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.