(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.