This month, the Tar Heel is chatting with Joe Garcia, Chair of the Union County LP Joe Garcia. Joe was the prior Chair of the LPNC, offering some stability during a time of turmoil. Now he is focused on his local affiliate.
Union County LP is known for service projects like road cleanups, regular meetups for politics and friendship, and energy contributing to local and adjacent events, like the Joshua Rohrer and Pastor Moses situations in Gastonia. It is also marked by its proximity to Mecklenburg, though there is a notable difference in the politics of the two locales.
We asked Joe about his background, his motivations, his goals for Union County, and we had to touch on Charlotte FC.
Tar Heel: Joe, starting off, you are famously an ex-NYC cop. What differences do you see between the way things run in New York and the way they work here, or is it mostly the same, different packaging?
Joe Garcia: Not sure about the famously part, but yes, I am a retired NYPD Detective that put in 20 years of service for the City of New York. The biggest difference between New York State and North Carolina is that most of NY State is conservative, with the big exception being New York City which is quite liberal and NYC pretty much dictates what happens in the rest of the state, whereas NC is mostly conservative but has a purple tinge to it due to the more liberal/progressive populations in places like Charlotte and Raleigh, but is still a fairly conservative state. At the end of the day though, we realize that the republicans and democrats are just two sides of the same coin. It really doesn’t matter which side of the coin you vote for.
Tar Heel: In particular, you had an experience on September 11 that few can imagine. How has this shaped who you have become today?
Garcia: Before September 11, 2001, as a voter I was pretty independent minded and always looking to vote for the best candidate who I thought would do a good job. Then the attacks on 9/11 happen. I lost two civilian cousins that were killed when the first plane struck the North Tower and almost lost an aunt who was almost struck by someone who jumped out of building 1 as she was fleeing building 5. That day I pretty much became a neo-conservative. I became very angry and was a “bomb the desert into glass” type of guy for a while, that was, until I saw Ron Paul on stage at the Presidential debates in 2007. I watched as he spoke about blowback for the actions of the U.S. Government over the decades. I watched at how everyone on stage seemed to gang up on him, with my former boss Rudy Giuliani demanding an apology. It was that moment that I realized something was off. I started reading and researching more. I finally broke the anger and propaganda-colored glasses that I had worn for six years. That is where my journey to libertarianism started.
Tar Heel: You are also famously a powerful advocate for police accountability and criminal justice reform. What aspects of your time on the job have contributed to your mentality now?
Garcia: Going back to Dr. Paul’s thrashing of Rudy Giuliani on the debate stage back in 2007, I started to apply the lens of Blowback to law enforcement. In doing so, I realized that in the past I had enforced certain laws wherein I either issued a ticket to or had arrested someone who had not hurt anyone or taken their stuff, and there really was no victim. Laws such as not wearing a seatbelt, driving with a suspended license, and shoplifting, to name a few. In the instances of shoplifting, it isn’t that I don’t think that shoplifting is wrong, it is, but stores usually did not want to bother with restitution. They wanted the person arrested and that was that. There should have been an alternative way to handle that from the get-go. I will say that thankfully I was never a drug warrior type of cop and never made that a focus of my time in the department.
I also believe that footage from police body cams should be made available in a timely fashion for any member of the public to view without being hidden behind a list of conditions on how footage will be released. We have seen from Joshua Rohrer’s case in Gastonia that, on most occasions, the police are not up to the task of investigating themselves, much less doing anything meaningful if they do.
There must be more accountability for law enforcement officers. They are granted the authority by government to take away a person’s freedom or even their life. For that, they must be held to a higher standard than the public they serve.
Tar Heel: What parts of being a cop do you think most Libertarians miss?
Garcia: Most Libertarians forget where they came from. Most of them were not consciously Libertarians the moment they were born. They were brought up in households that were either conservative or liberal, and they were subject to the same upbringings and exposure to government/entertainment propaganda that everyone else was. Guess what, so were the people who became law enforcement officers. I remember growing up watching cop shows/movies and pretty much most of them (except for the movie Serpico) showed police in a good light and never really tackled corruption at any level. I became a police officer to do good for other folks. I have saved quite a few lives in my time on the street. It wasn’t until my “blowback moment” in 2007 that I started to see things for what they were, and that I was just the armed extension of (mostly) bad laws that caused people to either be fined or lose their freedoms. It is quite a sobering experience when you I was “taken out of the matrix.”
Tar Heel: OK, enough police talk. Union County is right next to Meck – Mint Hill even splits between the two – and yet it is decidedly Republican while Meck is pretty staunchly blue territory. What are the biggest local issues you see driving the electorate in Union County?
Garcia: Aside from the regular restrictions and corruption of government, a big issue is overdevelopment without the infrastructure in place to handle it. Take a town in Union County like Waxhaw. They are building new homes/apartment complexes like crazy there. North Broome Street/Providence Road from downtown Waxhaw to Rea Road is about a six-and-a-half-mile stretch. It is also only a two-lane road. Due to the explosion of out of state transplants (like myself) traffic is out of control. About six years ago I remember attending a town commissioners meeting where we were told it would be about 10 years until there was funding from the state to widen the road to accommodate more traffic. Yet they keep allowing new homes to be built. If you live on that stretch of road, it can take some time to make a turn out of your development. That stretch is crazy when the school year and rush hour is happening together. People have finally begun to wake up on this issue, but I wonder if it is too late.
Also, like in more areas of NC, the residents are pretty overwhelmingly in favor of their police force. People here will always give law enforcement officers the benefit of the doubt most times.
Finally, our county is a pretty “Red” area and not overwhelmingly open to the LGBTQ+ community.
Tar Heel: In this paradigm, where do you see opportunities for Libertarian messaging to make inroads?
Garcia: Unfortunately, most people will vote on party lines (even in the non-partisan races) and aren’t really looking into their “preferred” candidates positions or voting history. So for that, it is a matter of encouraging people to either make it out in person or watch the live stream of their town/city and county meetings to stay informed. I also like to take to the Interwebs to comment on posts related to police actions to offer a different opinion. Lastly, for the first time we will be tabling at the Union County Pride festival. I believe that the Libertarian position of love who you want to love and be who you want to be, as long as you aren’t hurting anyone or taking their stuff, goes a long way in the LGBTQ+ community.
Tar Heel: Notably, Union County has had some higher margin votes for third parties, especially in 2016. Do you think this is an anomaly or a trend, and how can we leverage it to springboard into growing prominence?
Garcia: As we are seeing across the country, more and more people are leaving the two old parties and becoming independent because they are tired of being lied to repeatedly. I believe that if we stick to Libertarian principles, have a consistent message that speaks directly to the issues that normal people (not the political class in Washington D.C.) hold dear, and maybe get a few folks elected to local office here in NC, we can show voters that Libertarian solutions work. The trick is, you can’t tell people that you want to abolish everything on day one. Voters will tune out candidates if they do. Candidates need to offer a solution that gradually chips away at the system so that people don’t go into panic mode thinking they will lose whatever services they find important.
Tar Heel: You have a unique perspective having been Chair of the State party. With that as a reference, what strategies can local affiliates employ to grow membership?
Garcia: County affiliates need to hold regular meetups. Not every meetup needs to include party business, but they must meet regularly. My suggestion is once a week in the beginning and meeting at the same time and place each meetup. You can relax that to maybe bi-weekly once you have a regular group that is showing up. Next, make sure that you have it in a family friendly place. You may have single parents or parents that could not get a sitter that would otherwise not show up. Next make sure that you have signup sheets for attendees to collect their contact info. Finally, make sure you are keeping abreast of the goings on and issues in your County for discussion.
Tar Heel: You have also been vocally involved in the current governor race in the LPNC. What characteristics do you think make someone a good candidate, and do these translate into being a good leader if elected?
Garcia: In general, no matter what office you are running for as a Libertarian, do not be a paper candidate. Be active and get yourself out in the public. In addition to attending LPNC county affiliate meetings to meet other Libertarians, it is very important to attend major events in the State (like the State Fair), county fairs, Pride events, etc. Candidates should be organizing volunteers and running door knocking events, as well as phone banking to get the word out about their campaign. They need to try and make connections with news media or even try and become a guest on non-Libertarian podcasts. Run your own “Meet the Candidate” events if you can.
Also important: Candidates should be paying attention to emails and voicemails that come into their campaign and respond to them. I have personally spoken to Libertarian voters in the past who complained that Libertarian candidates in their area had not responded to them, and it ended up turning those people away from voting for those candidates. How bad is it that candidates are throwing away votes from their own voter base?
Now specifically regarding the Governor’s race: this race is very important to the LPNC and we need our candidate to garner at least three percent of the vote in order to maintain our party status. We do not want to have to rely on what the LP’s Presidential candidate will do to maintain that status. The last thing we want to do is throw away all of the hard work past volunteers put in. Those who had to pound the pavement to get the required amount of signatures to qualify to get us on the ballot in the first place.
Tar Heel: Looking at your time as Chair, is there one thing you accomplished about which you are prouder than anything else?
Garcia: Growth. I had worked a lot with Brent DeRidder when he was vice-chair/chair on trying to get our organizational structure set up, and while it wasn’t perfect, it was leaps and bounds better than what we had before. By the end of my term, we had had more active affiliates and more active members volunteering in the LPNC than where we stood when I first got elected as an At-Large member of the Executive Committee back in 2019.
Tar Heel: Following up on that, what did you try that you wish you could get a mulligan?
Garcia: I think there were times where I tried to do too many things at once to grow the LPNC faster. To do it all over again, I would have been a little more methodical.
Tar Heel: Union County is reliably active. You have regular meetups and road cleanups, and members can generally be counted on in a pinch. What have you done to foster this environment? How does it translate to success?
Garcia: Basically, I keep in contact with our core members who tend to show up to all of our meetups/events. We talk to each other regularly. I consider them all friends, and we have developed a close bond with each other. When I first moved to NC in 2016, Union County had one member and it wasn’t active. Today we have about 10 active members with some others who drop in when their schedules allow it.
Tar Heel: As you build on that success, what is your vision for the Union County affiliate over the upcoming months and years?
Garcia: First, I am working on plan for a recruitment push. Second, once we have a larger pool of volunteers, I am hoping to have a good support system in place to recruit a few folks to run for office in Union County in the future.
Tar Heel: OK, now, the most important question of the interview. What is Charlotte FC doing right, what are they doing wrong, and what is your prediction for them this season?
Garcia: As far as what they are doing right, they are promoting some talented youth from their NextPro club, Crown Legacy, who have been successful at making an impact on the pitch for the team.
What are they getting wrong? Not giving those same young players more time on the pitch.
My predictions for them this season? Unless their defense improves, they will unfortunately miss the playoffs. If they can figure it out though, I think they can squeak into the playoffs.
Tar Heel: Finally, something we like to ask everyone, what message would you like to send to other Libertarians, Liberty warriors, and even those who are Liberty curious around the state of North Carolina?
Garcia: Get off the sidelines. If there is an affiliate in your county, start showing up to their meetings. If you have the time, volunteer locally or with the LPNC. If there isn’t a county affiliate in your area, consider helping to get one organized and started up. The best way for us to grow and get our message out is if we have as many people as possible involved.
Tar Heel: Joe, thank you so much for your time today. Fascinating conversation, and we appreciate it. Looking forward to seeing what you have in store.