David Colborne: In Remembrance of James “Libertarian” Burns

James Libertarian Burns Posted to David Colborne’s blog, Retroactive Ramblings

James Libertarian Burns was active with the Libertarian Party of Nevada from as early as 1973. The LP was so small then that the Libertarian Party wasn’t allowed on the Nevada ballot. So, Mr. Burns legally changed his middle name to “Libertarian” and ran as a Republican–hence, the word “Libertarian” appeared on the ballot. He was chairman of the Nevada LP at least twice; served as Clark County Chairman; as At-Large Representative; and as Southern Regional Representative of the LPN Executive Committee. He held assorted other positions, ran for several public offices, and ran for the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination more than once. After his passing in December 2013, he was the subject of a tribute at the Nevada LP’s convention on Saturday, February, 8, 2014 in Las Vegas, NV.

Here is a tribute written about him from an associate and friend in the Libertarian Party of Nevada.

Like many in the Libertarian community, I learned that James “Libertarian” Burns passed away weeks after he actually did so. This wasn’t a huge surprise – he’s been struggling with some serious health issues for over a year now. Nor was it a tremendous surprise that it took a month to find out about his passing; for someone so consistently outspoken about whatever was near and dear to him, he was a very private individual. Even so, learning of his passing hit me hard. That’s why I wanted to kick off his memorial at the Libertarian Party of Nevada’s State Convention and why I want to take a moment to reflect on how his life touched mine and how his presence will be missed.

When I first started getting active in the Libertarian Party in Nevada – seriously active at the state level, not just showing up to a few college and local events like I used to – one of the first people that introduced themselves to me at my first state convention was Jim Burns. He handed me a pamphlet, a tri-fold black and white on glossy paper, that detailed in tiny print and unerring exactness what he was going to do if he was elected to President of the United States. It was incredibly detailed, pie-in-the-sky Libertarian true believer agitprop – he was going to end the Fed, abolish all income taxes, eliminate pretty much any and every government agency he could list by name, send all the troops home, you name it. I remember looking through it incredulously. Later in the convention, I watched him attempt to run for Central Regional Representative for the state Executive Committee, only to lose to “None of the Above” twice. He was clearly distraught – here was a man that was campaigning for the 2012 Presidential nomination in 2008 and he couldn’t even get elected to a near-meaningless state Libertarian Party position when running unopposed. What amazed me, though, was that, though he was clearly defeated and left not long after failing to secure the Executive Committee seat, his demeanor was not the demeanor of a defeated man. It was clear that he would be back, on his own terms, and ready to say or do whatever he felt needed to be said and done at the next convention.

I was impressed. A little confused, but impressed. I made sure we swapped contact information by the end of the convention.

It didn’t take long before he started calling me. In preparation for the 2010 Senate race – the one that Senator Reid ultimately won – Jim Burns started actively campaigning throughout the state well in advance of the nomination convention. Though I didn’t personally agree with his particular flavor of Libertarianism – I found it a little too old-school and dogmatic for my personal taste – I appreciated the fact that he was actually asking for my vote, instead of assuming it by default*. Consequently, I supported his efforts even when many around me refused to do so.

I’m glad I did – that loyalty was rewarded and then some.

In 2011, the local Libertarian Party chapter that represented Washoe County was disaffiliated for the second time in three years. In the process, I found myself largely shut out and isolated, in no small part due to some unfortunate choices on my end. One person, however, refused to give up on me and refused to let me give up on myself. That person was James Libertarian Burns. When most people in the Libertarian Party of Nevada refused to talk on the phone with me, he was always ready with a phone call, an inspirational speech, and a call to action. He was not going to let me go silently into the night – not if he had anything to say about it. For over a year, we discussed various harebrained schemes to reclaim the Libertarian Party of Nevada, each more implausible than the last. I knew deep down that all of the plans were doomed to failure – they required considerable capital outlays and a uniquely “libertarian” interpretation of existing campaign finance reform laws – but it didn’t matter. Discussing the plans and putting them on the table gave each of us hope and, in the end, that’s all that really mattered. That hope, and the circumstances that made that hope necessary, made us allies and brought us together.

It took a while, but our hope eventually paid off. It took our current chair, Brett Pojunis, getting effectively expelled from the Executive Committee himself, but we were finally brought in out of the cold. At our 2013 convention in November, I pushed to place the preamble from Jim Burns’ draft bylaws into our own and succeeded:

People should be allowed to live as they choose so long as they neither initiate violence, coercion, nor engage in theft or fraud. We adopt the Statement of Principles of the National Libertarian Party.

It wasn’t hard – it was a better preamble than anything anybody else came up with. It encapsulated the ideals and convictions the bylaws were designed to facilitate with the least adornment and effort possible. Even so, when the amendment to place his preamble into our bylaws was passed without objection, the look on his face told me everything that needed to be said – his struggle was done. In the end, he had won.

Looking back, I’m immensely grateful that I was able to help him witness part of his vision coming to life. I’m grateful that I was able to show him that his opinion was respected in the Libertarian Party once more. My only regret was that he wasn’t able to continue to witness the hard-earned fruits of his labor of love, if only for a little longer.

James Libertarian Burns, you will be missed. Thank you for everything.

* Unlike major parties, the Libertarian Party chooses its candidates almost exclusively through conventions. Because there are never anywhere near as many Libertarian candidates interested in running for office as there are available partisan offices, oftentimes by several orders of magnitude, Libertarian Party nominations are effectively handed out in a “first come, first serve” manner.

David Colborne is currently the Northern At-Large Representative of the Libertarian Party of Nevada

12 thoughts on “David Colborne: In Remembrance of James “Libertarian” Burns

  1. David

    A good friend of mine who at the time was one of the first chairs and founding member of the Northern California LP was working against a condemnation procedure against an elderly lady by K-Mart. I’m thinking it was Seaside Ca. One of the first people to offer to help and send money was James Burns. I knew James from the National Conventions, where he was running for president.

  2. Kris McKinster

    Excellent eulogy, David. I believe Jim Burns was also the first registered Libertarian voter in Nevada. His website is still up at http://jimburnsforpresident.com

    I did some work with Jim Burns on his website briefly before I was accepted into the LPN’s inner circle. I listened to him explain his ideas for who knows how many hours. He invited me to tour the country with him on his campaign for president. I seriously considered it.

    I found him to be an intelligent, principled, uncompromising libertarian. I’ve heard others say he was “socially awkward” or “eccentric” but I never saw him that way. Unpopular and unrealistic at times perhaps, but that’s what most people say about libertarians.

    Burns and I unfortunately ended up on opposite political factions. After working together, he put me on the spot when I took the podium at a Nye County LP meeting, asking how is it libertarian to require dues for membership. He then accused the Clark County LP Excomm, of which I was a member, of having secret meetings.

    I voted NOTA when he ran for nomination for US Senate, though it hurt me to do it. I think I told him I would vote for him…

    I witnessed first hand the problem with pursuing liberty through a political party. It’s the organization problem. A man like Jim Burns should never have to be cast into the sidelines. However, two captains will sink the ship.

  3. Richard Winger

    I remember Jim and David Bergland and I were having a meal at a national LP convention, and David choked on a morsel of food. David could still talk in a whisper, but he was in distress, and he said, “Help me!”. Jim immediately stood up and gave the Heimlich maneuver to David, which was successful. I was impressed at how quickly and coolly Jim went about doing that. I was a little bit ashamed of myself for not having the same good, quick reaction, and I learned from that experience.

  4. Jill Pyeatt Post author

    I enjoyed doing a bit of research on Mr. Burns for the intoduction to this article. I know I met him once or twice at conventions, but I wish I’d had a chance to know him better.

    The Libertarian Party sure does has its share of people with unique personalities. That’s a good thing, in my view, and part of its charm.

  5. Concerned Libertarian Citizen

    Rest in peace Jim Burns. I first met him in a dream a few weeks ago. He was a pleasant and decent man. Thank God for giving us the opportunity to know this man.

  6. Thomas L. Knapp

    I met Jim a couple of times, and am glad to have done so. As a candidate for the LP’s presidential nomination, he certainly would have been a better choice than either of the last two nominees.

  7. George Whitfield

    I like Jim Burns’s necktie. It is based on the cravats that British sympathizers of the Confederacy wore in Parliament during the early 1860’s. I think it was called the Anglo Confederate Society. I wore the same tie at the American Chamber of Commerce’s Inaugural Ball in Seoul when the theme was Savannah. Classic and historic colors. I appreciate all of Jim Burns’ work through the years for the Libertarian Party. He was persistent and relentless. Rest in peace, Mr. Burns.

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