Boulder Libertarians Party Election Night
by Ari Armstrong, November 10, 2002
While the Democrats buried long faces in their hands as Dem candidates lost by a few percentage points (and Heath was trounced 2-1), Boulder Libertarians cheered whenever the names of their candidates appeared on TV. Most of the networks did not carry Libertarian results except for two-way races, and most LP candidates showed up in the 3% range.
LP candidates gather to watch election results. L-r, back: Flux Neo, Isaac Davenport, Ralph Shnelvar, and Brian Lewis. Center: Norm Olsen, W. Earl Allen, Audrey Bray, and Ken Bray. Front: Paul Tiger, Bo Shaffer, and Joe Johnson (in the mask).
Still, "I felt like I had just come out of the shower -- for the first time I felt clean inside. There was a Libertarian in every [Boulder] race," said Joe Johnson, one of the prime movers in the LP's candidate drive. Johnson joined around 30 other LP members at the Lazy Dog election night to watch the returns, discuss strategy, and enjoy the evening.
With fewer than 6000 registered members in the state, the LP ran a full slate of candidates for state-wide and federal offices and 41 candidates for state legislature. The party wore a little thin on the county level, where 17 LP candidates appeared on the ballot, with seven in Boulder County.
Dr. Scott Replogle and Hans Romer, candidates for Boulder coroner and state house, meet at the Lazy Dog.
Nobody bothered to check the results for San Miguel County, because Sheriff Bill Masters was unopposed and Bob Dempsey has served as coroner for many years and he faced a weak Republican challenger. (He won by 78%.) The lessons from this race are obvious. People will vote for third-party candidates, if they are well-known respected and obviously competent to do the job. Masters and Dempsey are the only Libertarians who serve in partisan office in Colorado. Their victories were also featured prominently in national LP coverage. In Leadville, Libertarian Carol Hill won a seat on the city council last year, a non-partisan race.
The crowd was interested in the county clerk results for Arapahoe, however, as Libertarian Margaret Denny faced a scandal-tainted Republican. Denny did very well for an unknown third-party candidate with nearly 37% of the vote, but many activists (including me) thought she might have a chance to win the thing.
Ralph Shnelvar drinks a tea and contemplates the Libertarian vision.
Besides Masters and Dempsey, 18 LP candidates earned more than 15% of the vote in a two-way race. Jeff McQueen did fairly well in a three-way race for state house with 9% of the vote. (See the candidates page and the results page at the Boulder County site for more information.)
"I spent about six hours writing my acceptance speech today -- do you think that was a waste of time?" quipped Ralph Shnelvar, the gubernatorial candidate. He was in good spirits, though he was clearly disappointed by his traditional 1.5% of the vote. He noted that Dwight Harding got more votes for Attorney General, even though he put in a minimal effort, whereas Shnelvar ran nearly full time for several months. Of course, LP candidates tend to get higher percentages in lower-level and less-publicized races.
Later, Shnelvar pointed out his vote total in Mesa County exceeded the total four years ago by only a few hundred votes, even though he ran numerous radio ads there. It does seem to be the case that, at least for state-wide races, hard but low-budget campaigning doesn't seem to translate into very many more votes. However, I continue to think it can be an effective way of promoting the message.
One man and his son ate dinner at a table near the Libertarian section. He asked me, "Is that the candidate for Governor? Oh my God, I just voted for him!" I pulled Ralph over for a few minutes to talk with pair.
The Ladies for Liberty show off their calendar.
The Ladies for Liberty calendar girls showed up for a while to sign calendars and chat with the crowd. (To order your calendar, see http://www.freecolorado.com/2002/07/ladies.html.)
Earl Allen, a candidate for state house, joked, "If you link their names with their symbols, you get the Repelephants and the Democrasses." Johnson said one candidate called him and said, "I've got 100 phone calls since that voters' guide came out -- if I get elected you gotta get me out of this!" Johnson also said, "I think I'm breaking new ground -- I think I'm the first line-holder campaign manager ever!" He worked with Allen's campaign. Craig Johnson, who pulled in 17% of the vote for state house, said, "My vote-to-dollar ratio is almost infinite!" Ken and Audrey Bray, both candidates for Boulder County office, held a friendly competition to see who would get the most votes. If nothing else, Libertarians are learning how to keep their sense of humor.
Bo Shaffer checks out election returns with his daughter.
Still, beyond the beers and tables of food and cheery chatting was an underlying somberness. Libertarians are serious about achieving economic and individual liberty. While LP candidates joked about their losses, I think a part of them was disappointed and frustrated that they couldn't break the trends and score more support from the voters.
Tom Parker, creator of the Boulder LP web page, thinks it's time to consider other strategies. "After getting a good libertarian education from the Libertarian Party, I think the best step could be the Free State Project, where we concentrate LP power in a small state... There are a lot of libertarians, but we're all spread out -- we're not focused. We're not having that much success electorally."
I am also interested in the Project. However, I told Tom, the libertarian movement is not doing as badly as vote totals might suggest. In academia, libertarianism is doing quite well. IHS does a great job educating college students about libertarianism, and Vernon Smith just became the most recent libertarian Nobel winner. My theory is that the intellectual tide is already turning, but practical politics takes a while to catch up. Even in politics, though, at least libertarian ideas are a part of the debate today.
In addition, the libertarian movement is split into three basic political blocks: Libertarian Party members, Republican voters, and conscientious non-voters. My guess is that the groups are roughly of equal size, though the LP may be the smallest of the groups. Thus, support for libertarian ideas is much stronger than what LP vote totals reveal.
I'm sure LP members will continue to discuss strategy into the next election season. Hopefully, they'll continue to have fun doing it.