A Third Choice: Don't Forget Us, Libertarian Party Says
This is reprinted with permission from The News & Observer of Raleigh.
Residents of North Carolina do have a third choice. It's called the Libertarian Party. Libertarians are back on the ballots in North Carolina, fielding 36 candidates in federal, state, and local races on Nov. 4.
The party has a presidential candidate, former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, who left the GOP to become a Libertarian. It has a candidate for governor, Duke University political science professor Mike Munger. And it has candidates for lieutenant governor, insurance commissioner, U.S. Senate, three candidates for U.S. House, 21 candidates for the state House or Senate, and six for local offices.
The party is small. Only 843 people are registered as Libertarians in the state, but the number doesn't adequately show the party's popularity.
Because of ballot-access laws, Libertarians are dropped from registration rolls every four years if they don't get at least 2 percent of the vote in the governor's race.
As a party, Libertarians can be hard to define. Some stances sound liberal -- legalize drugs and end the death penalty. Others sound conservative -- eliminate taxes and end welfare programs.
Munger, the party's top state candidate, sat down recently with Van Denton of The News & Observer and talked about what the party stands for and his own candidacy for governor.
Q: What does it mean to be a Libertarian?
A: Libertarians believe in self-ownership and personal responsibility. So I must be allowed to realize my full human potential, unshackling my own sense of unlimited human possibility. At the same time, though, I am responsible for any harm that I do to myself or others.
Q: What distinguishes the Libertarian Party from the state's two major political parties?
A: Humility. A recognition that there are limits on what government can promise and even greater limits on what it can deliver.
Q: How would you describe the Libertarian Party's political philosophy: Conservative? Liberal? Right of center? Left of center?
A: The simple answer is that Libertarians are conservative on economic issues and liberal on social issues. But I think it is more accurate to say that the Libertarians are consistent: We doubt claims that the judgment of government is better than the judgment of people. So letting individuals make their own judgments, on economics and on social policy, is the consistent principle that the Libertarians pursue.
The problem with people on the left, and generally Democrats, is they trust people on social matters but want to regulate their economic lives. The Republicans generally trust people on economic matters but want to moralize. They want to regulate their moral principles. We want to leave it up to people on both sides.
Q: Tell me how you would know if you had Libertarian leanings? How would I feel about taxes?
A: I would propose the following test: Taxes are being taken from people against their will. The taxpayer has something she wants to spend the money on. Maybe it's food or clothes for her children. Maybe it's a new Lexus.
Either way, you have to be sure, really sure, that the "public" purpose you have in mind is better than leaving it under the control of the taxpayer who earned it.
Now most of us believe that there are some things like that. The Libertarians don't propose cutting taxes to zero. But if you think that taxes are too high, and that some things we spend "government" money on are not justified ... well, then you might be a Libertarian.
Q: About illegal immigration?
A: Illegal immigration is a problem in the United States because we don't allow people to immigrate legally.
The simple way to put it is this: Libertarians are in favor of a high wall, and a wide gate. Let's police the borders, and stop illegal immigration. But then we should also allow people who want to work here, to share the American dream instead of the American welfare state, to enter legally.
Q: About Illegal drugs?
A: I want to help the government with law enforcement by getting rid of laws that regulate consensual behavior. And even if you think that taking drugs is wrong, as many people do, jail is not the answer.
Let's not put people in jail, let's send them to treatment for addiction. It's cheaper, and it gives them a chance to live productive lives.
Q: Have you always been a Libertarian?
A: I am a recovering Republican. It's not something you get over very quickly. I worked in the first Reagan administration. I actually worked with [Kentucky Sen.] Mitch McConnell, trying to prevent the passage of the McCain-Feingold legislation. I have been a big "L" Libertarian since 2003. I would say I have been a small "l" libertarian since high school.
Q: What led you to join the party?
A: I didn't change. The Republicans did. Congress and the president both attacked our privacy and exploded the deficit. They fought a needless war. And the Democrats have refused to take them on. I want to be part of the change, not the status quo.
Q: How many members are in the Libertarian Party in North Carolina?
A: We had 13,000 people registered in 2004. The state used its discretion to decertify the party. As a result, all those people against their will -- they weren't able to register for the party of their choice -- were called unaffiliated. Not surprisingly, not all of them by any means have come back. So I think we actually have registration of less than 1,000 now. But if you decertify all of the Democrats, a lot of them wouldn't go in and fill out the forms, either.
Q: OK. Let's talk about your campaign for governor. Is this your first one?
A: It is the first time I have run for elective office.
Q: What led you to try?
A: I have really learned a lot. I have been a political scientist for 25 years. I have learned more about politics in the past two than I did in the previous 25. So no matter what happens, this has been a great experience. But the immediate reason, the motivation, has been to try to raise issues that neither of the two state-sponsored parties want to address. Involuntary annexation, corporate welfare, the death penalty: my opponents agree on nearly everything. I want to offer a different perspective and at least make them answer the tough questions voters want answered.
Q: But this is serious to you, right? This is not just to write a book later or to become a better political scientist. You really want to be governor?
A: I think I would be a better governor than either of the other candidates. And I am sorry that that's true. Because I really don't have much experience in politics. I've been a leader, I've been a policy analyst, but I have not been bought and paid for by interest groups.
Experience, in this environment, is a bad thing. Look at the excitement about Barack Obama. In the debate, a guy was talking about health care, and about how bad the health care system was, and he said, "What are you, Bev Perdue, going to do about this?"
And her answer was, "For the last eight years I've been in charge of health care in North Carolina."
I can do better than that. I can be a good governor, and I can restore people's faith in their government by attacking corruption and closed-door meetings.
Q: List your top three issues and tell me what you hope to accomplish with each.
A: The first thing I would do after I am inaugurated is declare a moratorium on capital punishment. I think the way we apply the death penalty in North Carolina is unfair; until it's fixed, we have to stop the killing.
Q: No. 2?
A: I want to change the education system by putting responsibility and choice back in the hands of parents. So I would raise the ceiling on charter schools and try to work with the General Assembly to create a new voucher program.
Look, wealthy people have choices now. Poor people don't have choices. Charter schools, and vouchers, give people trapped in inner-city schools a sense of hope, a sense of possibility.
Q: And No. 3?
A: Our road system. I would create a highway commission composed of people affected by our transport system, not just those who profit from it. For the next three years, priorities would be decided by this highway commission, much like the federal military base closing commission. I would do the same thing for roads.
We have been diverting hundreds of millions out of the Highway Trust Fund into pet projects for powerful legislators. It's time to restore transparency, and honesty, to our transportation funding.
Q: Tell me why a vote for you on Nov. 4 wouldn't be a wasted vote.
A: All votes are wasted unless the election is decided by a single vote. The question is, how are you going to allocate that single vote that you have? Are you going to honor your principles or vote for the lesser of two evils?
Further, I need to get only 2 percent for the Libertarian Party to remain on the ballot as an alternative voice.
So, [if] you care about having a choice, about hearing a different voice, a vote for me is a vote for democracy.
If you hear me, you hear my message or the message of other Libertarians, and decide not to vote for us, well, we've lost a vote. If we are not on the ballot, you've lost a choice.
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