by Brian Irving
The state of the Libertarian Party of North Carolina is – poised. We’re poised on a precipice partway up what has been until now a very steep mountain. It’s been a hard climb so far, and people have been throwing rocks down. But we made it. The climb is getting easier. We can see the top.
We’ve been poised on this precipice for a while though, since 2008 when we made North Carolina history by becoming the first new party to retain ballot status through the ballot. We repeated that feat in 2012 and 2016. Back then I said the LPNC was on the cusp of becoming a permanent political party in North Carolina. We may now be over that cusp … but we’ve discovered that cusp is a precipice.
We’re all justly proud of the progress made by our party, and the historic votes we achieved in 2016, both nationally and in our state. But we’re still on that precipice.
When you’re on a precipice, you have two choices. Go back down (or fall off) or go up. I don’t think we’re going to take the plunge back down because we can see many people below climbing to join us. But we really haven’t put our hearts and minds into the climb ahead of us.
OK, enough of the climbing analogy. Libertarians love to speak truth to power. And we do. Now let me speak the reality to that truth.
What do we need to do as a political party to start the climb again? I’ve been saying we need to do what the establishment parties do. That comment is usually met with disdain or derision because, after all, we’re libertarians. But being libertarians doesn’t make us immune from political reality. We need to do the things the old parties do, but not in the same way.
We need to do three things:
1. Get organized.
2. Start running
3. Raise money.
The first thing we need to do is get organized
Organizing Libertarians is like herding cats. But we are bobcats.
For the past year, the LPNC Executive Committee has focused on county organizing led very ably by Jeremy Hussey as County Affiliate Development Director. We now have 24 active county affiliates and 24 start-ups. We have organizations in most of the populated areas of the state. That’s much better than we had at this time last year.
Some of the local organization are multi-county or regional, some single counties. We can use whatever model works. But we do need to have county chairs and treasurers in every county. This is what I mean when I say we need to do the things the establishment parties do. We need to do them not because the old parties do them, but because that’s the way system work, flawed and fixed as it is. And this is what the dissatisfied voters we expect to draw to our party expect us to do, that’s what they’re looking for.
It may be a cliché, but it’s still true: All politics is local. Libertarians need to be a voice in local issues. These aren’t flashy or sexy issues. They deal with mundane topics such as trash collection, zoning, building codes, and roads (ah, the roads). This is where libertarians, speaking as concerned, involved and knowledgeable neighbors can have to most impact and influence to move public policy in a libertarian direction.
If you want to know how this works, ask Olen Watson of Raleigh. Or some of our other local candidates running in the off-off-year election.
The other half of getting organized is at the state level. We need a stronger, more active executive committee with more clearly defined duties – and responsibilities, people who are willing to make the time commitment needed to run a major political party.
We need to strengthen the role of chair, allow for the creation of state staff (whether they be volunteers or paid), possibly appoint an executive director, and look into a divisional staff structure. (with political, public policy, communications and field directors). In other words, we need the paid or volunteer equivalent of a full-time state party staff.
The bylaws committee will propose a plan for doing this. I urge you to approve their recommendations.
The second thing we need to do is run for office.
The purpose of Libertarian Party is to move public policy in a libertarian direction by building a political party that elects Libertarians to public office. That should be our primary purpose. Some say we need to educate people about libertarian ideas. But there are many other groups doing that. Nevertheless, the best way to educate people about libertarianism is to run candidates so we can introduce the libertarian perspective into political discussions.
In 2002, when we were still petitioning to get on the ballot, we fielded 139 candidates, including 89 for General Assembly – for a majority of seats in both houses. We have yet to come even close to that number. Of course, we’ve had to focus most of our money and resources on the governor's race to stay on the ballot. That time may be passed. My point is, if we want to start climbing again, we need to do better…. much better.
It’s also said we need to reach out to and energize the 33,000 plus registered Libertarians. Getting organized at the county level will help. Putting Libertarian names on the ballot for office at every level will give them something to get excited about, and more importantly, something and someone to work for. And it will also take money.
We also need to reach out to unaffiliated voters, who’ll soon be the second largest voting group in the state and already are the second largest voting group in a majority of counties.
The real significance of this trend is not so much that they’ve registered unaffiliated because studies show they generally vote Republican and Democrat. It is that they have chosen to not associate with the establishment parties like their parents and grandparents did. They have rejected or at least refrained from accepting, the two-party myth. They may or may not be Libertarians (big or small L) but they are fed up with the system and are looking for an alternative.
The downside is – they will vote for anyone who opposes the system, no matter how flawed or fake he or she is, just to strike at the system, as the election of our Tweeter-in-Chief has proven.
But the number of true independents is growing, and we have the opportunity to earn their support and vote because of our principals and our stand on particular issues.
The third thing we must do, which no one wants to talk about, is raising money
The inconvenient truth, if you will pardon the expression, is: Money is Mother’s Milk of Politics.
We can do many things with volunteers, but not all things, and possibly not the most important things. For that we need money.
Contrary to popular belief, the current Exec Comm does have a budget. But it’s a planning document, basically a wish list. We cannot spend money, or even commit to spending money we don’t have. That would be irresponsible. And we’re not the government. Nor can we adopt a realistic budget if we don’t have a predictable source of revenue. That would be irrational.
The party’s finances are in good shape in that we cover our costs, but in really bad shape because we are simply not doing enough. In other words, our expenditures are too low.
Our annual income from donations is about $10,000. Most of this comes from supporters, many of whom are in the room, who give monthly. This cover the costs of the convention, and web presence, emailing and other electronic resources. We’re able to participate in the state fair, the Dixie Classic Fair, the Fiesta del Pueblo and a few other outreach programs, but only because we raise money specifically for these events. And also run his convention on that basis (although we might make a little this year because of our extraordinary turnout).
But that is it. All our manpower is provided by volunteers, many of whom are in the room. We lack the resources to pay anyone to help with press relations, analysis, and most importantly, candidate assistance.
Right now, 43 of us make monthly contributions. If everyone in this room gave even $10 a month or increased their contribution by that amount, we would have an extra $10,000 a year.
That’s still not nearly enough, but even that would enable us to be much more visible in the State. I begin to salivate when I consider what we could do if everyone gave us just $20 or 25 a month.
This is no way to run a railroad, or a political party, or any meaningful endeavor. There are things we simply don’t even plan to do because we have no belief we can raise the money to do them.
For example, those 33,000 plus registered Libertarians we want to reach out to. It’s simply unrealistic to believe we can do that solely with volunteers.
If you doubt that, talk to anyone who was involved in our ballot access petition drives. These were the times when we mobilized the most volunteers ever. But we still had to rely on paid petitioners and national party support to be successful. Our last successful petition drive took almost three years, much longer than previous drives, because we did not get the financial support we needed.
Realistically to successfully reach out to all registered Libertarians we would need at least $15 - $20 thousand for a single mailing. I’m not saying this to be negative, or to imply it’s not worth the effort, or cannot be done. I’m just explaining the reality as I see it.
So, these three things we need to do to start climbing again: get organized, start running, and raise money.
One final point: I don’t care if you are a minarchist, a constitutionalist, an anarchist, an anarco- capitalist (or arachno-capitalist), a directionalist or a destinationist – or whatever hyphenated libertarian you want to self-identify as. I don’t care, and you shouldn’t either. The Libertarian Party is too small for us to be constantly arguing among ourselves about what kind of ropes, carbiners, harnesses, and anchors to use in our climb.
We also shouldn’t let our attention be diverted by the personality clashes occurring elsewhere in the party, or dwelling on who was or wasn’t a good presidential candidate.
We need to keep our eyes on the top of the mountain in, and it's not Denali, Pike’s Peak, or Mount Whitney; it’s Grandfather Mountain.
Let’s start climbing.
To paraphrase Tom Woods: The entire libertarian worldview is self-contained and coherent. We’re not a ramshackle hodgepodge of ideas. We don't have to borrow from left or right, conservative or liberal. We are not wannabes. We hold the most principled and consistent set of ideas of any party, principles we do not have to run away from or sugarcoat to make our point.
We’re not a populist movement, though we certainly are grassroots. It’s not primarily a ruling elite that libertarianism opposes; rather, it’s the idea that any group of people – whether it be an oligarchy or the majority – has the right to rule others.
Address presented to the 2017 LPNC State Convention, Lake Lure, Aug. 12