We’ve all heard of the Republican and Democratic Parties in the USA, but the third party of the US is the Libertarian Party. Third place in the last 2 presidential elections it is a party that promotes civil liberties, non-interventionism, laissez-faire capitalism and shrinking the size and scope of government. When I was recently in Orange County California, I visited the local chapter www.lpoc.org at their Executive Committee Meeting.
Part of the greater Los Angeles area, Orange Country contains a number of cities including Anaheim, Santa Ana, Irvine, Fullerton and Newport Beach where at the public library the meeting was held. In the 2018 House elections, Orange County, a famously Republican island in Democratic California, elected 6 Democrats for the House of Representatives, taking 4 seats from the Republicans.
Orange County has 1.7 million registered voters, of whom 13,000 (~1%) are registered Libertarians. The party has about 80 members, and like all minor parties’ struggles with a lack of resources to get its message out. As someone who has sat on many a committee meeting for a smaller party, the meeting felt very familiar and reassuring, if slightly depressing that I travelled 5000 miles and the challenges are much the same.
How did the Libertarians fair in the last elections?
California operates a top two primary system for many (but not all) races, whereby the top two candidates in the primaries run off in the main election. This often means both candidates are from the same party. The system works against smaller parties and meant the Libertarians had very few candidates in the local elections. The party have been successful in raising concerns about the system in the local media https://ocweekly.com/third-parties-shafted-again-in-oc-on-nov-ballot-thanks-to-jungle-primaries/
In Orange County between local, state wide and national elections, the Libertarians did field three candidates. This included a 2nd place finish with 24.8% of the vote in 69th district race for the California Assembly. In neighbouring Riverside county Libertarian Jeff Hewitt won a role on the board of supervisors (think something like a GLA member). In this race he raised $600,000 more than UKIP and the Greens spent combined in the 2017 General Election and was still outspent 3 times by the Republican candidate he beat.
Getting onto ballots varies by election type. Some elections require a filing fee, some only signatures, which requires a lot of campaign effort https://ballotpedia.org/Ballot_access_requirements_for_political_candidates_in_California. Once you are on the ballot, getting basic information out to voters in the formal information packs can cost thousands of dollars.
The focus for the party now is the 2020 election cycle and getting candidates elected. They really are focused on winning elections. Emphasised a few times in the meeting was the need to focus on issues not philosophy, and the need to be a political party not a philosophy club. There was a strong feeling Libertarians had for too long been focused on ideology rather than getting votes. The Chair used the slogan “reasonable solutions for issues we all care about”, which felt a great way to move forward. Have Libertarian principles, but be relevant to people.
Local campaigning differs in a few ways in the US. Anyone who has campaigned in the UK will know the joy of finding, using and trying to not get bitten by, letter boxes. In the US the federal government owns your ‘mailbox’ as such leafleting is less of a feature. You can leave a leaflet on a porch or stuck in a door, but can be fined if deposited in a mailbox. The feds wanting campaigns to pay the US Postal Service for leaflet delivery. The local party runs a table at the student fair, operates on social media and does canvassing although this really requires greater numbers of people than available.
Everywhere there is more money in US politics, even the local group has exceeded the $2000 funding threshold to report to California Political Practices Commission. This is someway north of what most small local parties in the UK would have. They are thinking of investing some of this in a button making machine, something very American. Much like at home where local Labour and Conservative clubs support but aren’t officially linked to the party the group has two Libertarian clubs (groups that meet up) which are a mix of party and social gatherings.
What are the issues in Orange County?
The main traction for the Libertarians is fiscal conservativism, with lots of support for social media posts on less regulation for businesses and lower taxes. They are also starting to focus on the more positive immigration stance of the party to set them apart from the Republicans. In an area where housing is as expensive as London, zoning rules to help reduce property costs is also coming to the fore.
It was great to see a bit of politics from across the pond. Also how a smaller party operates with a lot stacked against them. The fight for individual freedom and liberty really matters, and these guys plugging away for it get my support every time.
Author Mike Swadling