L. Neil Smith's
Number 206, January 13, 2003


The Soft Underbelly of American Politics
by James G. Maynard

Special to TLE

It is nearly impossible to influence the Presidential election. The Democrats and Republicans are each likely to spend over $100 million dollars, largely taxpayer funded, to win the contest. The Commission for Presidential Debates is now the only organization which sponsors presidential debates which the Democrats and Republicans will appear in, and their standards for inclusion make it nearly impossible for any third-party candidate to compete.

Federal and State elections are being gagged in "election reform", and tax-payer funded campaigns and mailings. This makes it nearly impossible to elect a Senator or Congress-person, unless said candidate were willing to donate several million dollars to his or her own campaign.

Voters are also unlikely to vote for candidates for high office, unless that person has experience at a lower, yet still significant, office.

The two old parties train and groom their candidates through smaller offices and appointments before allowing them to run for Governor, much less Senator or President.

The Libertarian Party now has dozens of City Council members, and over a dozen mayors currently in office. This shows we can win smaller, but significant offices. However, we need to elect a lot more people at these levels before we can expect to win higher office.

The door is still open for us to do so. Most local elections are held in odd-numbered years, and for local elections, BCRA and other campaign reform and laws do not apply. These are also the elections where a liberty-loving candidate can go out and meet the voters s/he will be representing, and it is usually possible to run successful campaigns at this level for very little money.

These elections are the best place for Libertarians to become known, gain valuable election experience, and win local office. Off-year elections are the soft underbelly of American politics.

Even state laws often do not apply to local elections. This is not meant to mean that one should run a "dirty campaign" during these years, but what it does mean is that financial reporting requirements may be nil to non-existent, petitioning may be just a few signatures, or not required at all, and candidates are usually free to raise money from any source, in any amount, across the country.

Unlike state offices, these local campaigns are rarely expensive, with most winning candidates having to spend only a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. It is relatively easy to raise this amount of money in a fairly short period of time.

And local offices are where many of the decisions are made which can effect people's lives on a day-to-day basis. This is where decisions are made about school budgets, local property taxes, and zoning ordinances. Although one is unlikely to make decisions which seem to be the most interesting (foreign policy, income taxes, Social Security), pro-liberty, low-tax candidates can do a great deal of good for their communities.

In addition, this can be a "proving ground" for candidates vying for later, larger offices. Nothing succeeds like success, and if Libertarians prove themselves en masse at city and county levels throughout the nation, we are far more likely to be asked to occupy higher offices.

If a computer technician, say, were to run for Governor, it would be likely that the state media would not take the candidate seriously, unless s/he was backed by several million dollars. However, a Mayor of a decent sized city in the state WOULD be taken seriously by media and voters alike. After all, s/he has political experience, an experienced campaign staff, and a political record to stand on (notice that the LP's best result for Governor was Ed Thompson in Wisconsin, and he was the Mayor of Tomah before running for the state's highest office).

The office of Mayor (in most cities) is a winnable office, even for a neophyte. Just a few activists in most cities and towns would be enough to lower town and city budgets, create bold tax relief, and build the party for future success.

If one wishes to compete with the Yankees on a Montreal Expos Budget ($40 Million as opposed to $170 Million for you non-baseball fans), there is no way to do it right away. BUT it is possible to expend that money and time developing future players. Those players, in time, can learn to compete with the "big boys".

The Libertarian Party needs its own AAA team (one step below the major leagues, where potential major league players train), and we have it. The off-year elections.

The Democrats and Republicans are so concerned with planning for Presidential and Congressional races, that they have begun to lose sight of local elections. This is where we need to be our strongest.

There is little "incumbent protection" in the off-year elections, and the two old parties are no longer giving many resources to their candidates in these races. This means we have a far greater chance of winning these elections, and winning local offices gives us a greater, more experienced, better known slate of candidates to win higher office in future elections.

Towards this end, I have recently established a discussion group on Yahoo!, Local_Libs. This group is for Libertarians to exchange ideas, information and resources to help each other win local offices. The group may be found at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Local_Libs.

Some states require that candidates running for local office file a declaration of intent with the ci! ty hall or state SOS as early as late January. If you or someone you know are even thinking of running, you should call your local election office, and see what the requirements are. Even if you have no intention of winning, it is possible to use your candidacy to promote pro-liberty viewpoints in debates, forums and in interviews.

We need to begin work now to win dozens of local offices this November. We have seen the soft underbelly of American politics, and it is the off-year elections.


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