Matthew Clements, Orange County (May 2023)
This month, the Tarheel sat down with Orange County (not that Orange County!) LP Chair Matthew Clements. Matt has lived in Orange County since 1995 after graduating from UNC with a degree in Biology and now is tasked with building out an affiliate that recently split from Durham.
This should be no problem, given Matt's experience organizing and in the LPNC. Matt has partnered with Durham, Wake, and other Triangle-area Libertarians, building a history of youth-focused engagement, community service, and social events. Matt is also a two-term veteran of the state EC and frequent member of the convention planning committee.
Matt works in the IT industry now, after decades in hospitality. He also writes and does photography work for Inside Carolina. A devout UNC fan and a passionate Liberty warrior, Matt is currently focused on connecting with Libertarian leaders of the future at UNC, and is taking applications for faculty advisor to help facilitate that initiative.
Tar Heel: Matt, thank you again for sitting down with us. Before we get into the politics of things, tell the readers a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, what brought you to North Carolina, and what kept you here?
Matthew Clements: I was born in Camden, NJ when my dad was stationed in Philadelphia. Then, when I was five, we moved to Wilmington, which I consider now to be my first hometown. AP Calculus changed my commitment from NC State to the University of North Carolina in 1990. After moving to Chapel Hill, I've lived in Orange or Durham County since then, and only lived in South West Durham for a year or two. In 2007 I bought a townhouse in Carrboro and have been active in the community volunteering for the Ronald McDonald House, TABLE, and other organizations. At this point Orange County is home to me and I couldn't consider living anywhere else.
Tar Heel: That's quite a story, and an interesting progression. Outside the politics, what drives you? What are your interests, your passions, and what do you do with your down time?
Clements: I am a voracious reader and love to stay on top of world and local events. I really enjoy live music and sports. I have a part time position covering the University of North Carolina Baseball team for Inside Carolina as a staff writer and photographer. I also enjoy playing disc golf, camping, hiking, hunting, and target shooting.
Tar Heel: OK, getting into the political side, what specifically was your "red pill" moment? When did you realize you were Libertarian?
Clements: I think that once I realized that the War on Terror and the War on Drugs were two symptoms of a dysfunctional bi-partisan rigged system I opted to join the Libertarian Party and become active in letting people understand what a consensual relationship could be between the citizens and government. Over time I realized that our endless wars were going to be the downfall of our society and the financial system that the United States had to enforce upon the world with the removal of the gold standard and the Petro-Dollar was going to create conflicts that inevitably were going to lead to global misery.
Tar Heel: Following up on that, what issues are the most important to you now? Specifically, on a broad scale, and then in North Carolina and your locale, if the answer is different, and why are those important to you?
Clements: Government picking and choosing winners and losers. When you look at Orange County, for example, and the geography and political makeup, Democrats who haven't changed their views in 20 years are now considered conservative. So you have old school democrats, and then your Marxist utopian "government can fix everything type," and they keep adding on, with a huge reliance on property taxes to support it all.
If you look at Orange County, and then Durham County and Chatham County, there is a Walmart on the outskirts, just outside of Orange County. Orange County residents pay for the infrastructure, like the highways to get there, and we spend plenty of money that keeps it in business, but we get none of the property tax revenue. I admit, it does provide some Orange County resident with jobs, but it's a minimal amount, and they can't afford the houses in Orange County with the money they make there anyway.
Meanwhile, Buc-ees was looking at building a facility right where 85 and 40 meet. Residents here wanted the high-paying jobs and they liked the potential increase in revenue from sales tax so the government could provide more services. In the end, the town council was too restrictive, and Buc-ees left, taking the jobs and the tax revenue with it. [editor's note: Buc-ee's Pulls Out of Orange County, Citing Commissioner Reception - INDY Week]
See, the services are increasing, but they're never paid for, not really. They put up bonds without realizing it's just a future tax. They say we don't like roads, asphalt, gasoline, and so on, without realizing someone is going to provide that service no matter what. Pushing away high-paying jobs and good services is like sticking your head in the sand and wishing problems would go away.
Now, we do have some nice services. We have one of the nicest animal shelters in the state. We've got great parks, great bike amenities, subsidized public transport, lots of things that are nice but fall outside the limits of what reasonable government should support. When they're paid for predominantly by property tax, it puts the burden on one segment of the population, which is certainly not a Libertarian approach at all.
Orange County Libertarians push for a more diversified and expanded set of businesses. Also, remember, this is university town, and guess who doesn't pay taxes. Sure, there are affluent jobs associated with the university, but the people who work the rest of the jobs – janitors, cafeteria workers, etc – live in Alamance county, because they can’t afford Orange County housing, just like the Wal-Mart employees. And businesses can't stay open on Franklin St., as taxes and rents are too high.
I’m not trying to burn it all down. If we could just get government to make rational decisions, not pick and choose winners, especially when all the donations money comes from real estate developers. We end up with these silly government restrictions, like a certain percentage of developments have to be "affordable housing," which doesn’t exist in Orange County
Tar Heel: We have a similar situation in Charlotte, where I have found myself pushing back against city council's intent to relax zoning restrictions, which is normally antithetical to my beliefs, but they are only doing it at the whim of developers who are the biggest contributors to their campaigns by a wide margin.
Clements: Yeah, it gets silly. We had a drought like ten or fifteen years ago, and OSHA did such a great job convincing people to reduce water that they had to raise their rates to stay open. But that’s what happens when you centrally plan distribution. There are unintended consequences, and they can hurt people. OSHA did a good job at what it wanted to accomplish, but there are always unintended consequences.
Tar Heel: Following up on that, as we break down the demographics of Orange County, you live in an area that doesn't necessarily skew Libertarian. This is something we previously discussed with Travis [Groo – WakeLP Chair], Jeff, and Steve [Scott and DiFiore, prior and current MeckLP Chairs]. How do we make progress in areas where the Liberty message is facing strong headwinds?
Clements: We have to go further supporting causes like ending the War on Drugs, getting the government out of every aspect of our lives - like defining whom you can or cannot marry, being more responsible with the local resources (aka taxation), diversifying our local tax base by being amenable to business reducing the burden on property taxes, eliminating crazy concepts like excessive licensure. Just look at the 'certificates of need' for medical practitioners to get equipment like a new MRI machine to provide competition. The Libertarian platform does not fit nicely on the left/right axis and there are tons of examples where our platform and ideas are more 'classically liberal' than the Democrats or even Socialists or Communists.
The way that our political system is set up right now, it's all about getting the money from the people that got you elected, and then giving them favored programs that get them back money. That's not good governance. It doesn't matter what you believe personally, if we can show people how corrupt the system is, with the kickbacks, the picking winners and losers, and all while ignoring the average person, we can get them to join us in pushing back.
Just look at how corrupt the court system is. Think of pollution – why can't we sue polluters? They are subject to fines when they screw up enforced by the same people whose campaign funds they provided to get those people elected. Look at Duke – they're a utility company. Why do they have such a huge lobbying budget and political advocacy department? You wonder until you see what happened with the coal ash spill and how they never faced any real scrutiny. We need to amplify these messages.
Tar Heel: I want to ask you about your campaigns, but first, one more question on Orange County. What do you see that is unique in your affiliate, and how do you leverage that? In the same vein, how is Orange County similar to other places in North Carolina, and what lessons can we all share in terms of advancing the Liberty cause in our state?
Clements: One thing we are trying to do in Orange County is work with Durham and Wake as the Triangle Libertarian group. We're volunteering at different events – Habitats for Humanity, food banks, going to do outreach. We have a unique, golden opportunity to take advantage of a force multiplier with a giant affiliate who is doing really well and who can provide assistance, guidance, and chart a path.
Tar Heel: Can you expand on that a little in terms of sort of starting a new affiliate, but working from a strong, established base with people where you have a long history of success?
Clements: Orange County is looking at itself as kind of a start-up, with a three-stage goal. First, we need to get a critical mass of people registered as Libertarians. Get them involved, make them aware of what we're up to. For example, Earl, Ashley, and I worked on gun safety events. We worked together with gun shops on common sense gun safety proposals, like keeping guns away from kids unsupervised.
Next is to show people there are alternatives to the two wings of the duopoly. The endless wars – war on drugs, war on terror, war on poverty – all the wars we're losing. Maybe we should have a war on farmer's markets, so they can win.
Third, acknowledge it will be difficult in the short term to get people elected. Instead, we want to make people aware of issues where we can have an impact. For example, we have really good community policing initiatives, but it's smoke and mirrors. There are no changes in medical marijuana laws, no effort to expunge the records of people caught in the war on drugs, it's ridiculous. Just follow the money, check the legislation. I will say, it gets interesting when Libertarians have to decide whether to support incremental changes.
Tar Heel: OK, on to running or office, which everyone wants to know about. In 2018 you ran for NC House 56 against Verla Insko, and then you ran for Carrboro Town Council in 2019. What can you share with readers who are thinking about running? What worked, what didn't, what lessons did you learn, and what should people expect when they register to run for office?
Clements: Well for instance I ran the House 56 campaign mostly as a 'Choice' candidate. In Orange County the Republican Party struggles to find candidates willing to run since realistically and statistically it is virtually impossible for them to garner more than 20 percent of the vote. Personally, I wanted to provide an alternative to electing our House Representative in the Democratic Primary, to get most of the Republican votes, and for people to have a choice on the ballot besides just re-inaugurating the incumbent. However, the long-time Republican activist Dallas Woodhouse found a candidate to run and I met him the day I was signing to run.
In an instant, the dream of thousands of votes vaporized, so I decided to push Insko toward where our citizens and students would want to go. For instance, Insko did not support legalizing or decriminalizing cannabis, or ending the War on Drugs. Check out my speech at the Orange County 2nd Amendment Rally in 2018 where I discussed that all gun control has racist undertones, going all the way back to Ronald Reagan and the Black Panthers in 1968.
Tar Heel: OK, just a few more questions before we wrap up. From an LP perspective, if you could see one thing for your affiliate and for the LPNC state party by the end of the year, what would they be?
Clements: With the Orange County affiliate, its exactly what I said – growth, development, and improvement.
At the state level, one thing I love about North Carolina is that there are no issues with caucuses that linger, no social media battles in-state. Republicans and Democrats will do whatever they can to make us look bad, so we need to do everything we can to show leadership, moral conviction, and courage, and to stand up to the tyrannical state.
Then, we need to work with like-minded, single-issue groups, like some that I mentioned, NORML and GNRC, groups that work for freedom, and don't water it down. For example, I can't support the NRA as much as I want. Look back at 1968 with Reagan and the Black Panthers. That is anti-Libertarian.
How about all your freedom all the time. Free speech means you back someone's right to say things, even when its abhorrent. You don't have to support them, but, if you get to a point where they aren't allowed to say something, you never know what's really going on.
Look at the culture war. The Libertarian Party has been in favor of getting the government out of marriage and supporting gay right since the beginning. We've been the most progressive on those issues since day one. For all these culture war issues, how about we just keep the state out of our lives? You need a government so small that it can't infringe on your rights.
Think about concepts like the Minutemen. The Founders warned us about standing armies. Eisenhower warned about the military industrial complex. We fight about social security and other entitlement funding. Meanwhile, the military industrial complex budget will never be cut.
No one from social security is funding campaign donations while lobbying for social security. Meanwhile, Raytheon is saying, "We need another ten-billion dollar stealth bomber. We need to be able to blow the planet up ten times over. Just help us demonize southeast Asia, and oh, here's a huge donation for your re-election campaign." We really do need to make Orwell fiction again. Look at the fall of the Roman empire, the parallels are so strong.
Everyone lies. At the end of the day, all this stuff we see happen, you realize it's just how its rigged. It's time to unrig the game.
Tar Heel: And what about you? What's next for Matt?
Clements: I don't know if I will run for office again. I want to assist and develop people who want to run for office. The goal of any party, besides our direct work on issues, is to select and develop, and ultimately elect, candidates. Think back to the Ron Paul Revolution, and the critical mass that created. Look at how many people are engaged today because of him. I want to see that energy continue.
The state could work on having a more organized outreach to universities and students beyond partnering with existing groups. Many of them have been good allies, and they have advantages, but they don't exist to help the Libertarian Party, and need to recognize the limitations. I've always had a good relationship with many of the Liberty-focused groups on campus. But we don't have to take reduced freedom and Liberty if we develop our own messaging and outreach, we can go all in. The secret is to find leaders that cultivate and propagate young libertarians through things like mentorships, internships, and jobs. I am involved in doing just that.
Tar Heel: Thank you again for your time. One final question I ask everyone, what advice would you have for people just joining the Liberty movement, with passion but maybe looking for direction?
Clements: First thing is, do what you can to help your local affiliate, primarily. Then, help focus your attention on those causes where you can partner with other groups like NORML or GNRC. Pick something local and go after it, like you can work on changing zoning to encourage affordable housing and not pick winners and losers while diversifying your tax base.
Libertarian philosophy is trying to inject consent back into everyday life. What makes a business transaction not a robbery? …consent. You have an apple, I have a silver dollar, and I give you the silver dollar for the apple. This is a simple transaction, period. Why do we need to involve anyone else into that, especially the government?
We need young people to find a way to amplify this message. Memes, videos, blogs – bring truth to power in a way that advocates for human freedom. People need to realize that there is power and distraction in social media and the speed of information that go hand in fist. Understand what a distraction it is creating, and the negative feedback loop it relies on, and then make your choices as to what you post and where you interact in a way that is beneficial to the Liberty movement, that helps people. Don't be part of what's dragging the entire conversation down.
Jeff Scott, Mecklenburg County (February 2023)
(recently retired) Mecklenburg County LP Chair
This month, the Tarheel sat down with Jeff Scott, Mecklenburg County Libertarian Party Chair for the past two years. Jeff recently stuck to his promise to not run for re-election, and is now an at-large member of the MeckLP EC.
Jeff has quite the resume beyond MeckLP Chair, as he has run for both sides of the NC legislature, he has run for Charlotte city council, and he is an adjunct professor at the Mises Institute. He has a background in cold, hard statistics and finance, but is passionate about the arts and musical theater.
With roots in both San Francisco and Charlotte, and a Hollywood blockbuster life filling in the blanks, Jeff brings a unique perspective that drives his calm determination to advance Liberty. We asked him about his life, his motivations, his concerns, and what he thinks should happen next, in a wide-ranging interview.
Tar Heel: Jeff, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. You are in Charlotte now, but it was a bit of a circuitous route to get here. Can you give us a little of your backstory, and what made you finally come to North Carolina?
Jeff Scott: California was a rat race, and the rats were winning. That’s my official answer! In truth, it’s a bit mundane. Let me call up my repressed memories. The years 2009-2011 were brutal for my family. Looking back, it was a blur of economic anxiety, for which I am still paying the price. We were living in the Oakland hills, and even though that is a wealthy community, we were hammered by the recession. The Bay Area, California was no longer fit for us, though I once swore I would only leave it kicking and screaming.
We looked at Nevada, Colorado, Texas, and NC. Job insecurity has always been a big concern for me, and Depression-era stories from my family still haunt. Charlotte as a financial center was a clear choice. The first weeks in South Charlotte in June 2011, I felt like I was living in a country club, and I could feel my blood pressure dropping.
Tar Heel: Politically, NC is different than California, though Charlotte and San Francisco have some overlap. What differences jump out the most to you? And where are things really the same everywhere?
Scott: In California, I put up with smug liberals from the late 70s in an environment where the average voter had to subordinate themselves to looney blue impulses, sentiments, and hectoring. Before there was TDS, there was Reagan Derangement Syndrome.
But a lot of the progressives I knew were more open minded and intellectually curious. The state party evolution from civic cesspools of corruption into cultural revolution Khmer-Blue is hard to grasp. They're all Chicagoans now. They know its hypocritical and filthy behind the scenes, but "Who me??" I find Dems everywhere I go heartily embrace the Orwellian version of truth that stems from party fidelity, and the glue of that devotion is big money for big military, big intelligence, big pharma, you name it. They embrace the spoils system and they don't think that is a bad thing.
As a normal person I find it very, very scary to be independent minded yet in the political grip of grifting authoritarians. Constant fear is constant power. In my melancholic moments, I would describe myself as living in a state of compliant anxiety and not optimistic about recovering lost freedoms. Am I going to be the guy standing in front of the tank? No. Nor will I be self-immolating if I have tickets to Wicked.
One thing I noticed about conservatives in NC is that they fall for all kinds of crap. And the urban sophisticates (a.k.a. highly paid operatives in the DC swamp) know how to push their buttons and get the reaction they need. Very few people-- and I include many Libertarians - know how to take a deep breath and wait before they react. One must assume every paper and social media trend is the National Enquirer blaring at you and that it's possibly true that Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster had a love child, and his name is Roy Cooper! But c'mon man! Can we just recognize that news headlines are trying to sell you something and you should ignore them for your mental health?
Tar Heel: You have spent time in the two states with the most registered Libertarians, but what about you? When did you realize you were Libertarian? What made you aware, or what was your turning point?
Scott: In the interest of brevity, let's stick to the 60s and 70s. There was no turning point for me. I was intuitively libertarian very early on. My parents leaned Republican but had Democratic friends, so I heard arguments as a child in the early 60s about the welfare state and self-reliance. I admired Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame and recall my formative years as an idealistic liberal: anti-war, anti-censorship, anti-bigotry. I read some sci fi and enjoyed political intrigue and visions of dystopia. I enjoyed westerns with rough justice. Most critical fact: Star Trek, not Star Wars!
I was in high school when Nixon resigned, and I didn’t know anyone who was vocally pro-war. I remember consciously not registering for selective service and not showing up for my high school yearbook photo and wanting to escape an overcrowded, uninspiring public high school to go to work. I graduated early but I didn’t pursue college until my mid-20s. In Southern California I had access to conservative views. I read Rand right after high school, and then found Birch literature: antiwar, yet also anti-communist and anti-elite.
The skin magazines were subversive too, which I loved for the articles! Hugh Hefner and Bob Guccione were popular back then, expanding minds among other body parts. James Dale Davidson had a popular tax column in Penthouse. I eventually stumbled on the Mormon financial publications and others in the hard money cult. Even on the national best seller lists you could find stuff by Robert Ringer and William Simon's Time for Truth about the New York City bankruptcy, ghost written by Edith Efron of TV Guide. Both of them were in the Rand orbit.
The assassinations of the Kennedys and King was like a big open wound that wouldn't heal and every conversation about what came to be known as the "deep state" was mumbling skepticism, a wink and a nod, "don't ask don’t tell." I read a lot of Mad Magazine and National Lampoon with the pre-libertarian scribblings of P.J. O’Rourke. I just picked up weird left and right stuff all the time, not to mention the music mags, like Rolling Stone and Creem.
The Church committee was raging by mid-70s, drugged out soldiers were piling into Oceanside along with Vietnamese refugees, inflation warnings were coming true, gas lines were a thing. Public hypocrisy and economic panic were the gifts that just kept feeding my basic cynicism. By 1980, when I turned 23, and before I went to college, I was already hanging out with a lot of Libertarians, Objectivists, and academics in both California and the U.K.
Tar Heel: And you have run for office several times as a Libertarian. How were your campaigns each similar, and how were they different? Any particular stories or memories that stick with you?
Scott: My first campaign for City Council in 2017 consisted of Steve DiFiore II and I holding hands and jumping into the deep end of an unheated pool with no lifeguard. There were lots of naïfs in that cohort. We made a good impression, I think, largely because it was assumed we were going to lose and not have an influence. The other candidates, mostly Democrats, were nice to us overall. I enjoyed some of that camaraderie.
The Republicans were losing their grip, and they were a bit testy. The progressive takeover was not stoppable, and they knew it. They were frustrated by the post-Trump wave of anger, and they did their best to distance themselves, but to no avail. I remember the first call that I got from Jim Morrill of the Observer, "Jeff, why aren’t you raising money?" That's when I lost my virginity. Then Jim ratted me out as working at TIAA (but only a temp contractor there) and they read me the riot act. The two back-to-back Congressional races had their highs and lows.
I was a spoiler in 2018 in District 9, beating the R to D spread 3X. Due to the scandal of ballot harvesting, that race was investigated and got wide national coverage. I spent a week in Raleigh at the BOE hearings, which was a great adventure.
Then there was a do-over in 2019 where I was even more ignored along with the Green candidate, my buddy Allen Smith. Both of those were huge national races, with big, big spending. At least candidate (now two-term Congressman) Dan Bishop said to my face that I didn't raise enough money to join him on stage in debate. Crass but honest.
I ran again in 2020 against State Senator Jeff Jackson, but with covid and the fact that a well-funded Republican entered the race, I couldn't get myself off the ballot in time. I didn't do anything that year, didn't even accept campaign donations. I don't know what people see in Congressman Jackson, who campaigned as an inveterate liar for the military industrial complex. He looks more like Elvis than me, so he wins.
Tar Heel: What can you share about your campaigns that might help future candidates? What should they all be aware of, what pitfalls lie ahead, and what expectations should they have coming in?
Scott: This will all be covered in my next project, "Humiliation! The Musical." Fact is, I don’t know how candidates win elections. There are highly compensated, talented people who execute successful election plans, and they're working for the RNC and the DNC, not the LNC. I don’t know what matters. I thought I knew minimum, baseline requirements, but even then, I can't be certain.
My ideal of a candidate is not the same as voters. Poised and professional? Probably. Nice looking, good suit, not a dweeb? Clear voice, enunciation, thinking on your feet, stage confidence? Working the room, owning the conversation? Take a good photo, have a clean record, be likeable, polite, graceful, thoughtful, take your pick! Maybe voters want any ass-kicking liar with bad hair and worse teeth who knows exactly how to find the center of energy and who intuitively uses the force of his or her personality to amass attention. It's possible that none of that other stuff matters.
Tar Heel: You are more cosmopolitan than perhaps the stereotypical image of a Libertarian would reflect (editor’s note: Jeff and I attend musical theater together). Art is, by its very nature, inherently political in that it is so deeply engaged with humanity. It should be the biggest sole marketing platform for Libertarians out there, with a rigid adherence to free expression, and yet we see so much art seems to have abandoned its purity and grown into a mouthpiece for political parties. Do you agree with this, and, if so, why do you think this has happened?
Scott: I'm okay with impurities. Hadestown "Why We Build the Wall" was not written with Trump in mind but the accident of history turned it into an unfortunate trigger that slightly mars an otherwise beautiful show. When it's over and your conversation drifts to border security, you missed the show. The occasional crowd-pleasing laugh line doesn't bug me because everyone realizes it's not part of the esthetic experience, that it's just a side of junk food, like the Doritos placement in Wayne's World.
We live in a highly commercialized and increasingly politicized art world. I'm triggered when I'm pushed to think about how impoverished we are as audiences to put up with more than a flicker of politically correct bullshit.
A cheap laugh in an expensive seat will always stick in my craw because it's first a time waster, and second, it's a reminder some audiences want to reinforce their prejudices about transitory issues. Consuming something challenging and non-topical isn't comfortable. In truth, I'm only a partial snob because I like a wide range of well-designed, artful communications to audiences in language, dance, music, stage, painting, sculpture, etc. But if the purpose is limited to the didactic, or for propaganda, or experimentation in medium, or increasingly, athleticism and special effects, well then, it's just not an artistic experience.
An object could be valuable in a utilitarian way, for instance, not in a contemplative way. If it doesn't tackle your conscience and lift you temporarily out of your place in the universe, you're not getting what you really need. You might be trying to get it, and you can be entertained while you're trying, but you're not getting that payoff. There's a big picture you haven't tapped into yet.
Many performances can be artful without delivering an artistic experience. But you can hope and learn. My 20-year-old self was not a Sondheim fan, for example. It all sounded like treacly garbage to me, with dressed up Noo Yawk inside jokes. My 60+-year-old self can barely see through the tears. I was late to the party. I'm not an early adopter! It only took me a several decades so there's hope for everyone!
Tar Heel: Charlotte is the biggest city in North Carolina by a good bit, and it certainly has a solid arts scene, but it is not the most Libertarian friendly, at least not in terms of political affiliations. What barriers do you see to our message spreading in both Charlotte and in Mecklenburg more broadly, and what can we do to overcome them?
Scott: That’s the 64-Million-dollar question. I've got my niche and I do what I can. I waver between unrealistic and realistic goals. I have lofty ideals but so does Klaus Schwab, and he's winning! I cringe when I see a Libertarian tweet, "set the world free in our lifetime." It's so irrational and disrespectful, simultaneously setting the bar too high to do anything and too low to get anyone off their ass to find a niche. It's like an empty uber-religious incantation, "We must do everything for nothing!"
The hard truth about Charlotte is that politics is dominated by the Democratic party activists and opposition is weak at best. My guess is that they will try to scare right-of-center voters with more riots to get non-Democratic voters to move away. All we can hope for is an intra-party fight to weaken their hold but I don’t see that happening. I will hold my nose and my wallet until I wither away.
Tar Heel: MeckLP has a very tight group that feels familial. Can you talk about how they got that way, and where you are planning to take MeckLP in the next year?
Scott: We lost our two at-large members, Olivia Broadway and Charlotte Ebel. Olivia moved to South Carolina and Charlotte moved to Salisbury. The five of us had a good working relationship and have handled our disagreements professionally. With my three terms up, Steve is taking over as Chair and I have selected the pretentious title of Chair Emeritus which no one will honor yet will keep my fragile ego healthy.
We want candidates and we want to run campaigns. Without people running we are a skeleton crew and invisible no matter how much outreach we do. Showing up at street fairs and events is all good and fun, but it's just a holding pattern until candidates come along to take the initiative and sell themselves to the voters.
Bob Drach, New Hanover County (January 2023)
New Hanover County LP Chair
This month, the Tar Heel caught up with New Hanover Chair Bob Drach. New Hanover is the second smallest county in North Carolina by size, but top ten in population, trailing only Wake and Mecklenburg and their surrounding counties. It is the second most densely populated county, after Mecklenburg.
New Hanover also has a fickle voter base, where loyalty shifts between duopoly candidates each election. More than 40 percent of the nearly quarter million population is unaffiliated, and there are more than 2,000 registered Libertarians and growing.
With the Atlantic Ocean forming its eastern border, New Hanover boasts some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, Wilmington as its centerpiece cultural hub, solid economic opportunity, and a thriving community of traditional Carolinians and transplants alike. With this as the backdrop, the Tar Heel asked Bob about his journey to Libertarianism, what the affiliate is doing now, and where he sees New Hanover going in the future.
Tar Heel: Bob, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. I want to start off by asking a little about your history. I understand you are a sailor, and completed an intense journey from Cali to Hawaii. Can you tell me more about that?
Bob Drach: I was the cook and a deckhand on the SV Lureline, a Tripp 47 sloop out of Kaneohe, HW. The race started in Victoria, BC and finished off in Lahaina, on Maui. That is a "downhill" route where we fly spinnakers and surf ocean swells the whole way. Twenty-one days of just wind, waves, sun, chill, work, and sleep. Blissful.
Tar Heel: That sounds incredible. What attracted you to sailing? And, to tie it in, how does the feeling of freedom combined with personal responsibility you get on the water parallel with your Libertarian philosophy?
Drach: I blame Melville, Dana, Chichester, and other writers who have romanticized sailing as a test of mettle against the sea. The community of sailors is built on hard work and respect for each other and for nature. Not all sailors are Libertarians, but most have that deep streak of personal responsibility, respect for others, nature, and teamwork.
Tar Heel: So, what originally attracted you to the Libertarian party? How long have you been active, and what other roles have you had?
Drach: When I turned 18 in 1979, I wrote on my draft card that I was a conscientious objector, and I registered to vote as a Libertarian. After college and two years in industry, I joined the Peace Corps and taught Physics in secondary schools in Tanzania. I believe in public service but also believe that the best public service is to provide excellent products and service to customers and to maximize value for investors and all constituents. My only government role outside of the Peace Corps was a stint on the New Hanover County Board of Equalization and Review.
Tar Heel: New Hanover is such an interesting place. There is a dichotomy with the city and the surrounding rural areas, and then the ocean obviously has a major influence. You have farming and shipping right next to a robust arts community. Broadly speaking, where does politics fit into all this?
Drach: The college, UNCW, plays an outsized role in local politics. Also note that this area has grown faster than North Carolina as a whole, and N.C. is itself a growth state. A lot of the new people coming in are from the Northeast, and many from the Midwest. The dichotomy that emerges is a large block of voters who have escaped and another block of strong personalities - both "left" and "right." Unfortunately, the overall trend has been for more government involvement in real estate, zoning, building infrastructure, and funding special interests.
Tar Heel: It really is similar to other North Carolina counties in that regard. Knowing all that, where can the Libertarian Party make inroads? What messaging is resonating with people in New Hanover?
Drach: New Hanover County has a rich history of Libertarians running for office and working to impact local politics. The current leadership team, including Michele Sundstrom and Justin Hinckley, are focused on membership development, and building infrastructure to support future candidates. Our messaging includes defending Second Amendment rights and representing Libertarian values through the city and county budget processes. Do you know that at last year's New Hanover County budget public comments session there were 20 people who showed up, and all of them supported the budget or even requested additional spending? This is what our elected officials have been hearing. We will send a different message.
Tar Heel: What are the biggest challenges you see in getting that messaging out in a way that attracts people?
Drach: We are in a pickle because people are addicted to government promises and government money. Both the Rs and the Ds have corrupted the discourse in this way. C.S. Lewis once said that the safest road to hell is the gently sloping one. Our challenge is to look for the opportunities to turn people around. The mask and vaccine mandates were one such opportunity for some people. There will be others and we need to exploit them when they happen.
Tar Heel: New Hanover is doing relatively well economically, especially against other N.C. counties. What are some of the biggest problems you see in the county, and what solutions can the Libertarian Party provide?
Drach: Tyler Yaw, one of our LP-NHC members who hosts the Whiskey and Wisdom podcast, believes strongly in finding the local issues where the Libertarian view is compelling. One such issue is building a new bridge across the Cape Fear River – I know, who will build the roads? We should be working through the DOT and planning boards to make it a toll bridge, so the users pay at a minimum and it gives the project a chance to attract infrastructure investors. A different problem is the legacy of racism in the City of Wilmington that in some ways has trapped multiple generations in a cycle of poverty and gang affiliation. I think the most effective actors on this problem have been the downtown churches and NGOs. We should affiliate with these and support their missions.
Tar Heel: Along those lines, what is your vision for the New Hanover LP in the next year, the next five years, and after that? Are there any specific changes you want to affect, and where do you see candidate success coming through?
Drach: Our urgency is to build critical mass in membership, community involvement, and fundraising. I'm stoked about the people who have joined our meet ups and we have some more outreach planned this year. My goal is to field a full slate of Libertarian candidates for state and local offices in New Hanover County. Not just field them but support their campaigns and deliver a consistent compelling message to the more than 150,000 voters in our county.
Tar Heel: What about you, what does the future have in store for Bob Drach?
Drach: I suffer from that dichotomy we discussed earlier – 80 percent of my time I’m sailing across the Pacific or trekking in Patagonia, while I’m advocating Liberty only a small part of time. I feel like the advocacy is not enough, but ultimately, we want government and politics to be just a small and harmonious part of our lives. I think that if we build a good team in NHC then I can help others who are ready to give a chunk of their lives to public service or be in a better position to do more myself when I’m ready to hang up my foul weather gear.
Tar Heel: Thank you again, so much, for your time today. Fascinating discussion, and I appreciate it. One final question, what are some things about New Hanover County that other affiliates might not know at all, but that could help them as they spread the message of Liberty, grow their respective local parties, or try to get candidates elected?
Drach: I mentioned Tyler Yaw who hosts the Whiskey and Wisdom podcast with a libertarian bent. He is a potential resource for developing content. Our Justin Hinckley has worked on a brochure for Second Amendment issues and has handled several issues as our Treasurer with grace – he would be happy to talk through either of these topics with folks. I'm an advocate for attending county and city council meetings and exercising our responsibility to make public comments.
*Editor's note: Justin Hinckley, mentioned in the interview, is our 2A issues coordinator, and the Tar Heel 2A Editor who writes the monthly 2A Talk column. Tyler Yaw hosts the Whiskey and Wisdom podcast, which can be found here on Apple podcasts.
Travis Groo, Wake County Chair (December 2022)
Wake County LP Chair
In a year when the number of registered Libertarians has reached record highs in North Carolina, and coming off another incredibly successful election day for Wake, the Tarheel caught up with Travis Groo, who chairs the Wake LP, which has been at the forefront of getting candidates on ballots, running competitive campaigns, and growing the number of registered Libertarians.
We asked Travis, who has been featured in North Carolina media in a nod to Wake LP's success (Libertarians enter most state legislative races in Wake County | Raleigh News and Observer), about who he is, what motivates him, and how he and the members of his affiliate have been able to see consistent improvement in the returns on their activism.
Tarheel: Travis, before we get into Wake LP's well-oiled machine, tell us a little about yourself. Are you from NC originally? What issues are you passionate about? And when did you realize you were Libertarian, and why?
Travis Groo: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, I really appreciate it. I was born and raised in Wylie, Texas, which is just northeast of Dallas. I moved to Florida when I was 15 and finished out high school and college there. I graduated from the University of West Florida with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Arts/Advertising. After college I moved to Atlanta, GA, and settled there for about 12 years. It's where both of my amazing kids were born.
Atlanta was a great place to live, but the public schools where we were living were not so great. The kids were homeschooled until we moved to North Carolina. I'm settled in here now and so happy that I met my most amazing, coolest, goofiest, and prettiest fiancé in the world. I actually met her at a Wake LP meetup during the pandemic when most of everything was shutdown by government. It was the best thing that's ever happened to me, and during a really weird time in history. This is now my home and where I've decided to plant my roots.
The issues that I am most passionate about are some of the same issues we've been running on in Wake County. I'm huge on school choice and giving parents the full control over their kids' education. Allowing choice in education opens paths to academic success. The right learning environment prepares students for new challenges. It allows students to find a place to excel. It rewards innovative, engaged teachers. It rewards students for their hard work and effort.
I'm also passionate about criminal justice reform, freeing up the healthcare industry, and freeing up people's ability to make a living without government interference. Certificate of Need (CON) laws should be abolished. The John Locke Foundation states that, "The most straightforward and direct effect of CON is that it makes it more expensive, time-consuming, and difficult to open or expand a health care facility and to acquire health care equipment." It's time to free up North Carolina from strict government regulations that stifle competition and makes prices higher. Bureaucrats have a stronghold on the free market and the healthcare system.
I realized that I was a Libertarian when I read the platform and it all made so much sense. The rest is history.
Tarheel: That's an interesting backstory. When did you know that you wanted to be more active, and what made you decide you wanted to Chair an affiliate?
Groo: Soon after registering as a Libertarian during the Trump/Clinton presidential campaign, and we all remember the mess that was, I received a call from both David Ulmer, former Chair of the Libertarian Party of Wake County, and Brad Hessel, all things Libertarian. They invited me to a Wake LP meetup, which is where I made first contact.
I started getting involved with charity and outreach events, and I knew I had found my people. David asked me if I'd be interested in running for public office. With a little arm twisting, I agreed to it. I ran for House District 11 in 2018 and it was a great experience. After that I was elected as Vice Chair of the Libertarian Party of Wake County. I learned so much and became even more involved. Then I ran for Senate District 17 in 2020. I stayed active and I was elected as Chair, and here I am today. Lots has happened in between, and all of it has been a great learning experience.
Tarheel: Have you held any other positions in the LPNC? How is affiliate Chair different?
Groo: The only non-elected position I've held within the LPNC is Chair of the Convention Committee two years in a row. Chair of an affiliate is different because when something goes wrong or the public perception is off, everyone looks at you. Since you're the face of the party as Chair, when things go great people congratulate you, but when things go bad, they want answers and solutions and look to you. There's a huge amount of responsibility in being the face of any organization. Unless you've been there, done that, it's very hard to explain.
Tarheel: OK, on to the important stuff! How is Wake able to drive registration numbers and have so many quality candidates, especially in an area of NC that's not necessarily known for being Libertarian friendly?
Groo: "The proliferation of Libertarian candidates is an attempt to raise the party's profile and encourage Libertarians elsewhere in the state to do the same," I said in an interview. "This has to do with Wake County [Libertarians] being very focused on elections. We're trying to set an example for other affiliates to follow... we want to keep getting bigger and we expect to be bigger in two years."
Basically, we've been focused, driven, and committed to running quality candidates to give voters an option other than the duoply. It's taken years of hard work and a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that nobody sees. We have a pretty incredible team here in Wake, and I'm so thankful to be a part of it. Without the team effort we wouldn't be able to do this. It takes all of us to get things done the right way. I trust my team and I trust the people around me. I trust the folks that have been around a lot longer than I have too!
Tarheel: What are the biggest challenges you face, and how have you been able to overcome them?
Groo: I think I speak for all of us when I say one of the biggest challenges I face is finding volunteers to do the work. We always need principled Libertarians canvassing, tabling, promoting, and spreading the message of liberty. I truly believe volunteerism is at the core of what being a Libertarian means. The more we volunteer and help our neighbors, communities, friends, and family, the less people feel the need to rely on government handouts and bailouts. If we own ourselves and we are self-governed, we shouldn't need an intrusive government telling us how to live our lives or spend our money.
We certainly don't need another governor telling us what we can consume or who we can love. It's just weird to think that we keep electing people to tell us how to live our lives, when that should be left up to us to decide, the people, and the self-governed. Just don't hurt people, or take their stuff, it's not complicated.
We overcome these challenges by staying persistent and sticking with our principles. Our values guide us, and, if we truly believe in them, the challenges we face don't seem as paralyzing. I'd say to anyone reading, stay the course no matter how hard it may seem. Hard work always pays off.
Tarheel: What is next for Wake LP, and for you?
Groo: What's next for Wake LP is more of the same: recruiting, building, developing, and encouraging others. For me, [editor's note: Travis paused a long time, and smiled here] I don't want to let the cat out of the bag, but I've got a few things in the works. Regardless, I will be active in the party and try to encourage as many of us as possible to keep working hard and stay involved as much as possible. We're all busy and have lives outside of this party, but please do what you can.
Tarheel: Thank you for your time, and for all you do. One final question, what advice would you give other affiliates just getting started to be able to replicate your success?
Groo: My advice is for all affiliates across the state to meet weekly. This creates consistency that is needed. Even if it's super small at first, keep going and keep meeting and it will grow. Have a special guest speaker every once in a while and boost your Facebook events so folks outside of your circle are reached. Promote the events and share them as much as possible. Finally, run quality candidates in your county, city, and towns. Give voters a better option. Surround yourself with greatness!
Steven DiFiore, Mecklenburg County (April 2023)
This month, the Tarheel sat down with Steven DiFiore, recently elected Mecklenburg County Libertarian Party Chair. Steven has been active in both the state and local party, having served the prior two years as an At-Large member of the LPNC Executive Committee, and having also run for Charlotte city council and state governor previously.
Steven is taking over from Jeff Scott, who the Tar Heel interviewed in February, and who continues to serve on the LPMeck Executive Committee in an At-Large role. Mecklenburg is also the most populous county in North Carolina, and, as we have noted in the Tar Heel before, one of the taller mountains to climb for the Liberty movement.
Nevertheless, Steven, a lover of the arts, and know to be quick on the retort with a wry sense of humor, is certainly up to the task. We asked him about his history, his vision for Meck, and how the state party can continue to come together in this expansive Chair Chats interview.
Tarheel: Steven, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. We asked Jeff this same question first, so it seems fitting. You are in Charlotte now, and we are glad to have you! Are you originally from Charlotte? Can you give us a little of your backstory, and how you ended up specifically in the Queen City?
Steven DiFiore: Well, I’m originally from New York State, but don’t hold that against me. I’m from the Adirondacks, which is the rural mountainous part of New York close to the Canadian border. My grandparents lived on the Crystal Coast and our family would visit every year while I was in high school. These summer trips are how I first fell in love with North Carolina. When I was in my early twenties I moved from the frozen north to Emerald Isle in 2004, and then to Charlotte a year later when I applied and was accepted by UNC Charlotte. I’ve been here ever since.
Tarheel: And further to your backstory, when did you realize you were Libertarian? What issues are most important to you? Tell us your Liberty journey.
DiFiore: When I was in New York, I was part of a college program called the Senate Session Assistant Internship. As part of the program, I moved to Albany and worked as an intern for a state senator in the state legislature. Senator John L. Sampson from Brooklyn as I recall. It was a fun and interesting experience, and you got to see how the sausage was made.
Unsurprisingly, it left a bad taste in my mouth. I had always thought that individuals and communities were best suited to make decisions for themselves, but that viewpoint had no fertile soil in the state Capitol. I wasn’t too interested in politics and government until years later when I was at UNCC. In 2008 I was writing my senior thesis about the American elections, both national, state, and local. It was during the course of my research that I happened upon a few speeches by our very own Michal Munger when he was running as the Libertarian candidate for Governor of North Carolina. His positions were so sensible and well thought out, especially compared to his competition, that I just knew I was more in his camp than anyone else. It helped that during the 2008 Republican primary, an obscure Texas representative, Ron Paul, had fueled the ember of anti-establishment sentiment that had been dormant since my time in Albany NY. When he mentioned that he was a Libertarian, I thought, if both he and Mr. Munger are big and small "l" libertarian, perhaps I am too. When our party attained ballot access that year, I went to the DMV and switched my party registration, and I haven’t looked back.
Tarheel: Politically, Mecklenburg is a unique place, both in the south and for a city in North Carolina. What challenges do you see for the Libertarian Party to grow in our city?
DiFiore: Partisan pull is probably our biggest challenge in Mecklenburg County. Our voting public has been indoctrinated their entire lives into the notion that there are only two choices. It is a difficult hurdle to overcome, but it also provides an opportunity. Many of the smaller suburb cities of Charlotte have non-partisan elections. That helps overcome the strong partisan preference our voters carry with them into the ballot booth. In Charlotte, which has partisan elections, it’s a bit more difficult, but there are still opportunities. In the At-Large race, for example, it’s the top four vote getters that win those positions. While there are many Team Red and Team Blue folks who will never cross the aisle and vote for a member of the other team, that strong preference isn’t so strong with Libertarians. When I ran locally for the first time, most of my initial conversations, you know, just explaining who we are as a party and what I wanted to do as an elected official. I had the ability to write my own introduction and not get stereotyped by those I met as they had no pre-conceived notions. It’s still an uphill climb, but the unique demographic mix in Mecklenburg County has some significant advantages and opportunities for our party’s future growth.
Tarheel: Whenever we get candidates here, we like to ask about their campaigns. What differences can you give our readers between the campaigns that you ran? How did the office make a difference?
DiFiore: The first time I ran for office, I had no idea what I was doing, which is sub-optimal to say the least. However, I’m a fast learner and I didn’t make the same mistake twice, even though I think I made nearly every campaigning mistake at least once. What I think helped me through that steep learning curve and fostered future opportunities was that I created a team to help me in my campaigns and I approached the whole endeavor as a professional. For my first campaign, I created my team as I went, starting out mostly alone and building up a team as I went along. For the second campaign, my first order of business was putting together a strong campaign team. I can’t overstate how important it is to have a good team with a diverse set of skills to help on the campaign trail. The better the team, the more effective you can be at the local level for sure. I have no doubt that the team that I had for the Governor’s race would have seen me to victory for the City Council race if I had them when I first ran. I’ll say that running a statewide race is an order of magnitude harder than running locally, especially for a guy who still has to work a full-time job, but again, a campaign team helps shoulder that burden and is an absolute must for any serous campaign in my opinion.
Tarheel: Great insight, thank you. Further to that, what can you share about your campaigns that might help future candidates? What should they all be aware of, what pitfalls lie ahead, and what expectations should they have coming in?
DiFiore: I’ve already said that a team is absolutely necessary, but as the candidate you must embody the positive qualities of leadership and treat your volunteers well. They are volunteers after all. That can be hard, because there is a lot that needs to get done in a campaign to have any chance of making an impact, which means both you as the candidate, and those on your team will be spending a lot of time on the race and not with your family or furthering your career. That can be difficult to manage and keeping goals realistic without becoming self-defeating can be quite a balancing act. As a candidate, you will have an opportunity to grow as a person and as a leader. I would urge you to take that opportunity. If you avail yourself of the opportunity to grow, you very well might inspire others to become the best versions of themselves too and grow the party.
Tarheel: You are very open about ties you have with the Spanish community. Can you talk more about that, and maybe explain why it’s such an important demographic to share our message of Liberty?
DiFiore: During my first campaign I had the good fortune to meet and befriend a few local politicians, including local Democrat, Christina Cano, who is a Tejano with significant ties to the Hispanic, Latino, and Latinx communities. Additionally, I’ve worked in the construction industry for nearly a decade, and a significant number of my colleagues have been or are Hispanic or Latino. I should also mention that my better half, Mariana, is a Mexican citizen from Durango, so that helps my Spanish speaking community street cred even though my Spanish is very basic.
Over the past decade Mecklenburg County has been growing by leaps and bounds. A significant number of our new neighbors seeking their future and prosperity are from south of the border. For them, America is a shining city on the hill, and ours is a movement and political ideology amenable to immigration and multi-culturalism. America is a melting pot after all. As these communities tend to be close-knit, full of hard-working people, and don’t carry with them the political preconceptions that hinder our efforts with other demographics. My views aren’t Machiavellian though. The GOP and DNC don’t really have anything of substance to offer. They won’t improve the lives of all Americans. As I mentioned earlier, partisan pull is a tough hurdle to get over and if we have an opportunity to be first to figuratively bring our neighbors a welcome to the neighborhood pie, the more likely we’ll be to be able to organize effectively for political change, especially at the local level.
Tarheel: You also have been one of our more enthusiastic participants in the Charlotte Pride parade tabling event. Following up on the last question, the Tar Heel has previously aggressively pointed out how communities that are considered “marginalized” in the broader narrative are not viewed that way by Libertarians. What are we doing right in spreading our message that we will not compromise in our defense of everyone’s rights, and where can we do more?
DiFiore: While I know that Charlotte PRIDE isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I’ve always had a good time tabling there. It has a fun festival atmosphere and the organizers are very easy to work with. PRIDE festivals are more or less mainstream, as there are corporate sponsors galore alongside local business and organizations. This gives us a great opportunity to be seen and to put our best foot forward as evangelists for the cause of Liberty and freedom in our local communities. Folks come from all over the place to visit Charlotte PRIDE and we’ll have the opportunity to interact with not just folks from our own community but from other states and regions too.
One of the things we’ve done well in Mecklenburg County regarding our participation with Charlotte PRIDE is we keep it light-hearted and fun, while still doing the work of spreading the message and growing our local support base. We understand that not everyone will agree with us on every point, but even the folks who disagree with us walk away from our table with the thought that at least we're nice folks even if we emphasize guns and property rights a bit much for their taste. One of the things we do well is not infantilize or tokenize people, regardless of which “marginalized” community they perceive themselves to be in. Our emphasis on individuals and their individual rights and concerns is a boon to our outreach efforts. Where we can do more is on the volunteer and engagement front. Especially for high-energy festivals like Charlotte PRIDE, we need salesmen and carnival barker types, which at the moment are in short supply. I have hope, though, that as we grow, the more extraverted types will fall into our orbit.
Tarheel: OK, another question I asked Jeff almost exactly, but it comes with the territory since we have all attended arts events in Charlotte together! Art is, by its very nature, inherently political in that it is so deeply engaged with humanity. It should be the biggest sole marketing platform for Libertarians out there, with a rigid adherence to free expression, and yet we see so much art seems to have abandoned its purity and grown into a mouthpiece for political parties. Do you agree with this, and, if so, why do you think this has happened?
DiFiore: I absolutely love the arts. The theater and music scenes are some of the main reasons I stay in Charlotte, despite the high taxes. I disagree that the Arts are inherently political. They are inherently expressive and convey meaning, but that doesn’t have to be political.
There is the stereotype that theater folks and artists tend to be liberal leaning, and in my limited personal experience that seems to be somewhat true, but not fully. It takes all types to make a world after all, and good art is good regardless of the politics of those who create it. That being said, there is some art that outright pushes a political agenda or view, and sometimes I disagree with what is being pushed. Those are the shows I don’t patronize. It’s as simple as that to me. I can’t deny the cultural impact that growth of government power has had on all aspects of life, including art. As the malignancy of government corrupts all it touches, there is even greater cause to engage and maybe help other who share a common love of art to see another way of doing things.
If you’ll indulge me, I’ve an anecdote that highlights what I mean.
A few years ago, I was at a Charlotte Symphony concert and that year there was a bond on the ballot for the arts. Unsurprisingly, many in the arts community were in favor of the bond. After that specific concert the Maestro addressed the audience and asked them to vote yes on the bond. I couldn’t help but scoff at the Maestro’s comments, which started a conversation with a woman next to me. She was every bit a caricature of a big government lefty type, but we both loved the Symphony and earlier in the evening we discussed the different musicians playing, the conductor’s resume, and the sorts of shows we were looking forward to in the future. She seemed surprised that an obviously kindred spirit in the arts might have different politics. She asked why I didn’t support the arts. In our conversation I explained how I loved and supported the arts... after all I had purchased rather expensive seats to hear the Symphony play and was a season ticket holder. I just didn’t think others should have to subsidize the art I love. I ended by saying that I don’t like that my tax money goes toward supporting the Panthers Football Stadium and I don’t like the idea that working class families have to pay some portion of their taxes to support symphonies they may never get to enjoy. I remember her saying that she never had thought of it that way before and it was something to think about. I saw her at the next concert after the election and asked her about the bond, which passed. She said she did vote for it, and was happy it passed, but was thinking more carefully about such things in the future because of the points I had brought up last time. Personally, I think that is as much of a win as I could ask for in that situation.
Tarheel: OK, on to questions about MeckLP. What is unique about the party in Mecklenburg that has created such tight knit bonds? How can we build on that to grow the party here?
DiFiore: In truth, I’m not sure there is any particular magic sauce to the camaraderie we share here in Mecklenburg. We’re all in this together and we look to have fun while growing the party and creating positive change in our local communities. The nuts and bolts of politics aren’t for everyone, and Charlotte in particular has a strange political culture. The largest segment of our membership isn’t directly involved in local politics but involved in social clubs and non-political activity. For example, the book club, Carolina Freedom Fellowship, has been an unbelievable success. The Loaded Libertarians Telegram group is a great way for us to get together and put holes in paper the most fun way possible. We have Libertarians who love cars, musicals, or even hiking and jogging. One of the things we’ve done well in Mecklenburg is to foster a culture of fun and fellowship. If we looked for them, we’d be able to find differences and lines of division. That wouldn’t be helpful though, and it wouldn’t grow our movement. I know for myself, I’m always looking for a common thread, something we can agree on and work together on. I think that the positive and mindful attitude we adopt as an organization helps us move in a positive direction. I think that keeping things fun and doing more in the community is the surest path to continued growth in the county.
Tarheel: What is the biggest single issue in Mecklenburg that you think we can be messaging around, and how do we get that message out? Are there any available levers here in the Queen City, media for example, that we aren’t pulling where we should be?
DiFiore: Mecklenburg is a big county, with both the largest of the state’s cities and a bunch of small towns. There are even a few unincorporated areas. There is no biggest single issue, which is both a challenge and an opportunity as far as messaging goes. The challenge is finding the few issues that make the top of the list for each area, but that is also the opportunity. Outreach to the different municipalities or communities of interest is how we’ll learn what those messaging points will be, which is something we’ve engaged in already. In Charlotte, for example, a lot of folks are stressed about the cost of living and we have a libertarian solution for those issues. The smaller towns are nervous about Charlotte growing even larger and swallowing them up. We have a libertarian solution for that too. As far as levers are concerned, media is a big one that we haven’t had a good grip on for a while. However, technology and innovation continually provide more opportunities and options for getting the word out, fostering connections and relationships, and getting the work done of improving our local communities.
Tarheel: And just for you, anything big planned in your life or politics in the next two years?
DiFiore: I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise. You’ll just have to keep an eye on the Meck. [editor's note: Stephen paused before answering, and had a huge smile for this one. We will be sure to keep you all updated on any developments.]
Tarheel: Thank you again for your time. One final question I ask everyone, what advice would you have for people just joining the Liberty movement, with passion but maybe looking for direction?
DiFiore: My advice is for those of us already in the movement. When we meet a new and passionate convert to the Libertarian cause, be a good Shepard. We were all new at one point and someone took us under their wing to show us how to temper and direct our passions. It is up to us to be good leaders and make sure that new people don’t feel like they are suddenly intruding on a close-knit clique, but have instead fallen into the open and welcoming arms of a community that values them.