Emailed to email@example.com and also previously posted in IPR comments. Due to the highly litigious nature of the warring sides in the Libertarian Party of Oregon internal dispute, I’ll point out what is standard IPR procedure and usually goes without saying: neither I nor IPR are taking sides in that dispute by posting this account, nor are we making any claims to its veracity beyond the fact that it was related to us. We would also welcome an opinion column from the other side of the factional dispute, with the same rules applying.
By Wes Wagner:
A great amount of reflection has led me to conclude that my behavior in recent years towards the leadership of the Libertarian Party of Oregon has simply been abhorrent and downright unacceptable. It is my greatest regret that it has taken me so long to realize what I have done was wrong and that my actions would set back the party’s progress for years.
I suppose the root of the issue can be traced back to that infernal Libertarian Party Statement of Principles. The first time I read it I thought, “Wow … a nonauthoritarian organization that believes in the ethical treatment of all individuals as sovereign people with inherent rights!” I was simply too naïve at the time and political inexperienced to realize that was just a show piece for duping donors and voters to support the party leadership and send in money and was not actually meant to be adhered to. Had I not made that absurd first error, perhaps things would not have happened the way they did.
This, however, was hardly my first interpretive error. No, my childish transgressions progressed far beyond that. I recall still the moment when I attended an election night party, primarily for Mr. Cox who was deep into parlaying his involvement with the libertarian party into what would become his highly lucrative political career as a republican nobody who couldn’t even win a metro race after selling out the LPO in the most grand fashion and then being politically neutered by his new friends.
At that party, I was gifted by the presence of the ever charming then executive director Mr. Richard Burke. He expressed to me his elation that such a fine, well-dressed professional person had become more active in the party and convinced me to throw my hat in to become the Clackamas County Chairperson. You see this is where I made my next mistake. Apparently this was supposed to be a gesture… like how in an old lordly court when someone offers you a place up at the next table. Now as my wife could tell you, I was raised by wolves, and so no one ever explained to me how this whole social order thing worked. So as inept as I am, I actually thought that it was a responsibility and thus behaved as such an ass.
You see, it wasn’t until later I realized that my primary responsibility was supposed to be to keep the chair warm and play ball and sit up for Mr. Burke, unlike that smelly dirty hippy Ralph who was nipping around the idea of taking the position. (Shhh… don’t say anything, but I think he might have even smoked pot… we can’t have that in our party can we?)
Someone really should have told me what my role was… if you are planning to put people in the position because they are passive and stupid like me, you really should give them better instructions. Maybe you could make a printed manual, in a binder, kind of a handbook of sorts for well managed state committee members. I wager you could even turn it into workshops, with boilerplate ideas that have failed 50 times over, but will surely work the next time. There could even be no fee for attending the conference, but you could charge me something that is fair for the cost of the printed materials to help pay off a copier lease or something. After all, we need to keep using donor money to pay for staff and fancy offices, and we all should really pull our own weight for our own training materials. Donors don’t want freeloaders you know. If only I had something like those training courses though, maybe I would not have disappointed you. Oh, sorry… for a moment there I stopped taking personal responsibility. Let’s move on.
Over my time as Clackamas County Chairperson, I heard a lot of rumblings about grievances from party members about alleged unethical personal treatment by party staffers and “elected” leadership. When I expressed these concerns to the then executive director, he seemed not at all concerned about the allegations themselves but rather want to know who was saying them. Silly me! Apparently all these problems could have just been handled professionally. Our executive director had a system for handling these situations. There were so many options. Throwing out their party newsletters so they wouldn’t show up for meetings. Accidentally removing them from the membership list or adjusting their membership dates to disenfranchise them. Making up new rules on the spot like “good standing”. There were just so many options but I clearly was not creative and clever enough.
Had I simply know that there were these far more professional methods of creating party unity instead of actually listening to a person and acknowledging their concerns, perhaps this entire mess could have been averted.
Of course, if individual board members get out of line, there were ways of dealing with that too. If say, someone like Phil Schmitt were asking too many questions … apparently as a professional politician you are supposed to take each of the board members aside and make up a story, like, “Phil is just playing political games to try to take over the party.” As a good board member, apparently you are supposed to just accept this and isolate him so he will give up and go away. Oh boy, did I ever screw that one up! I actually talked to him! In retrospect, I am so embarrassed.
But my shame did not end there!
We had a treasurer at that time that was complaining about the party spiraling down into a quagmire of debt and the financial abuses of the executive director and how the board wouldn’t listen to her or do anything about it. Heck, at one point the executive director, clearly a qualified medical professional, even told me she had herpes and it affected her brain! What the hell was I thinking? Listening to the crazy ramblings of a herpes-addled embittered treasurer. Clearly had she told me water was wet I should have thought it was as parched as the desert sand after such a revelation about her credibility. But alas, no… I compounded my grievous and heinous acts against our beloved party by asking even more questions.
This brings up another fine skill that I was supposed to learn but didn’t. Our glorious misogynist leadership, if anything, tried to teach me how important it was to cavort with female staffers. This is extremely important because then they can be pressured to give things to you, like say LPNC fundraising and donor information, and if they ever turn on you, you can just claim they are bitter. I failed to learn that one too.
It was all really silly and I was just such a clueless hack who wouldn’t listen to any of the great advice everyone like Don Smith, Frank Dane, Eric Winters, Jerry DeFoe, and so many countless others who could have steered me back to sanity. And all those time those fellow board members told me to not be so uppity and that we were all supposed to be on the same team… and about loyalty and everything. You all tried so hard. Oh and a personal shout out to Mr. David Terry… when you kicked me off the libertarian mailing list, I know that was just your way of showing tough love. And that time at Sun River when you stood up and set me straight by reminding me in front of the entire convention that we can’t let the unwashed masses vote on anything because they may not vote the right way – well look at the mess we are in now because I didn’t listen to your sage council and tell them all to go to hell like the rest of you did.
For the sake of this apology not going on too long, I will skip forward some in time. Believe me; I am truly sorry about all that stuff in the middle too. Just take my word for it.
So after we have finally replaced our treasurer with the spouse of the chairperson things just went swimmingly. We went a long time between financial reports at state committee meetings, so things must have been perfect for a while there, but one day Mrs. Mayer seemed particularly frustrated and told me that she was concerned about the executive director using the party debit card to buy groceries for his apartment, again.
Well excuse me. Apparently misappropriation of party funds was supposed to be the tacit acceptance by the board as just compensation due to the large amounts of party debt owed to the director. Debt that had been accumulated because fundraising targets had not been met and the ever pressing need to make increasingly larger expenditures to prove how relevant we all were. I just was incapable of understanding the subtle complexities of our just right to violate campaign finance law and that is was prudent and necessary to put the entire enterprise at risk and that permitting the director to use the party bank account as his personal slush fund is just how professional politics is done.
Again… what an ass I was. You see, I actually… oh really this is very silly. I went out and actually demanded that the books and the financial reports to the Secretary of State should (oh really this is silly) be revised and made to reflect reality. Then this crazy guy named Lars Hedbor started acting up and asking repeatedly on a daily basis why there were so many personal debit card transactions on the bank account. You know they told me to shut him up. I suppose since he was in Clackamas County too he was supposed to be my personal stooge. He wasn’t though and I was just powerless to do a thing about it because I did not do my job of making sure my feudal territory was under my complete control. Damn it all… I couldn’t do anything right.
Well.. I wish I could say that it all ended there. That I learned my lesson and became the good solid stalwart professional and successful party member that the leadership thought I had the potential to be. But sadly, I failed.
I was so stubborn and pigheaded that I actually went out and filed a suit against the party to seek a alternative writ of mandamus to compel the party officials to obey corporate and state election finance law, and their own bylaws. At this point, I had clearly gone beyond the pale. Invoking the judicial process to prevent fraudulent governance is apparently only something we pay a token nod to… it is not meant to be actually be done! I really should have listened to the fine rhetorical discourse that followed. After such a massive amount of ad hominem attacks piled up, clearly any logical person who was not at all accustomed to succumbing to logical fallacy would have realized the error of their ways and repented much sooner.
When I refused to drop the suit, our great party patriot, Aaron Starr, himself a pillar of finance, volunteered to burn up $10,000 of his personal funds, no questions asked to ensure that the party books would stay at proper 350 degree baking temperature. This grand gesture of unquestioned party loyalty should have been an example to me. Party and political loyalty above principle, every time, no question! But my cold dark heart was unmoved by even the most noble and grand gesture of unflinching nationalistic pride.
After all of this, the membership of the Libertarian Party of Oregon felt the only way I could possibly learn the importance of all these skills everyone failed to teach me so far was to appoint me Chairperson.
Well the manners in which I messed that up are something of legend. Membership increased, people came back who had not been interested in the party for years that we had worked so hard to get rid of, bills were paid on time, we ran a positive P&L every month, outreach events cropped up, and there were even attempts made to push forward constitutional reform that would make the party more decentralized, federated and focused on individual leadership.
Fortunately new people showed up fresh from a conservative leadership conference to stop me from my insanity, so, in the end I and my other fellow ne’er-do-wells decided to not seek re-election and go hide in shame.
Fortunately after a couple years the party has found its footing again. They have a treasurer who does not file accurate reports and they spend most their time involved in political backbiting and having little dinner club meetings instead of growing candidates and membership.
I take some comfort in that my errors were, to a degree, reversed. It helps me sleep at least a little at night. I would ask that everyone take a moment, search your hearts, find that tiny bit of compassion left in you and consider forgiving me for the great crimes I have committed.
When you have had that moment of reflection, I would also ask that you consider giving me your support to be Oregon’s next Governor. I can promise you I have learned absolutely nothing from my experiences, so sending me to Salem may be a good idea.