Last week Reason featured an article from a Libertarian Party primary opponent of imprisoned zookeeper Joe Exotic, subject of the popular Netflix series Tiger King. In 2018, Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage (né Schreibvogel), sought the Libertarian Party nomination for Governor of Oklahoma. He came in third place behind the victor Chris Powell and the second place finisher Rex Lawhorn. Lawhorn wrote for Reason about his experiences with Exotic on the campaign trail.
“I wasn’t aware of his minor celebrity status,” writes Lawhorn on his learning of Exotic’s entrance into the gubernatorial race, “so when I Googled my opponent, I was more than a little surprised at what I saw.”
“Picture an angry two-tone mullet with a hand cannon on his hip stomping angrily around a cage full of tigers, ranting in a nasal southern drawl,” says Lawhorn, describing Exotic’s fifty campaign YouTube videos as “wild.”
Lawhorn watched every video. He concluded Exotic was not libertarian, citing Exotic’s support for socialized medicine, a government shutdown of companies that pollute, and a charge of $60 to all migrants to obtain visas to enter the country.
“He was a media magnet, but he was dragging a bunch of contradictory, statist proposals with him,” Lawhorn declares. “It could undo everything the other candidate and I were doing to explain our platform to the public.”
Nevertheless, upon invitation, Lawhorn and Powell both visited Exotic’s zoo multiple times. Lawhorn found Exotic to be charming and sincere, a good listener, and a thoughtful conversationalist even when using colorful language. Lawhorn, Exotic, and Exotic’s campaign manager texted frequently, discussing libertarian philosophy. However, Exotic did not change his positions, which Lawhorn believes to be the reason for Exotic’s third place finish.
As chronicled in Tiger King, Exotic was arrested in 2018, convicted in 2019, and sentenced to 22 years in federal prison in 2020 for animal abuse and attempting to hire a hitman to murder big cat sanctuary owner Carole Baskin. The Libertarian Party of Oklahoma revoked his membership. Exotic maintains his innocence and has asked President Donald Trump for a pardon. Trump was asked about it at one of his recent White House Coronavirus Task Force press conferences.
Before his gubernatorial run, Exotic was chief of police in Eastvale, Texas. He ran for president in 2016 as an independent, under the name Joseph Maldonado, and appeared on the ballot in Colorado. He received 962 votes.
Exotic is also known for being a homosexual polygamist. He married (ceremonially, not legally) two straight men simultaneously in 2013. He legally married one of the men, named Maldonado, in 2015. That man died of an allegedly accidental gunshot wound at the zoo in 2017. Exotic married another man, named Passage, two months later.