion. 

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via WaPo

 

Hawks on both sides of the aisle see the increased defense spending as a good thing. They don’t care that we spend more than any nation on earth on defense, as long as they save face with the military. This is despite the fact that the Defense Business Board found $125 billion dollars in administrative waste related to defense spending over the next five years. Legislatures could have easily cut this spending without closing a single base, or putting this nation at risk, but playing politics is more important than economic collapse.

The proposed spending cuts are a drop in the bucket, when considering we have nearly $20 trillion in national debt. The Congressional Budget Office seems to agree, and has released a particularly grim outlook for our economy over the next 10 years.  The American Enterprise Institute describes why the CBO’s report is so troubling;

“ [the] baseline — a forecast of federal revenue, spending, deficits, and debt — assumes current laws and policies will remain as they are today for the next 10 years. President Trump has modified a small number of relevant budgetary factors since taking office, particularly the level of defense spending in 2017. But, for the most part, CBO’s projections reflect the policies put in place during the tenure of the Obama administration.”

The cuts proposed by Republicans are like a Kardashian: aesthetically pleasing, but ultimately worthless. In 2018, the CBO expects the deficit to be $563 billion, down from an expected $693 billion in 2017. However, by 2027, the CBO expects the deficit to rise to $1.5 TRILLION which would be an expected 5.2% of our GDP.  The projected deficits will push federal debt to 90% of our GDP by 2027, up from 39% in 2008. Considering that from 1983 until 2008 GDP grew at an average  of 3.3%, and in 2019 and 2020 the CBO expects GDP to grow at just 1.5%, our economic future looks grim.

While the outlook is just a prediction, it’s hard not to be a little pessimistic about the whole situation.  If we want to affect real change, and truly make America great again, then we need to make an effort to elect politicians who are unafraid to make painful, unpopular decisions. In his classic book on economics; “Economics in One Lesson,” Henry Hazlitt demonstrates the need to look at the long-term outlook of every policy decision we make, even if it makes us worse-off in the short term.  Unfortunately, we live in an age where politicians are constantly campaigning, kicking the can down the road for someone else to deal with later. For a society so hell-bent on leaving the earth in better shape for our children, we sure seemed to have forgotten that we will also leave them our economy.

 

Hey, Libertarian Party, Go Big or Go Home!

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Politics is a game of numbers.

Top political strategists work tirelessly to find out what percent of this group and that group is needed in order to achieve victory. This is most evident in presidential elections and the quest for 270 electoral votes. Focus must be given to the right demographics in order to secure certain states which are normally up for grabs. Unfortunately, the current state of politics in this country makes the electoral map game only a Democrat and Republican thing.

That doesn’t mean third parties shouldn’t focus on large races, though.

Races for national office and governor races receive the most press. Local races are winnable, and should certainly be a focus for third parties and independent candidates, but those races fail to move the needle on the larger scale.

What third parties need to compete, is raw numbers.  Every four years, the presidential election is going to be a minor party’s best opportunity at free press and opportunities to spread their message. To qualify for federal assistance, a party must secure at least 5% of the national vote. To achieve this, there must be a strategy.

Although the Libertarian Party did well in places like North Dakota and Montana in 2016, those are not populous areas. Gary Johnson received his best raw vote total in California, where 3.4% of the vote, netted him over 400,000 votes. 5% of the vote would have gary.jpggarnered roughly 600,000 votes in California, where as 6.3% of the vote in North Dakota only gave Johnson a little over 21,000. Even doubling that number, does very little to move the national vote total for the Libertarian Party. In Texas, 3.2% of the vote gave the ticket of Johnson and Weld over 280,00 votes. Therefore, like it or not, the biggest names in the Libertarian Party must run for the highest office available to them, especially when they live in a state with a large population.

For third parties, the goal needs to be consistent, and quantifiable, growth. Nationally, these numbers can be seen through congressional, senate, gubernatorial, and presidential races. There is no denying that local and county races must be won, too, but real marketing must be done in higher races. In these races, candidates are gaining inclusion in debates, and social media allows for a message to traverse through various circles with greater ease and less spin. Since these races have the widest audiences, they have the greatest opportunity to gain attention from those who are either unfamiliar, or improperly informed, of a different message. Within these opportunities, exists the greatest chance for party growth and a dedicated voting population. If the Libertarian, and other minor parties, can keep up their momentum, and continue raising the floor of expected votes, more people will join and there will be exponential growth until state and federal offices have representation for those who don’t identify as Republican or Democrat.

2018 could prove to be a boom for the Libertarian Party, should former vice-presidential candidate Larry Sharpe’s run for governor of New York gain any traction. With only 2.3% of the vote for president in 2016, the Libertarian Party could use dedicated growth in the Empire State moving forward. Should Sharpe’s polished and friendly message exceed that total, New York could give the Libertarian Party the extra boost needed to cross the 5% national threshold in 2020.

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Larry Sharpe, Libertarian candidate for Governor of New York

 

 

Libertarians Need To Start Running For Offices They Can Win

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After the controversial 2000 presidential election Gary North, writing for lewrockwell.com, argued that third parties need to stop focusing on national elections, and instead focus on winning state and local elections. In his essay, “The Dogcatcher Strategy” he writes;

Why do libertarians think they have to field a candidate for President when they have not yet put anyone into the office of dogcatcher? Why does anyone believe that he should send money to a political party that has never won anything locally? I think it’s a way for people to tell their friends, “I’m fed up.” Fine; but don’t take politics seriously. “I’m fed up” is not a campaign platform or a way to effect political change. Don’t imagine that it matters who wins a no-win party’s nomination. Don’t give any post-election thought to the question, “How could we have won 2% of the vote instead of less than 1%” It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t.

There are 3,144 counties in this country, and over 100,000 offices a person can get elected to, so why do we focus on elections that, at this point in time, we cannot possibly win?

As I write this former Libertarian Vice Presidential hopeful Larry Sharpe is announcing that he will run for Governor of New York in 2018. Last week Arvin Vohra, Vice Chair of the Libertarian National Committee, announced he will run for Senate in the state of Maryland. Another strong Libertarian candidate, Alicia Dearn, has also announced that she will run for Senate in the state of Missouri. But honestly, why bother?

I don’t believe any Libertarian candidate running for Governor, United States Senate, or the House of Representatives truly believes that they can win public office at that level. Many of these candidates justify their run as a way to raise awareness, and spread the ideas of liberty, to grow the party for the future. That idea is laughable. The party that has championed a less centralized government in favor of valuing local communities since its inception in the December of 1971 has been employing this “lets raise awareness” strategy for its entire existence, to no avail. 

Gary North points out why this line of thinking is laughable;

“Why does anyone believe that he should send money to a political party that has never won anything locally? I think it’s a way for people to tell their friends, “I’m fed up.” Fine; but don’t take politics seriously. “I’m fed up” is not a campaign platform or a way to effect political change. “

If the Libertarian Party really cared about empowering local communities, our best candidates would be running for city council, state house, or mayor. The best way to show people the way to liberty is to lead by example, not celebrating receiving 4% of the national vote in a presidential election. We need more people like Steve McCluskey, the Libertarian who just beat out a Republican and a Democrat to become the Mayor of  

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Steve McCluskey, the Libertarian Mayor of McLain Mississippi

McLain Mississippi. As Mayor, McCluskey will be able to implement actual change in his community, and if things go well, maybe he can run for Mississippi’s state legislature, where he will actually be able to run not only on Libertarian ideas, but on his record as well.  

Libertarian candidates, it seems, are only interested in running for office to say that they ran for office. Maybe if Larry Sharpe showed as much enthusiasm about running for New York State Assembly as he did in his announcing his run for Governor, a talented, smart, charismatic Libertarian could get elected legitimizing the entire party future, larger campaigns.

Austin Petersen Announces Senate Run

 

Yesterday, as American’s complained about the Fourth falling on a Tuesday, former Libertarian Presidential candidate Austin Petersen, in front of a crowd of several hundred supporters, announced his intention to seek Missouri’s Republican nomination for US Senate.  

Petersen stands with his father before his announcement.

The announcement that Petersen would be running for Senate came as no surprise – for months the 37 year old has dropped some not-so-subtle hints that he planned to challenge Senator Claire McCaskill in 2018. What was somewhat of a surprise, however, was that Petersen was deciding to switch parties.

The decision to run as a Republican wasn’t easy for Petersen, and in his farewell letter to the Libertarian Party, Petersen describes what led to him making such a decision;

For the last eight weeks, I’ve spent six hours a day calling my supporters to ask them their thoughts on how I might best advance liberty. I took the time to listen to every single persons’ opinion about a potential opportunity to seek a seat in the U.S. Senate here in my home state of Missouri.

Of the thousands of people I spoke to, all encouraged a run, hundreds donated, and the vast majority offered their opinion regarding which party I should align with. Over 98% of them, including registered Libertarians, independents, Republicans, and even Democrats, said to run GOP.

Those who think that running as a Republican would show Petersen’s “true colors” were right. During his 30 minute speech to the crowd, Petersen passionately discussed the issues that matter most to him; repealing and not replacing Obamacare, reducing regulation, auditing the Pentagon to find bureaucratic waste, criminal justice reform, lowering taxes, treating drug addiction as a public health problem instead of a criminal issue, etc. If his platform sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the exact same set of values he ran on while seeking the Libertarian nomination for president last summer.  

Petersen’s announcement came one day after establishment favorite, Representative Ann Wagner, announced she will not challenge Claire McCaskill in 2018. In her statement on said decision, Wagner rationalized her decision;

“While I am grateful for the incredible support and encouragement I have received from across Missouri to run for United States Senate, I am announcing today my intention to run for re-election to the United States House of Representatives in 2018. The 2nd District is my home. It’s where I grew up, went to school, have worked and volunteered, raised my kids, and attend church every week — there is no greater honor than representing a place and people that I love.”

The former US Ambassador to Luxembourg has several reasons not to run for Senate, as the “Washington Examiner” reported;

“Republicans close to the congresswoman stressed that the decision had little, if anything, to do with the politics of giving up her relatively safe seat to run for Senate with an unpopular Republican in the White House and a healthcare agenda that has been rejected by a broad cross-section of Americans.”

With Wagner withdrawing her name from consideration, attention shifts to other potential Republican nominees. Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer and Vicky Hartzler are both expected to explore their own senate runs, but it is Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley that seems to be the establishment favorite.  The 37 year old is a favorite of Mitch McConnell, and has only been on his current job for six months. Supporters have  urged him to run believing Hawley can unite all conservatives.  

While the charismatic Hawley has made waves recently for suing three pharmaceutical companies in the state (which could be seen as a political counter measure since Claire McCaskill has made opiod abuse a focus) friends of liberty should be wary of throwing their support behind a candidate supported by political insiders. After all, there are enough Senators who wax poetically about the virtue of the Constitution and civil liberties, right up until the point where they support warrant-less wiretaps.

While Hawley, if he announces his intent to run, may be the favorite heading into the Republican primary, Petersen is hoping to use Missouri’s own primary rules against them.

Missouri holds an “open primary” meaning that any registered voter, regardless of party affiliation, can vote in the Republican primary.  Petersen hopes that this will play to his advantage as he intends to seek support not only among the base, but among Libertarians and Independents as well.  If Petersen is able to successfully convey his message, he could not only win the nomination, but pose a real challenge to McCaskill as well.

3 Things to Watch in 2018

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With the 2018 midterms approaching, the political climate in this country is going to be interesting to watch.  Sometimes it’s hard to predict what issues could be of importance, or what politico’s should be looking out for – but if you pay attention, you can make a few guesses as to how politicians will campaign, and what they will pay attention to.  After a crazy 2016 election, 2018 promises to be pretty divisive. 

Universal Basic Income

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As more jobs become automated, and the cost of social welfare programs soar, there has been growing support in the last few years to roll out a “Universal Basic Income” for all Americans.  A UBI is pretty straightforward. Each American receives a set amount of money from the federal government each month to cover some living expenses.  The idea is hardly new, and currently a UBI is being tested in both Finland and Ontario Canada.  Now it’s gaining popularity in the United States; not only among progressives, but among some libertarians who see a UBI as a more cost-effective alternative to welfare.

Silicon Valley has become increasingly vocal in their support for a UBI; so much so that Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley based firm that provides “seed” money to startups, is experimenting with giving 100 families in Oakland California between $1000-$2000 a month as a way to cover expenses.  Proponents like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk see a UBI as a way to combat automation stealing jobs, and income inequality.  The issue gained further attention on June 17th when Hawaii’s legislature passed a bill introducing a UBI to the state budget.  Although Alaska has been giving citizens oil money since 1976, if signed into law, Hawaii will become the first state to pass a UBI as a way to combat poverty.  

The idea isn’t just popular among progressives.  Some libertarians have argued that a UBI is more efficient than the current welfare state.  Matt Zwolinski, of the Cato Institute, points out that we spend $668 billion dollars a year on social welfare programs that waste a lot of money. While a Universal Basic Income would not be ideal, writes Zwolinski, it would save the average taxpayer money.  Zwolinski even points to Thomas Paine, who supported a “Citizen’s Dividend” that comes from taxing land.

The argument among progressives, and some libertarians, then seems to be “how much does everyone get?” and “what do we do with other welfare programs?”  In order for a UBI to be feasible, the current welfare structure would need to end, and that may be the biggest issue of contention moving forward.

Social Justice

Social Justice

Over the last 5 years, social justice issues have re-emerged as a hot button topic in US politics. Incidents like the violent Berkeley riots, and the embarrassment at Evergreen State College  show just how polarizing issues surrounding race, gender, and “privilege” can be. While groups like “Black Lives Matter” have encouraged other perceived disadvantaged groups to step up.  

Over the last two years we have seen the uproar caused by the North Carolina bathroom bill that put limits on who can use what bathroom (parts of which were repealed in March). The bill cost the city of Charlotte the NBA All-Star game last season, and emboldened companies and universities are refusing to do business in the state. As other state legislatures consider similar bills, it is likely that we will continue to see protests. 

Social justice issues are starting to make their way into more and more pieces of legislation.  Canada, for example, added “gender identity or expression” to the Canadian Human Rights Act, which means citizens can be prosecuted for expressing their displeasure of the LGBTQ community.  At home, Senate Bill 1006 would federally ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Taking away the autonomy of individual states, the senate bill would be redundant for those currently debating similar legislation, and would disrupt the states from acting in their own best interest, even if outsiders find it controversial.  While House Bill 1869, the “Paycheck Fairness Act” would eliminate pay differences for men and women, this bill is designed to “eliminate” the “wage gap”.

Rural America

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There was a time where Democrats had a solid hold on rural America. Rural America flocked to the polls to vote for democrats who cared about issues that would affect them; including trade issues, protecting social security, and workers rights.  These Democrats were more centrist, and understood their constituency.  Over the last decade democrats have been losing this vote at an alarming rate.

Representative  Collin Peterson, of MN, is a rurally elected Democrat who claims that the democratic party has become “too liberal. Focusing on urban areas and social issues at the cost of white america.

Peterson also explains that Republican gerrymandering efforts have helped “pack” democrats into urban districts. This means that even if the state may be evenly divided as far as party affiliation goes, redistricting efforts have helped one party gain an advantage over another.  With the Supreme Court agreeing to hear the Wisconsin gerrymandering case Gill v. Whitford, it’s possible that redistricting efforts will change the makeup of the congressional districts, forcing candidates to run a more centrist campaign.

In addition to that, rural america became wary of the democrats for focusing on issues they either don’t care about, or are uncomfortable with.  The Obama Administration did their part with the introduction of the “Trans-Pacific Partnership” which rural america felt would cost them their jobs. Democrats continued to alienate rural, white voters by focusing on social issues that don’t affect them, causing many in rural america to feel neglected.  It will be interesting to see if the party tries to continue down this path, or make a major adjustment prior to 2018. It will be equally interesting to see how the Republican’s try and take advantage of this ideological shift.