Assembling in the Aria Ballroom of the new MGM Springfield earlier this month, the Massachusetts chapter of the “Party of Principle” coalesced around the call for liberty in the era of the Trump Administration. Over four dozen activists, joined by such prominent figures as Paul Jacobs, Carla Gericke, former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, and Reason editor-at-large Matt Welch, convened to discuss the direction of the party in one of the most partisan and deeply divided political environments in recent history.
With candidates on the ballot across the Commonwealth, the afternoon served as both a time of business and a moment of celebration. Activists and campaigns alike engaged in essential networking and the ever important morale-boost for an election less than a month away. With Republicans and Democrats having firm control over the government of the Commonwealth, campaigns such as those of state auditor candidate Dan Fishman and governor’s council candidate Mark Mercier sought to make Libertarian principles an established part of Massachusetts political discourse.
While afternoon business remained largely procedural, convention attendees still made waves by establishing the party as the third major political force in Massachusetts to formally unite behind the practice of ranked choice voting. The electoral alternative hoping to unseat the current plurality system—something sometimes referred to as first-past-the-post—has been the subject of increasing attention in Massachusetts political circles since it was publicly endorsed by the Democratic Party at their 2017 state convention. While formal debate over endorsing the resolution was held, there existed little doubt that ranked choice voting would find acceptance that afternoon.
Ben Schattenburg, the Central Mass outreach lead for Voter Choice Massachusetts who hoped to engage attendees that afternoon, was delighted to see the party so overwhelmingly unified in support of ranked choice voting and felt the results of the day harked the establishment of a powerful ally in reaching limited government conservatives—another vital bloc. While recognizing them as ideologically different, he acknowledged Libertarians as still “having a better chance to reach [conservatives] than Voter Choice Massachusetts.” Howie Fain, Voter Choice Massachusetts’ Director of Messaging and another convention canvasser echoed Ben’s sentiments and saw such action as a moment of leadership for Massachusetts Libertarians. “There’s a movement making it happen in Massachusetts”, explained Fain, “and the Libertarian Party said that they didn’t want to just stand on the sidelines.”
Meanwhile back in the Aria, convention speakers from a variety of backgrounds peppered the day. From From Townhall.com columnist Paul Jacobs to the party officers who spearheaded the party through the past year, topics included the importance of running on principle and the need to empower citizens to uphold libertarian principles in other areas of society outside of the political arena.
Convention attendees were even greeted by a surprise visit from Benjamin Franklin—portrayed by internationally known historian Christopher Lowell. Giving a lively historical retelling of the life of Benjamin Franklin, Lowell captivated the audience with eloquently delivered soliloquies on liberty, the power in living a life of principle, and the importance in working to do good. Party leaders also made time to award former chair and one time party presidential nominee Professor George Phillies the Lifetime of Liberty Award for his years of advocacy.
Bill Weld, the former Governor of the Commonwealth and the most recent vice presidential nominee also made time to address his former constituents as they dined on lunch. Denouncing polarization, the double-monopoly—his preferred term to “duopoly”—and the decision of him and New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson’s to “bill themselves as purple” in the 2016 election, he ruminated over how he could’ve better reached voters and outlined the issues he expected to dominate during the next presidential election cycle—more specifically the topic of healthcare and just “meeting [voters] where they are”.
The two-time inhabitant of the Corner Office affirmed his support of core Libertarian principles such as 2nd Amendment rights and homeschooling and discussed his recent endeavors with Acreage Holdings, a cannabis corporation that he and former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner joined this past April. However, he unapologetically broke ranks with a call for full public funding of vocationally focused community colleges and a controversial foreign policy position that endorsed the reunification of the Korean Peninsula.
Catching up with the Governor following his speech, he reaffirmed his earlier proclamations. Funding community colleges would be a vital part in “meeting the needs of the working class.”, he explained, and harked back to his time managing the state budget of Massachusetts. “They’re very short”, Weld said in reference to concerns of cost, “Critics don’t realize this.” As for the reunification of the Korean Peninsula, Weld simply dismissed the notion that such things wouldn’t find a home within the party.
Following lunch, New Hampshire Libertarians took the stage to empower their fellow New England liberty lovers. Activists from the “Live Free or Die” state waxed philosophic about reaching and preparing the individual in a world where their support is needed now more than ever. Among them were Justin O’Donnell, candidate for Congress in New Hampshire’s 2nd District, and Carla Gericke, a Republican Party candidate for state senate. Regardless of her current affiliation, Gericke advocated heavily about the pressing need for “more citizen oversight of the Attorney General’s office” and the urgency in educating more citizens to film police encounters whenever possible.
Justin O’Donnell in particular warned his fellow Libertarians to be cautious in how they address voters. “Libertarians are weak on selling to people who don’t agree with them”, observed O’Donnell, “We’re great at starting a conversation, but not good at proactive discovery.” To O’Donnell, Libertarians could do far better in reaching new supporters if priority was based more on the need to “ask questions” as opposed to immediately jumping to the impulse to “provide a statement of fact.”
From there, the convention split into two camps. On one hand, Caryn Haros—the National Libertarian Committee’s secretary famously known for her bright pink hair—taught the audience about the significance of the original 1972 statement of principles, the changes undergone over the following years, and the ramifications of 2016’s “Portland Massacre”. As she welcomed participants to her presentation, a preserved copy of the original 1972 document was passed around as a reminder of how dramatically the party has changed over the decades.
Down the hall, a panel composed of O’Donnell, Matt Welch, Samson Racioppi, and Vermin Supreme among others engaged the audience in a lively discussion on the mishandling of Veteran’s Affairs and ways society could better medically handle returning veterans who struggle with PTSD, the need for a new anti-war movement in America, and what Welch described as a “perpetual state of war” currently benefiting both other major parties.
For dinner, the convention served both fine dining and the company of Washington Post journalist Radley Balko. Known for his background in the field of forensics, the criminal justice system, and civil liberties issues, he discussed his own experiences on the job with questionable autopsy practices. Illuminating the audience to such examples that have been used to produce credible testimonies, he discussed things such as the “West phenomenon”, born from Mississippi’s Dr. Michael West who patented a system of analyzing bite marks with a blue light that are otherwise unseen by anyone else but him. Balko also criticized the Commonwealth of Massachusetts—which he described as the “ground zero of crime lab scandals” in a reference to state chemist Annie Dookhan and her tampering of evidence that would eventually lead to the overturning of 20,000 convictions.
Using his platform to also address concerns he had both within and outside of the party, Balko warned Libertarians not to so flippantly disregard racial biases that impact society. In particular, he criticized what he saw as a tendency to put a “differing value” on the lives of individuals, particularly people of color. “You can have a system that is racist even if you have the most well-intentioned people.”, he warned. “Libertarians have been averse to systemic racism. […] but [racism] should offend us as individuals.
To close the day, film director Rob Webber and political performance artist Vermin Supreme unveiled a showing of an upcoming film detailing the comedic antics of Supreme as he navigated the path to the presidency. Raising funds for the “Libertarian Disaster Relief Fund” by taking a pie in the face, Supreme allowed the audience to end an extremely long evening on a light-hearted humorous note. To some, inviting a rain-boot clad man advocating ponies for all might be seen a reason to dismiss Massachusetts’ third major party as unbecoming and immature. To others, a selling point for a party trying to navigate a polarized world that has seen the rise of fervent political tribalism.
Regardless of the sentiment expressed, it’s hard to feel that Massachusetts Libertarians would prefer it any other way.
Jordan Evans is a freelance political writer and community advocate based out of Charlton, Massachusetts. She focuses on ballot access laws, systemic marginalization, and political identity. She can be contacted through her personal website.