Fritz Sands: Thoughts on the LPWA Bylaw change regarding trans-partisanship candidate endorsement

The following was taken from the Libertarian Party of Washington Facebook page: 

Thoughts on the LPWA Bylaw change regarding trans-partisanship candidate endorsement

By Fritz Sands, LPWA At-Large State Executive Committee Member

 

At the recent convention of the Libertarian Party of Washington, the delegates voted to accept a bylaw change that allows the endorsement of candidates who are not members of the LP, removes all language about Libertarian primaries, and removes the distinction between candidates for partisan and non-partisan offices.  This change has generated comment both locally and nationally.  Since I wrote this specific bylaw change that was adopted, I would like to clarify my thoughts in writing.  Note that these are my thoughts, not those of the rest of the Bylaws Committee nor those of the rest of the State Executive Committee.

 

Top Two

 

The first and most important reason for the change was to bring the language of the bylaws into accord with the realities of the Top Two Primary system of Washington State.  It makes no sense to have bylaws that specify the conduct of a Libertarian Party Primary when there is no such thing.

 

In 2004, WA voters approved Initiative 872 and put the Top Two Primary system in place.  There were a few goals to the project – one, I suspect, is that many voters feel absolutely affronted that there might be a vote that they aren’t allowed to take part in.  And, in fairness, a Democrat in a heavily Republican district or a Republican in a heavily Democratic district can certainly feel disenfranchised.  Another, more public goal, was to “encourage” more mainstream, less ideological candidates in the November election.  The Top Two system was a body blow to all the ideological “minor” parties in Washington State – not just the Libertarian Party, but the Green Party, the Constitution Party, etc.   Since 2004 there have been very few, if any, candidates on the November ballot who identify as anything other than Republican or Democrat. Membership in the LPWA plummeted in the 8 years after Top Two was implemented.

 

The Top Two system is here to stay.  Our lawsuit was rejected.  The legislature will not touch it.  Running a counter  initiative is incredibly far-fetched – we would have to convince a majority of Washington voters that they do not have a right to vote in each and every election.  That simply is not going to happen.  So we have to learn to survive and even thrive in this environment.

 

One interesting effect of the Top Two system is that all political parties have completely lost control of their branding.  A candidate can choose to say “Prefers Independent”.  A candidate can make up a party and say “Prefers All Night Party”.  A candidate can say “Prefers Republican” even if he has never been to a Republican function.   This is another reason why our language needed to change.  What if there is a “Libertarian Party” candidate (i.e. he has signed the Pledge and paid $25) who we nominate and who then goes on the ballot as “Prefers Republican”?  Are we supposed to then withdraw his nomination?  Why? What if he really IS a Libertarian but he wants to say “Prefers Republican” because it makes political sense?

 

In the Top Two world, there are virtually no differences between partisan races and non-partisan races.  In both cases, the November election is a run-off between exactly two candidates.  In both cases, political parties have no choices about which candidates are on the ballot and are using their names.  So in my language changes, I explicitly removed the differences and all we are left with is “endorsing” candidates for any public office.  Because, in reality, that is all any political party can do.

 

In the long run, I would LOVE for candidates to proudly state that they “Prefer Libertarian”.  I would LOVE for such candidates to get to the November election, and to win.  But right now, in 2013 and 2014, that is not happening.

 

Ron Paul Republicans

 

One of the opportunities we have (but can easily screw up and lose) is to work with Ron Paul Republicans (Republican Liberty Caucus, etc.) to further mutual goals.   One of the first aspects of working with them is to respect their desire to work within the Republican Party.  Yes, that is not our path.  But we need to honor their choice.  I want us to be able to endorse (with caveats to be discussed later) RLC candidates even though they are not members of the LP, when such an endorsement makes sense politically.  I want to be able to help them with resources when they have a good candidate and I would expect them to help us when we have a good candidate.

 

As a side note – of course, we could in theory have this same type of relationship with a liberty caucus in the Democratic Party.  However, such an organization does not really exist, and so I have concentrated on organizations that do exist.

 

Fiscally Responsible and Socially Accepting

 

That phrase was a key message of the Gary Johnson campaign in 2012, and he used it to describe libertarians in very broad terms – broad enough to include a significant percentage of Americans.  In terms of finding candidates, it seems that it could describe a lot of Republicans and Democrats who are interesting in moving somewhat toward a more liberty-oriented society, but who have not gone so far toward libertarian thought as to even be able to see the interminable miniarchist/anarchist debates.  We are talking about candidates who would like to legalize pot but not meth, or who want to remove corporate welfare programs but not family welfare programs, or who want legal food carts and trucks but want health department regulations on them, or wants more immigration but not completely open borders.  In short, these are candidates who win office and who we can work with on specific pieces of legislation.    Does it make sense to be unable to endorse these candidates because they are not Libertarians, per se, even if they can advance the cause of a freer society?

 

Caveats

 

OK – this is where it gets really sticky.  How do we decide what candidates to endorse and how to couch the endorsement?  How do we come up with a process that is transparent and nuanced?

 

I think (and this is a STRONG suggestion from my wife, Kyra Sands, and I highly respect her strong suggestions) that we need to come up with some sort of minimal checklist of agreement with libertarian principles and have clear statements of where any candidate under discussion for endorsement differs from party positions.  These should be listed openly.  I think perhaps we should develop a simple questionnaire – as many groups do.    Something like the Nolan chart quizzes, but with specific issues.

 

And, because I believe in dragging the closet door open, there is one issue on which this is likely to be very visibly a point of contention.  And the issue is…  abortion.   How do we approach candidates who are mostly pro-liberty but who are anti-choice?

 

Kyra’s opinion is that any official LP endorsement of an anti-choice candidate must include a disclaimer and not be a blanket endorsement.  I think that is wise.  It does not keep us from making such an endorsement, but it clearly states where there are going to be disagreements.

 

Can we screw this up?  Indeed we can.  Are there opportunities for diluting our message?  Yep.  Will we sometimes get co-opted?  Probably.

 

But the alternative is irrelevance.

 

Conclusions

 

This is something we needed to do.    Yes, we were pushed into this by the Top Two system in this state – and I am not exaggerating when I say that a real alternative is the death of the LP in WA state.  Honestly, though, it is a change that Libertarian parties in other states should consider.  I ran for office in 1980 and 1982 in California.  We had major party status and tried to get at least “paper” candidates in many races. Some of us spent almost no money (I think I spent $400 running for state assembly) but went to candidate forums and TV debates and got some exposure.  Got on the November ballot, all my friends got to vote for me, I got a percent or two.  That was great for a party that was less than 10 years old.   But the party is now 40 years old.   We absolutely need to step up our game.

38 thoughts on “Fritz Sands: Thoughts on the LPWA Bylaw change regarding trans-partisanship candidate endorsement

  1. Krzysztof Lesiak Post author

    YES.

    Every other Libertarian Party affiliate in the country should follow suit. It makes no fucking sense whatsoever that many states’ bylaws, like the Illinois LP’s, prevent them from endorsing liberty candidates running as Republicans.

    And BTW, Roger MacBride, the Libertarian Party’s 1976 presidential candidate and 1972 “faithless elector” for John Hospers, founded the Republican Liberty Caucus (RLC). LP should definitively collaborate with them whenever they have a chance – so that more liberty candidates can win!

  2. Just Wondering

    I have followed the issue from a far and I got a couple questions that I hope can be clarified.

    1. Can LPWA endorse a Republican Party Member in race where there is a Libertarian Party Member Running?

    2. Can LPWA endorse and, or give their party line in a Presidential Race to a candidate from another party. Example; LPWA endorses and gives their party line on the ballot to Rand Paul in Republican and Libertarian Party nominates another candidate.

    I am not looking for a response “That would never happen”. I want to know if it is possible under your bylaws revision. Because if it is possible, that could have a real influence on how people feel.

  3. David

    Parties can support the candidate of their choice, but unless we have fusion, do parties need to officially endorse candidates who are not members of the party. In some top two legislation, political parties are not permitted to officially endorse candidates, so those parties can’t control their brand. In states like Montana, Republicans are working to destroy their brand via this top two system.

  4. Thomas L. Knapp

    The Libertarian National Committee’s bylaws are not unclear on this subject:

    “No affiliate party shall endorse any candidate who is a member of another party for public office in any partisan election.”

    Of course, that bylaws provision has been ignored/unenforced for years, especially in states with “fusion.” But if it’s going to be ignored/unenforced it should be repealed.

  5. Deran

    Top Two really does pretty much wreck most electoral efforts by third parties and independents (other than for President) in WA. BUT, doesn’t this action by the WA LP essentially make the state LP a Republican Party sidebar? I mean, why have a third party if all you are going to do is support the political duopoly?

    This is no better than the Working Families Party as an adjunct to the Democrats.

    It would make more sense to me to just stay out of electoral politics, except for President, in WA State.

    When ever you work for a Democratic or Republican candidate you give legitimacy to the Republican or Democratic parties.

  6. David Colborne

    Given the situation in WA, this makes sense. The alternative isn’t “endorse only Libertarian candidates in November”, it’s “go home and watch some sports” after whatever month WA’s primaries happen. This at least gives the LPWA something to do during the meat of the election cycle.

  7. George Phillies

    Why would Libertarians endorse Republican warmongers?

    The LPWA should make a point of opposing whichever party gave them top two — I gather this was the Republicans. “Oppose” means “Vote Republican! Vote for Torture!” and the like. Vigorously contested primaries first to make life unpleasant for other candidates is a good point.

  8. Stewart Flood

    @4,

    South Carolina has fusion campaigns. If someone files as both a Libertarian and with another party, he or she must win both nominations to stay on the ballot in the general election. If we nominate the candidate, we are not endorsing another party’s candidate, we are endorsing our own candidate.

    If the candidate fails to obtain the other party’s nomination, or if the candidate obtained the other party’s nomination and failed to obtain our’s then he or she is off the ballot. So we are not endorsing another party’s candidate, regardless of what happens.

    Two notes: candidates do lose to NOTA at our conventions. Non-libertarian candidates occasionally file and show up at our convention expecting a cake walk and end up with a pie in face instead). There have also been libertarians who, for one reason or another, fail to demonstrate to the convention that they will run a credible libertarian campaign and lose to NOTA.

    Second note: the SCLP has never had a fusion candidate. We could, and we believe it does not violate the national bylaws, but we have never done it.

    Third note: there was actually a candidate (years ago) who filed as both a republican and democratic party candidate, won both nominations and was on the ballot as both…unopposed. Unbelievable!

  9. Thomas L. Knapp

    SF @ 8,

    “South Carolina has fusion campaigns. If someone files as both a Libertarian and with another party, he or she must win both nominations to stay on the ballot in the general election. If we nominate the candidate, we are not endorsing another party’s candidate, we are endorsing our own candidate.”

    1) To endorse is not necessarily to nominate, but to nominate is necessarily to endorse.

    2) The bylaws prohibition is not on “endorsing another party’s candidate,” it is on “endorsing a candidate who is a member of another party.” A candidate is by definition a member of the party or parties on whose ticket he runs.

    I sympathize with the idea of “fusion” where it is available and where a party is not large, strong or well-financed enough to compete without it.

    That does not change the fact that “fusion” nominations by an LNC affiliate violates the LNC’s bylaws. It does. Period.

  10. David

    George, look up State of Wasington Grange v Washington Republican party in the Supreme Court. The Republicans have opposed top two in various states, including Oregon (Measure 65), CA (prop 14) and prop 121 in Arizona. The Montana Republicans are supporting top two as a way to eliminate libertarians from the general. Even Arizona gov Jan Brewer
    oOpposed prop 121.

  11. Fritz Sands

    I am glad that my essay has generated some commentary.

    I certainly do not see either a LPWA convention or the executive committee endorsing a Republican “warmonger”. In fact, I believe any endorsement of people not active in the LP will be nuanced and with caveats, rather than blanket. Which is appropriate.

    But if the two legally-allowed candidates for a state assembly seat in the November election are a Ron Paul Republican and a Democrat pushing gun confiscation, well… Should we sit on the sidelines?

    Yes, I think there will be issues with the national LP over this. I hope the national LP can see their way to letting the WA LP adapt to some very serious local circumstances.

    Bear in mind that the state of Washington has, at best, only a tenuous concept of political parties. Not only do parties not even get to now pick candidates that bear their name, the state does not even register voters by party. There really is no legal concept here of “member of the Republican Party”. We keep track of “member of the Libertarian Party”, but only because of the requirement to sign the no-initiation-of-force pledge.

  12. Just Wondering

    I assume there is still a Libertarian Line on The Washington Presidential Ballot. I know Gary Johnson was on your ballot in Washington in 2012.

    My question is, Can The LPWA endorse or put another party’s candidate besides The Libertarian Party Presidential Nominee on the ballot as The Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate in Washington.

    For example, let says you have some very influential people within The LPWA that are strong advocates for trans partisan endorsements. They believe Republican Rand Paul would make a better presidential candidate than The Libertarian Party Nominee. Does this bylaw change empower LPWA to run someone else besides the Libertarian Party Nominee for President in Washington. In other words put Rand Paul on the ballot in place of The LP Nominee.

  13. James Donovan

    Someone needs to go out and collect 1000 signatures for the candidate. The party can organize that effort or the candidate can. Basically that is how a presidential candidate gets on the ballot in Washington State.

  14. Fritz Sands

    The Presidential race is, indeed, special. It is the only partisan race that may have more than two candidates.

    The legal procedure is that a political party (which is, as I said, not all that defined) picks a candidate and has the candidate sign an affidavit saying that he wants to be on the ballot as a candidate of that party. Then the party holds “mini-conventions” advertised in the local newspaper of record 10 days in advance and gathers signatures from *any* registered voter for the candidate. This happens in June through July. In 2012 we held mini-conventions at various Gay Pride venues, at Gasworks park, on street corners, and at a Walmart parking lot. You get 1000 signatures and send them in.

    According to state law, the WA LP could decide to go for Rand Paul in 2016. And, yeah, with this bylaws change it would be in accordance with our bylaws. Since the national LP is unlikely to nominate Bob Barr again, I find that highly unlikely, though.

    Ultimately endorsements can be made by the political party in convention. You cannot use the bylaws too effectively to contrain a convention — the convention can change the bylaws with a majority vote.

  15. John Macy

    Why assume that the LP would cross-nominate Republicans? Personally if I was cross-nominating another party besides Libertarian, it would be Green.

  16. Nicholas Sarwark

    Does anyone have bylaws language that would allow cross-nominations, but also allow Washington to deal with their top-two problem?

    The simplest change I can think of is to modify the existing language to read:

    “No affiliate party shall endorse any candidate who is not a member of the Libertarian Party or an affiliate Party for public office in any partisan election.”

    That’s a weaker limitation than the current language, though it does still require a prospective nominee to actually join the LP, above and beyond just giving a good speech.

  17. Fritz Sands

    Nicholas, that seems like a splendid idea.

    And, yes, I could definitely see endorsing a Green candidate, although there are few districts where it is at all plausible that someone would be on the November ballot with “prefers Green”.

  18. Sam Kress

    “In a choice between a homophobic antiabortionist and a gun grabber”

    Pox on both. Stand outside voting places with a picket sign and hand out anti “top two” flyers all day at the general elections in November.

  19. Richard Winger

    No one should assume that top-two is going to exist forever in Washington state. No one seems to have agitated for Washington state to return to the blanket primary that was used 1934-2002. It is constitutional if the ballots and voter handbook continue to say that all candidates for Congress and state partisan office are voter-nominated. It’s just that the voters would be choosing a nominee from the ranks of each party. The Washington state legislature is free to implement this change. Top-two is not in the State Constitution, so the legislature could change it if it wished. We should at least be suggesting the idea. Also it could be the subject of an initiative, and it would pass, because a blanket primary retains all the voter freedom in the primary, and yet expands choices on the November ballot to just two. Even the Grange might support it.

  20. Stewart Flood

    @18,

    Looks good on first read. Not sure if there are any loopholes to worry about, but it is worth considering.

    Now is the time to be talking about things like this.

  21. Sam Kress

    “No affiliate party shall endorse any candidate who is not a member of the Libertarian Party or an affiliate Party for public office in any partisan election.”

    That’s even more limiting in some ways than the current language. As it is, the present formula allows the LP to endorse someone who is not a member of any party, whereas this would not. On the other hand, I guess this would allow the LP to endorse someone who is a member of the LP as well as another party, unlike what we have now.

  22. Thomas L. Knapp

    NS @ 18,

    Your proposed language is interesting, but I’m not sure how it would affect existing state bylaws.

    For example, the Missouri LP’s bylaws used to define a current party member as one who had done one or more of several things, including running as a candidate of the party in the previous two years.

    So that could be a chicken and egg kind of thing — the person becomes a party member by running for office, but can’t run for office without being a party member, and round and round she goes.

    Why not just

    1) Eliminate the existing language and trust the state LPs to nominate (with the endorsement nominations imply) the candidates they choose?

    2) Replace that language with a prohibition on endorsing a candidate who is running in a partisan election, on the ticket of another party, against an LP nominee for that office?

    That would accommodate both fusion and state LPs endorsing candidates in races where there are no LP candidates.

  23. Gene Berkman

    GP says -” In a choice between a homophobic antiabortionist and a gun grabber, I certainly see no reason to support the Republican.”

    In 2012, the Massachusetts LP only ran one candidate for Congress, against a Gay Republican who is pro-choice on abortion.

    Just FYI.

  24. Nicholas Sarwark

    @25:

    Why not just
    1) Eliminate the existing language and trust the state LPs to nominate (with the endorsement nominations imply) the candidates they choose?

    Disaffiliation needs to be done for cause, so what would justify cause should be defined in the bylaws so as to avoid “just because” as a purported cause. Letting state affiliates nominate anyone would open an affiliate up to being converted into a stalking horse for one of the other parties. Not that it can’t happen anyway, but the bylaws should be clear that it’s improper.

    2) Replace that language with a prohibition on endorsing a candidate who is running in a partisan election, on the ticket of another party, against an LP nominee for that office?

    That depends too much on timing, which is often out of sync between LP nominations and D/R nominations. Also, how could a state party both nominate a candidate for a race and endorse a candidate of another party for the same race?

  25. Krzysztof Lesiak Post author

    @26

    Yep, and because of Libertarian Dan Fishman and his inflated ego, his 4.5% prevented Richard Tisei from being elected and assured the incumbent corrupt Democrat stayed in office.

    And Fishman, BTW, was pro-Israel and pro-Fair Tax. Ugh.

    The LP could have run in TWO districts where the Democratic congressman was running unopposed, but no. They just had to run against Tisei.

  26. Thomas L. Knapp

    NS @ 27,

    “Also, how could a state party both nominate a candidate for a race and endorse a candidate of another party for the same race?”

    It has happened. I seem to recall that after the Republican Party nominated David Duke for Louisiana’s state legislature, it then endorsed his Democratic opponent.

    Also, there may be a threshold point where “endorsement by an affiliate party’s officers” should be considered “endorsement by the affiliate party.”

    For example, Eric Dondero claims (yes, I know that he makes shit up, so it may not be true) that “the Alaska LP endorsed Sarah Palin for governor in 2006.” When questioned on the claim, it just turns out that some members of the Alaska LP’s leadership endorsed Palin. I don’t recall whether it was a majority, or whether the ALP had a candidate in the race.

    In another instance, several prominent California LP officials endorsed a Republican, rather than the Libertarian Party’s nominee, for governor in the 2003 recall election. I don’t recall whether that group included a majority of state officers or not …

    … but you can probably agree that “the members of the [insert state here] LP’s executive committee unanimously endorsed Mitt Romney for president as opposed to their party’s nominee, Gary Johnson,” could be reasonably reported/related as “the [insert state here] LP endorsed …”

  27. Nicholas Sarwark

    @29: Endorsement of another party’s candidate by LP members happens and is not the same as a party endorsement. In Maryland, there have been “Libertarians for _____” groups, though usually only when there’s no LP candidate running.

    Anyway, I want a set of bylaws that handles the normal cases, not the extreme outliers.

  28. Mike McDonald

    “Also, how could a state party both nominate a candidate for a race and endorse a candidate of another party for the same race?”

    State parties don’t nominate presidential candidates and may not be happy with the national choice. A state party could even conceivably be taken over just for that reason.

  29. George Phillies

    @28 I am proud to report that Massachusetts Libertarians did run a candidate for Congress in the same race as a candidate in the Republican Party of torture. Goddess willing, we will do it again next time, too! While it is true that the candidate of the Republican war crimes party was defeated, precinct-by-precinct analysis shows that the Libertarian drew preferentially from the Democrat.

  30. Warburton Trevonius Folsom

    Thank you for running a candidate against the ultra-warmonger party.

  31. Thomas L. Knapp

    NS @ 31,

    “I want a set of bylaws that handles the normal cases, not the extreme outliers.”

    That’s pretty easy to get. Just eliminate the language that prevents fusion, and trust the state LPs to handle their own nominations / endorsements. The “normal case” is that they’ll do so.

  32. John Macy

    So what’s the problem? LP ran against a pro war corporatist Republican? Good, let’s do more of that!

  33. Krzysztof Lesiak Post author

    @33

    But you had TWO districts in which the Democrat incumbent ran unopposed! Why were those districts left out? Putting out candidates in those would have generated a good amount of publicity for the LP hopefully and also excellent percentages as well.

  34. George Phillies

    Actually, Massachusetts has nine Congressional districts. Thus, there were six other districts in which we could have run against a candidate of the Republican antiabortionist girl-killer party.

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