This is the unedited version of Jason Miller's monthly op-ed submitted to the Grand Rapids Press. It was printed Saturday, November 26.
Spence Abraham was delivered a surprise on November 7. Most polls showed him with a slight lead over Debbie Stabenow, but the popular vote put her in office. This was a race that should serve as a wake up call for the media and the major parties.
The factor not included in most media polls was third party candidates. Libertarian Michael Corliss, a teacher from the East side of the state, ran the most anti-Abraham campaign. But when you include the votes that went to all of them (Forton, Abel, Quarton, Mangopolous), it becomes clear that they were the balance of power. In other words, the number of votes separating Abraham and Stabenow was the same as the number for third party candidates.
The extremely negative campaign may have driven some votes away, but most of Abraham’s support was eroded and received by third party candidates for a painfully obvious reason. Abraham campaigned for more government.
His positive ads promoted his record of increased spending and wielding power from Washington, D.C. His attack ads bashed Stabenow for wanting a “big government fee” on seniors as part of her prescription drug plan. In other words, Abraham wanted complete socialism of medicine for seniors while Stabenow wanted to spend slightly less. Who can be surprised that Abraham lost?
Voters seeking less government made their position clear by supporting the Libertarian and other third parties over Abraham. It might be a slow process, but people are finally waking up to the truth. Republicans promise less government and lower taxes, but after 10 years of Republican domination of our state government, we are the 6th highest taxed state in the union. Likewise, Republicans in Kent and Ottawa County are opting to keep and squander the taxpayer’s surplus rather than returning it. The Libertarian Party is presenting a clear alternative to Republican hypocrisy. Libertarians fielded over 100 candidates in Michigan this year and will field even more in 2002.
Unlike Buchanan and Nader, Libertarians are drop-outs from one party or the other. Libertarians take votes from both sides of the aisle. Democrats promise tolerance and choice, but they only tolerate those that agree with them and have a perverted definition of choice.
Just as Abraham tried to sound like a Democrat, the Democratic candidates for Supreme Court attempted to sound like Republicans. The Supreme Court’s job is to interpret laws and, if need be, protect our rights from intrusion by the state legislature. Yet the major party candidates both screamed about their record of being tough on crime.
Those concerned about protecting due process had no choice but to vote for the Libertarian candidates for Supreme Court. The Libertarians received approximately 10% of the vote. This didn’t stop the Republicans from getting a majority, but it dramatically reduced the number of votes the Democrats received.
The 2002 election will see swing districts at every level in jeopardy because of third party candidates. This year saw Nader may have cost Gore the Presidency in Florida alone. Abraham looks to have lost in part because of third parties here in Michigan. Dozens of local elections had third parties changing results and threatening the status quo.
Here in West Michigan the Republican establishment should take notice. The tax and spend habits that go unpunished when incumbents are guaranteed re-election or face no challenger (like most Ottawa and some Kent offices) are about to change. Libertarians will strike in more and more races as a blow for smaller government. Likewise, Democrats who think no one will call their bluff when they speak out for civil liberties and fail to deliver are in store for a wake up call. The Libertarians are coming, and the establishment should be afraid.
Jason C. Miller
Jason C. Miller is Chair of the Ottawa County Libertarian Party. He’s dual enrolled at Hudsonville High School and Grand Valley State University. He also proudly voted for Corliss.
Something to think about, which of these areas are we doing well in and which are we doing poorly? I think over all we're pretty good, but there's always room for improvement...
State groups have many appropriate activities that they should perform. State groups may run statewide candidates, and are certainly well-placed to publish newsletters. A state organization should support local groups and foster friendly competition between them.
A good state committee member spends his time travelling, telephoning, and using the net. He talks to people, finds people to develop local activism, and finds people who will run for office or work as campaign staff. A good state committee develops resources to support local groups and candidates, and develops expertise to advise local groups and help them develop their own people and resources.
A good state chair opens her conversation ``How can we help you?''. A good state chair knows her people, identifies what her people need even when her people don't know themselves, and makes sure that her people get the support that will let them succeed at what they are doing. A poor state chair spends his time running for office, using the state party's resources, contacts, and activists devoted to supporting his personal campaign. A poor state chair opens his conversations with Party activists ``Here's how you are going to help me.''
All but the smallest states can usefully publish two state newsletters: First, an activist newsletter targeting real and prospective Libertarian Party workers. The activist newsletter covers political action news, petitioning deadlines, and campaigning methods. It gives activitists the information they need to be active effectively. The activist newsletter also supports healthy internal discussion on party policies. The activist newsletter is effectively used to promote healthy positive competition between different local groups. Who had the best election results? Who registered the most voters into our party? Who elected the most candidates to office? Challenging local groups to better their own records and the records set by their neighbors incites harder work by Libertarian activists.
The second newsletter, priced to the bare bones, targets prospective Libertarian voters and their friends. It covers Libertarian news and candidates to turn out the Libertarian voter base in their support. It writes about efforts of the duopoly parties to raise taxes and reduce freedom, presenting the news in a light that will motivate voters to Vote Libertarian! It encourages readers to take the first steps to activism, to support campaigns by displaying lawn signs and bumper stickers and contributing money. The voter-information newsletter is rationally run at the state level because: Most towns do not have enough political news to justify their own newsletter. Most people's interest in local politics stops short of the state line. Complications of gathering news town by town grow exponentially beyond the single-state level. I'm not aware of a state party that publishes a voter's information newsletter separate from the activist newsletter. By my analysis, quarterly publication with selected dates should be sufficient.
The state Party appropriately supports Statewide and Congressional campaigns, and focuses resources within the state on breakthrough opportunities. Statewide campaigns will vary from state to state. The Libertarian Party is still quite small. We do not have the masses of town committees, political consultants, elected officials, and activists that the Democratic and Republican parties have. Nonetheless, telling people who have volunteered to run for office that they should go run their own campaigns is an inept policy.
Statewide officers should not run everyone's campaigns for them. However, why should we have a statewide organization that sits back and does not support its own party's candidates? The Libertarian movement has better uses for its limited income than supporting a state organization that does not return the favor. If we are to run candidates for offices above the city/town level, it is the state organization that has the expertise in ballot access issues, the lists of donors and contacts across the state, and the statewide media contacts that will allow a serious campaign to take place. The state organization should recognize its responsibilities to support its party's people - in a proportionate way - in their runs for office. If a state party does not support - in a proportionate and appropriate way - candidates across the state, it is in need of replacement.
Except in the very smallest states, a State Chair and State Committee are primarily facilitators. The task of a facilitator is to contact Libertarian groups around the state, listen, offer advice, and provide support. Is that what your state committee is doing? Contact local groups around your state. Ask them pointblank how often they've had individual contact with a member of the state committee. Ask them pointblank how often the state organization has offered them advice. Ask them pointblank how offen the state organization has supplied money or other resources for a campaign. The answers are an excellent measure of the quality of your state party's leadership.
Look at the other major parties. When is the last time a national chair of the Republican Party ran for office? (Hint: Bill Miller, Vice President, Republican, 1964). A good state committee does not view itself as a prime source of major candidates. Of course, a weak state organization may not have a choice. There may not be enough Libertarians to do all mission-critical tasks. Some people may have to multitask or leave key tasks undone. You may need to run state committee members for office because no one else is available, and you absolutely positively must run least a minimum-commitment candidate. You may need to ask a major candidate to help run the state party, because she will do it better than the alternatives. As has been said, if you need something done quickly, give it to a busy person. A good state committee does not view itself as a prime source of major candidates. However, once state party officers run for office, there is a difficulty. The two roles of committeeman and candidate have a very real conflict of interest. State committees typically raise money. In many states, this money can legally be used to support political campaigning. Should that money go to the campaigns of the state committee members, or to the campaigns of other Libertarians around the state? State Committees typically do have lists of potential donors. Should those lists be shared with all candidates? Or are they held for the campaigns of state committee members? In the words of one of our nation's leading Libertarian activists: ``You can tell the corrupt state organizations. They routinely run their own officers for high office when they had other choices.'' Running state committee members for office need not lead to ethical irregularities, but the temptation and the opportunity are strong.
Reprinted with permission from George Phillies, Stand up for liberty!
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