Dear Fellow Libertarians,
That still feels a little weird to write "Libertarian" with a capitol "L", after carefully identifying myself for years as a "small 'l' libertarian" or a "libertarian Republican." Three weeks ago today, my official change of parties became public knowledge. I thought I might provide you with a few thoughts--as one who has recently entered your ranks, one who is a "recovering Republican", one who has gotten elected to office (Nebraska elects legislators on a non-partisan ballot), and one who desperately wants to see the LP grow and gain influence.
First Impressions--Announcement Aftermath
- I think we greatly overestimate the power of the two major parties in the larger electorate. I sent an email to 1800 people announcing my change of party affiliation--as a courtesy, because I wanted to be upfront with my constituents and supporters, and because I really wasn't going to be able to keep it a secret (even though my party affiliation will not show up if I run for re-election in two years, on the ballot). Of those 1800 emails (plus 200 letters, plus coverage in both major papers of the state and several radio and television stations), I've received right at 100 responses to date--either in the form of handwritten letters (1), phone calls (2 or 3), and email (the rest). I've also gotten messages on Facebook that I haven't tallied into this. The vast majority of the responses I've gotten have been positive (or at least indifferent and not angry). Longtime registered Republicans have said (and I'm condensing 90 responses into the gist of it) "that's ok. We know who you are, and we know how you'll vote. We elected you to do the best job you can for us. We don't want Lincoln to be hyperpartisan like D.C." You get the general theme there. I don't guess I really understood until I started getting some of those responses just how little attention most people care about party politics, no matter what their registration is.
- That is not to say that there aren't some people who think that we Libertarians are nothing more than spoilers. Some people who were mad at me because of a few votes were still mad at me. A few suggested I should resign. A few called me a liberal (I suggested that they take a look at my 100% Americans for Prosperity rating, and my gun rights record). One person suggested that they were going to start a recall petition against me (unfortunately for them, there is no recall mechanism for state officials in Nebraska). One person told me that I would be responsible if Hillary Clinton won (never mind that Nebraska routinely gives its electoral votes to the Republican candidate--except in 2008 when Obama got one of our split votes--apparently this person thought that my influence was so expansive that it would send shock waves throughout the country... I'm skeptical about that--if a state legislator in Nebraska switching parties is such an indictment of the Republican candidate for President that it causes a loss, that doesn't speak very highly of the candidate, I don't think.
First Impressions--The People (Yeah, I'm talking about you)
- I knew this going in--having been around libertarian types (and being one) for a long time. You're smart, well-read, principled (perhaps to a fault), independent. All good things. You're also used to not winning and just trying to be the Jiminy Cricket conscience for everyone else.
- While Republicans turning Libertarian, turning Republican, is not a particularly new phenomenon (think Ron Paul, who only served in Congress as a Republican, but who ran for President both as the LP nominee, and for the Republican nomination), this year shapes up as a different type of race, and some of you seem to be struggling with it.
- One other state legislator besides myself (John Moore, Nevada) has switched parties. Libertarian leaning Republicans are looking more and more carefully at the Libertarian Party, and switching. Your candidates for BOTH President and Vice President are former Republicans who were elected and re-elected in Democrat states.
- These newcomers to the Party bring both good baggage and bad baggage with them, from your perspective. People who have been part of winning campaigns, people who have won elections, people who have friends who can help them fund campaigns, people who may not be as perfectly libertarian as you would like...are they trying to take over? Will they water down the libertarian philosophy? Will their numbers make the LP a more dominant player in the political scene? You have a lot of questions, and concerns--I get it. And no one really knows the answer, but let me suggest a few things.
Libertarianism is like a Bag of Tootsie Pops--Different Flavors on the outside--some you like more than others--but get to the Core, and you still get a Tootsie Roll (more liberty?).
- I'm fond of Tootsie Rolls. That's my candy of choice for parades, because if we don't use them all in the parade, they come home with me. I like Tootsie POPS, as well. Some of the outer shell flavors I like better than others. The red and purple (cherry and grape?--who knows, really?) are my favorites, followed by orange and whatever other brightly colored ones there are. I don't like the brown-shelled ones, really, although in the interest of getting to the Tootsie Roll, I'll eat them if there's nothing else left in the bag.
- Libertarians come in lots of different flavors. Some focus on economics. Some on civil liberties. Some on foreign policy. And on, and on. The question we all have to ask is this: if someone chooses to affiliate with the LIBERTARIAN PARTY, and can articulate ANY libertarian principles in any of those areas, do we walk away from the purple candidate because we prefer red, or do we suck it up and look at the end goal.
- Labeling makes a difference in knowing what you're going to get when you get past the outer shell. Take the wrapper off of Charms Blow Pops (I assume those are still out there) and Tootsie Pops, and drop someone in from some foreign place who has seen neither the Blow Pop nor the Tootsie Pop before. Ask them which one they would prefer, without letting the know what's at the core. They look similar from the outside what you get on the inside is very different (a wad of bubble gum, or a delightful piece of waxy, chewy chocolate--yeah, I know). Which is more important: the outer shell, or what's in the middle after you've licked (or bitten) through the outer shell? I speak for only myself, but after having moved to the Libertarian Party (even though I serve in a non-partisan position, and will run on a non-partisan ballot), I am more in tune with considering how the LP would view things.
Voluntarism--for Better or Worse
- You may not like all of us. But keep in mind that we've moved YOUR way, largely without a life vest. I'm not trying to boost my own standing, but consider that Republicans who leave their party and become Libertarians are not taking the "easy way." They've seen something in you they like. They have risked a natural voter base in a major political party, and taken a leap of faith for principle, not for political advantage (there are, according to the most recent records I've got, about 75 registered Libertarians in my Legislative district--no great base to build on there).
- The #TeamGov/#JohnsonWeld2016 team of Governors Gary Johnson and Bill Weld are the same--they haven't left the Republican Party because of this mass shift in the electorate (sometimes--most recently in large numbers in the 80s--you see elected and former elected officials move from one of the two major parties into the other, in something of a "realignment" based on a changing positions of the parties and the way that voters align with those positions). They CHOSE to become Libertarians, they CHOSE to run as Libertarians--knowing that Libertarians typically don't even muster 1% of the vote in a presidential race, and have to fight on an ongoing basis to get ballot access in many states. For what? To be an asterisk on a Wikpedia Page devoted to the 2016 Presidential Election? Maybe, or maybe they see this as a moment to increase the cause of Liberty, win or lose.
- You don't have to like or trust any or all of us "newcomers" to your party. But listen to your own precepts, and give us a chance as individuals. Talk to us, ask us questions. We may not be your particular flavor of Tootsie Pop, but if we're on the team with you, working with you, do you get more liberty or less?
My Case--the Libertarian Party of Nebraska
- All that said, I have to say that the Libertarian Party generally, and the Libertarian Party of Nebraska specifically, have been good to me. They've welcomed me with mostly open arms. It probably doesn't hurt that I've worked with some of them over the years in various liberty-related events and efforts, but still, we entered uncharted territory when I became (for the time being) the highest ranking elected Libertarian in the country.
- Even the LPNE has different flavors--some I'm pretty comfortable with, and some not so much.
Some Last Words (for now) and Unsolicited Advice
- This could be a banner year for the LP--whether Johnson/Weld has a chance to win or not, their candidacy has gotten more press ALREADY than I've ever seen of a Libertarian Party candidate. I was at the LP Table at a local festival on Saturday, and a woman walking by was talking to one of the guys tabling, and when he handed her a Gary Johnson flyer, she said "oh yeah, I've heard about him" !!! THAT is a big deal, and ought to be embraced, and used as a means for building the LP into the future.
- Credible candidates=Credible Party. It does't all have to be about the Presidency, or even Congress. Run Libertarians for County Commissioner, City Council, School Board. HELP those candidates. Build a message that promotes liberty and still speaks to the voters' concerns. Win elections. Govern. Build the "farm team." Rinse, repeat. And in a few election cycles, the idea of a Libertarian Congressman, Senator, or President won't seem so difficult to imagine.
- Learn how to win. Some of these people coming in from (especially) the Republican Party have experience in winning campaigns. They understand the importance of campaign mechanics, of messaging. They've worked in the trenches--listen to what they tell you about what they've seen. You don't have to agree with them on everything, or follow their every lead, but consider that they might have some ideas that could help if applied to the Libertarian effort.
- NOW is, I think, a great time to be a Libertarian. We are facing a "perfect storm" that could grow the LP by many orders of magnitude. Both major party candidates have serious flaws and high negatives. A third party effort in some states by Bernie Sanders could change the dynamics of the race even more. Libertarians, by virtue of a team that must be taken seriously in the media based on who is on it (the two governors), have the potential to do well at an unprecedented level, BUT...
- We need to avoid the trap of the circular firing squad. I left the GOP in part because the team that I was supposed to be on started shooting at me (metaphorically, of course). Republicans and Democrats can do that to each other with less impact--there are a lot of them, and a few defections doesn't impact much of anything. There aren't enough Libertarians that we can afford to do that to each other. If you don't agree with the "flavor" of Libertarianism that in control right now, then work to put more of your flavor in the candy dish. Recruit more people who agree with you, rather than insulting others who are seemingly in control right now.
- Yes, I know--Libertarians and libertarians oftentimes fight about who is the most libertarian. Whatever. Let's be a REAL party and win, and not just a sit in the lounge and complain. Accept the different flavors. Talk with the other flavors. Back in the days of Tootsie Pop Drops, you could put TWO different flavors in your mouth at the same time--we can do that and still get more liberty than we have now.
- Last tortured metaphor....Herding cats is tough. Getting two cats to stay in the same place is oftentimes difficult. But it's entirely possible to have multiple cats living in the same house, eating out of the same food dish and drinking out of the same water dish. They can have very different personalities--one might be cuddly, and the other psychotic; but they're both still cats.
Senator Laura Ebke
Nebraska District 32