Note: Part I of this series, published yesterday, can be read here. Today we conclude with four more key opportunities for the Libertarian Party in 2018, listed in no particular order.
5. You Can Fight City Hall… And Win!
In terms of formal protocol, state legislators rank higher than municipal and county officials. But in terms of day-to-day policymaking, it’s often more local officials that have a bigger impact. That’s especially true for Libertarians, who can boast of dozens of city council members and mayors and other local officials around the nation.
A good example is Jeff Hewitt, the mayor of Calimesa, California, a self-described “pragmatic Libertarian” who typifies the start-local approach to success. In 2004, as a local small business owner, he was appointed to the town’s planning commission, eventually working his way up to chairing that body. In 2010, he was elected to the city council, and in 2015, he was selected by the council as mayor, a role he was re-elected to earlier this year.
During that time, he’s also tried representing the party for higher partisan offices, once in a special election for state senate, and again for state assembly in 2016. In both bids, he substantially over-performed the party’s average in such expensive and high-profile partisan races, particularly since legislative districts in California are larger than some states. Currently, Hewitt is seeking a seat on the five-member Riverside County Board of Supervisors.
If elected, Hewitt’s constituency would be by far the largest represented by a member of the Libertarian Party, with a district covering nearly half a million inhabitants. Riverside County as a whole is the 11th-most populous county in the United States, ranks fourth in California, and in terms of land area it is larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. While county board of supervisors might not sound exciting, it would be a substantial win.
Importantly, Hewitt is not just an incumbent, he’s an incumbent with a record to run on. When facing extravagant demands from the county’s fire department, he successfully converted Calimesa to having its own volunteer fire department. Together with a contract with neighboring Yucaipa for backup when needed, Hewitt was able to provide ample coverage and safety at a fraction of the cost demanded by the county.
While higher-profile races attract more media notice, and accusations of being no-win spoilers, it is local officeholders like Hewitt who are building a real political party from the ground up. Across the country, the party’s best shot for success both in 2018 and in the years beyond, will be building its bench of qualified, experienced, and credible local election-winners.
6. Winning Ballot Access for Libertarian Party candidates in the Big Apple
Thanks to a number of reasons, New York state has long been one of the most difficult states for the Libertarian Party. For one thing, the state’s voters just aren’t among the more libertarian-leaning in the nation. For another, the state has a crowded ballot with several larger and more active third-parties, including several who practice selective “fusion” nomination of the major-party candidates.
As a sign of how irrelevant the party has been previously in New York politics: prior to 2016, it was the norm for the New York Times to go the whole election cycle without once mentioning the Libertarians or their candidates. Even among the over 176,000 votes received by Johnson in New York, the bulk came on the ballot line of the NY Independence Party, which cross-nominated Johnson in addition to his own Libertarian Party.
In 2018, Larry Sharpe hopes to change that by running an active and visible campaign for the state’s top office. Though like all good candidates, he says he’s running to win, a more modest goal is possibly achievable. Over 50,000 votes for Governor (about 0.7%), will guarantee Libertarians official ballot access and party status in one of the few states they don’t already have it.
Sharpe, a business consultant and motivational speaker from Brooklyn, attracted attention in 2016 as the close runner-up for the party’s vice-presidential nomination, losing to Gov. Bill Weld of Massachusetts. Interestingly, Weld himself once secured the Libertarian nomination for Governor of New York in an attempted Republican-Libertarian fusion bid, but that campaign collapsed after Weld was denied the Republican nomination.
Sharpe is known for his active online presence and plethora of YouTube videos, and is becoming a regular presence at Libertarian events across the country. At a Students for Liberty event earlier this year, he was endorsed by his former intra-party rival, with Weld offering his support to Sharpe’s candidacy.
7. Foxall News
Special elections around the country provide a particular opportunity for Libertarians, who can focus resources and attention without the distraction of dozens of other candidates running on the same date. In Florida’s House District 72, Alison Foxall is testing how far Libertarians can get in a three-way race versus both a Republican and Democratic opponent.
The party runs hundreds of state legislative candidates every year, but Foxall is notable for being the rare one who is not a so-called “paper candidate.” With an active campaign team, Foxall is waging an insurgent campaign that is working hard to get her name, face, and message in front of the southwest Florida district’s voters. Foxall herself previously served as the regional field director for Johnson/Weld 2016.
Whether or not two-way or three-way races are preferable for Libertarian candidates has long been a topic of debate in party circles. Foxall is in some ways a test case for the latter: an active campaign with a well-qualified local candidate, running uphill against both a Republican and a Democrat.
8. Bill Weld has gone Fishing in the Bay State
The party’s 2016 vice-presidential nominee Bill Weld is playing a key role in another 2018 race: throwing his support and endorsement behind Daniel Fishman, a Libertarian candidate for State Auditor, running against an incumbent Democrat with no Republican candidate.
If Foxall provides a test case for what can be accomplished in three-way races, Fishman provides a test case for two-way races. Running statewide in a head-to-head versus a Democrat, Fishman has a convincing pitch that a Libertarian is best-suited to the role of state watchdog and auditor. The backing of a popular two-term former Governor with a reputation for his history of fighting corruption, certainly won’t hurt either. With no Republican running in the race, would the current incumbent Gov. Charlie Baker (R), himself a former Weld Cabinet member, throw his support behind a non-Democrat Libertarian? Maybe.
It’s relatively rare for Libertarians to have a statewide race with only one other party running. State Auditor, unlike many other roles, isn’t much of a policy-making role. Instead, the job is to, as the name implies, audit the functions of state government to catch waste, fraud, and abuse… of which Massachusetts has plenty, particularly among its Democratic Party.
Like many other races worth watching, Fishman is an alumni of the Johnson/Weld campaign, and is seeking to bring a new degree of professionalism and active campaign organization to Libertarian bids for office. Unlike some others, he’s really in it to win it, and has a plausible path to victory. Massachusetts Republicans and independents who turn out to vote for Baker will then have Fishman as their non-Democratic option for auditor.
Overall, 2018 will be a critical year for the Libertarian Party, an inflection point that will determine its future trajectory heading into 2020 and beyond. Either the party can continue to grow and build on its successes in 2016, increasing its number of officeholders and the size of its voter bases, or else it risks sliding back into fringe irrelevance and being overtaken by another alternative to the Republicans and Democrats.
The candidates and opportunities presented here, are just a few of the ones that could decide the party’s future. Viable candidates and well-organized campaigns can make all the difference, and we’re happy to highlight here some of those who are doing it right.