Colorado Libertarians Look to Move Party Forward

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Colorado Libertarians Look to Move Party Forward

by Ari Armstrong, March 26, 2003

Something extraordinary is happening within the Libertarian Party of Colorado. For the first time in the past 15 years (and perhaps ever), a nearly full slate of candidates is running for the state board prior to the convention. Norm Olsen, the sitting Campaign Director, recently announced he's one of eight LPCO members seeking election to the board at April's convention. (The only slot left open is that of treasurer.)

As Olsen indicated in his announcement, often board positions are not actively pursued until somebody is pushed into it at the convention. An incomplete board has been the rule for the last few years. While all the positions have been filled at times, turnover has also been a problem (vacancies can be filled by the remaining board members), and sitting board members have not always stayed on top of their assigned tasks.

Olsen is the only returning board member. His three-year stint with campaigns came at a time when the state LP ran a large number of candidates. In 2000, the LP ran more candidates for the state legislature than the Democrats did. The enormous task of tracking the paperwork mostly fell on Olsen, then new to the board. Having served on the board that year with Olsen and as Publications Advisor the next year, I know Olsen to be a hard worker and a committed, thoughtful, nice guy.

Olsen indicated in a recent strategy meeting he wants higher standards for LP candidates. He opposes the strategy of discouraging Libertarians from running against relatively pro-freedom Republicans, but he doesn't necessarily see the need to actively recruit a candidate for every race.

Norm Olsen should make a fine state chair.

I don't know much about Samantha Kelly (Information Director) or Jeff Oliver (Public Information Director). Their recent comments don't seem troublesome. Kelly, introduced to the LP by Michael McKinzie (who is running for Campaign Director), has only been a member of the LP for three months. However, her position mostly entails keeping up the database and doesn't require a thorough grasp of libertarian theory.

While in general I think it's a good idea for the membership to elect board members with a long-demonstrated commitment to libertarian principles, certainly it's far better to fill the two technical positions (Information and Treasurer) with hard-working neophytes than to leave those slots empty or fill them with long-time libertarians who don't get the job done.

Oliver appears to have the background to understand libertarian issues. He makes one comment that appears to be a criticism of Mike Seebeck: "Our message... must be one of solidarity, as it serves no one to castigate members of our own party." In June 2002, Seebeck, Public Information Director since the last convention, issued a release distancing the state LP from Rick Stanley's call to hang Senator Wayne Allard (following a trial for treason). Then in October, Seebeck issued another release criticizing a lawsuit filed by Stanley against various media.

I generally agree it is not the job of the person writing press releases to police LP candidates. Instead, that is the job of the board as a whole. When a candidate behaves as badly as Stanley did, the board has a responsibility to remove the candidate, as I have previously argued. Generally, the state party will not issue a press release about an LP member who isn't running for office. The only situation I can imagine warranting a negative release about a party member is if that member committed a (real) crime that somehow became publicly linked to the LP -- in that situation, the board must kick the person out of the party and, yes, issue a press release about it.

But such a problem is unlikely to arise. Oliver says he wants to issue press releases that are positive, reasonable, and relevant. Generally, that sounds like a good strategy.

Rand Fanshier has spent an enormous amount of time over the last couple of years doing outreach on behalf of the LP. His enthusiasm seems to know no bounds. He is an effective, personable organizer. He is perhaps the best match for his position of anyone on the slate.

McKinzie too is a tireless advocate for liberty. He is also well-known for his sometimes rough edges. He served on the state board for a few months last year, but he resigned in frustration. McKinzie is a little impatient to serve on a necessarily cumbersome board, but if Olsen wants to work with him, that's good enough for me. Frankly, I think it'll be great if McKinzie puts the heat on LP candidates -- that will serve as a useful barrier to entry and it will produce better, harder-working candidates.

It's no secret Fanshier and McKinzie supported Stanley's campaign while I strongly criticized it. Fortunately, most of that acrimony is now in the past. McKinzie has always maintained his independence. For instance, he opposed the (Stanley-driven) attempt to remove John Berntson as state chair. Perhaps McKinzie's determination and intolerance for bureaucracy are just what is needed to keep the LP moving forward.

I'm not convinced Paul Tiger has the finesse or poise to deal with legislators and coalition members as Legislative Director. Prior to the 2002 election, Tiger became embroiled in a nasty, prolonged, and public fight with Boulder Chair Bo Shaffer. It was a basically silly dispute over who got to display what literature at an outreach table. One Libertarian described the rancor as a "pissing contest."

In addition, Tiger to date has shown no particular interest in following legislation. The bill now under consideration that would directly impact minor parties is 1142, and Tiger has not been a player in the fight against that bill.

In 2002, Tiger ran for Boulder County Clerk and Recorder. Perhaps now he should consider running for Treasurer instead. The role of Treasurer is much more important to the party. Indeed, the party is hamstrung without somebody to track the money and pay the bills. My sense is that Tiger would be a lot more successful in a more technical role.

Meanwhile, the role of Legislative Director is not central to the party's success. I would argue the position should be abolished. The purpose of the LP is to elect candidates -- not lobby sitting legislators of other parties. Libertarians should take an active roll influencing the political system, but not through the Libertarian Party. The LP has never even done its real job effectively -- it should not squander scarce resources to pursue the conflicting goal of legislation. Of course, the board members in charge of press releases and publications will have ample opportunities to comment about legislation.

To my knowledge, no Legislative Director in the last several years has actually done anything related to tracking or influencing legislation. Several LP members have independently done some work along those lines. The party can operate quite well without a Legislative Director, and libertarians are not thereby limited in their ability to pursue legislative goals by other means.

By the time of the convention, only a month will be left of the legislative session, anyway. This is hardly enough time for a green board member to get his feet wet. If the board feels it necessary to fill the slot by January, it has ample time to do so. A treasurer is needed right away.

I do not support Dana Wagenhoffer for any position on the LPCO board. Over several months of e-mails, she proved to be antagonistic, rude, and quick to pick fights. In a September 5, 2002 e-mail she writes, "I have been manipulated by Mr. Schnelvar, lied to by Mr. Seeback, and accused by Mr. Bernston." Leaving aside the matter that Wagenhoffer managed to misspell all three names, her accusation amounts to little more than sensationalized whining. Her beef with Ralph Shnelvar is that he criticized Rick Stanley. Mike Seebeck suggested the state party does not have sufficient funds for every proposed outreach event. And Berntson dared to impose standards for the creation of new affiliates.

And, while I disagreed with McKinzie and Fanshier about Stanley's campaign, at least they had defensible reasons for supporting it, and they did not automatically buy into everything Stanley said or did. Wagenhoffer's exuberance for Stanley, on the other hand, knew no boundaries. In an October 15 e-mail she said, "What Mr. Stanley is doing for this party is much more then I have seen from the LPCO chapter, affiliate etc..." In a September 26 e-mail she made the following remarks about Stanley: "Sacrafice after sacrafice, just to get sh*t on really makes me wanna go get the word out about this party....:(" And in an August 16 e-mail she said, "Rick Stanley has done more for this 'party' over the last 15 months then anyone. He has been dedicated to the 'REAL PEOPLE' by telling them like it is." If we're talking about benefits to the party, Wagenhoffer's statement is simply delusional.

The point is not that Wagenhoffer should not join the board because she supported Stanley. While the tensions surrounding his campaign resulted in a lot of hard feelings and animosity, thankfully most of those wounds have now been healed. The problem is that Wagenhoffer may display the same needless hostilities and irrational attachments in the future.

Wagenhoffer sided with Rick Stanley -- and against the stated principles of the Libertarian Party -- on the issues of immigration, flag desecration, and legal suits against private media entities. While this shouldn't necessarily disqualify her by itself, neither is it a point in her favor.

Thus far I have discussed reasons not to elect Wagenhoffer to the board in any capacity. But she is running specifically to raise funds for the party, and that job requires special skills. First, fundraising requires an ability to establish rapport with party members. I don't think Wagenhoffer has that ability. Second, fundraising requires an ability to skillfully state the party's need for funds.

I tend not to take seriously anyone who frequently uses multiple question marks or exclamation points to emphasize a point, as Wagenhoffer does in the following e-mail from August 5:

It says here in the Standard Blade that Mr. Owens and a Dave Dunnell for CO. House District 36 made it, to be in this parade. Were we there???? Nope!!!! So when do we do event's where the R's & D's are?????

Wagenhoffer also makes a habit of inserting superfluous apostrophes, misspelling words, and writing free of the quaint restrictions of grammar, as this January 3 e-mail of hers demonstrates:

For one we are not going to EVER be free of terror attacks it's impossible to think that we could protect ourselves from "anyone ever". It could be me or you.... we are all target's. Now what can be done to restructure some of the beaurcratic bullsh*t? It is imperative that the control's on the border's be tightened still allowing those that legally come here to come on over. We cannot profile, we can though do background check's, thourghly check references...

Granted, I am quoting from e-mails, which must be evaluated by lower standards. Still, I have seen nothing to convince me Wagenhoffer would make an effective fundraiser for the party, and plenty to cause serious doubts. Still, at least she has volunteered for the position, which is more than can be said for anyone else at this point. Somebody suggested to me that perhaps the best medicine for those who perpetually whine about the board is to put them on the board, where solutions are not always so easy to come by and time is severely limited. The problem is that the cure is uncertain and treatment requires long-term admittance.

I expect Steve Gallant will do an excellent job as Publications Director. Amazingly, he has already brought on board two assistants: Gregg Miller to put out the newsletter and Cory Hanzlick to update the web page. I don't know anything about Hanzlick. Miller has print-shop experience (though he's a bit eccentric).

I'm a little concerned about Miller's plan to produce a four-page newsletter every quarter. Surely a longer newsletter can be produced if it's only put out every three months. Because most of the cost of sending out a newsletter involves postage, and the postage remains the same per unit regardless of weight (for bulk mail, over a fairly large range), it seems to make sense to produce a longer publication. Of course, a longer publication requires more time to produce. Another possibility is for the party to produce a newsletter six times per year, in the range of 20 pages in length, mailed alternately to the full membership and to dues-paying members. Whatever solution the board approves, what's important is to establish regular, quality correspondence with the membership.

David Bryant is listed as a "Senior Advisor" to the slate of candidates. Bryant has a rich understanding of libertarian issues and he has poured an enormous amount of labor into the state LP.

Even though I think one member of the slate should be replaced and another moved, I am struck by the group's seriousness of purpose. Perhaps this is a sign the Libertarian Party of Colorado is about to become a serious force in Colorado politics.

It's about time.

* * * * *

Proposed Rule Changes

Several people are contemplating changes to the party's rules. Berntson wants to insert "simple rules to define what an affiliate is." An affiliate should establish an annual meeting, officers, and by-laws, and it should register with the Secretary of State, he said. In the future, he noted, the party may move toward a revenue-sharing program with local affiliates, similar to the program now in place between the national and state parties. Obviously, then, it's important to send the money to actual affiliates, not simply to any yahoo who requests money. Also, while two affiliates have been constant over the years -- El Paso County and Boulder County -- other affiliates (including the one in Denver) have waxed and waned. Berntson points to the "phantom affiliate problem" -- affiliates that exist on paper but that don't actually do anything. His proposed changes strike me as sensible.

Another proposed change is to allow for an emergency business meeting only to address the matter of altering the by-laws. "1142 is pushing that," Berntson said. It's possible future legislation could render the party's rules unworkable, so a special meeting might conceivably be needed to "align the by-laws with state election laws." Of course, as Shnelvar has argued, legislation interfering with a political party's nomination of candidates is unconstitutional. Thus, the party could simply thumb its nose at meddlesome Republicans, declare the legislative mandates to be illegal, and proceed as it will. That might require an expensive lawsuit, though.

Seebeck mentioned the possibility of staggering board elections. I prefer electing the entire board for a two-year term in the odd years to provide more stability during election years. Seebeck proposes a similar change: elect board members for two-year terms, staggering the elections (five in odd years, four in even). That approach might serve the purpose even better.

Seebeck also said cleaner procedures might be in order for nominating candidates. I think this problem can be handled with better-organized business meetings, without formal changes to the rules.

Shnelvar may want to change the rules for voting members, requiring membership for a full year, unless new members are allowed to vote by the majority decision of the convention. I wouldn't mind such a change, but it strikes me as somewhat arbitrary. I think more stringent requirements for voting members should be imposed across the board, with no exceptions. I see no problem with allowing new members to run as Libertarian candidates but preventing them from voting at the convention, though some might think this outcome peculiar. (Shnelvar's proposal is also compatible with letting new members become candidates.)

If others are contemplating additional changes to the rules, I am unaware of the proposals.

* * * * *

The Platform Committee

According to Miller, a plan by (now Republican) Steve Gresh to formulate "positions candidates can use" morphed into a quasi-official Platform Committee. While the party adopted bylaws in 1998 specifying the selection and tasks of the Platform Committee, the group currently calling itself the "Platform Committee" does not remotely meet the conditions laid out in the by-laws, and thus may not be considered to be legitimately sanctioned by the party.

However, by my reading of the party's constitution, the membership can by two-thirds vote adopt or change the platform outside the recommendations of a properly established Platform Committee (which, to my knowledge, has never existed). Thus, even the quasi-official group led by Miller could present suggestions to the membership, though Miller said that probably won't happen anyway.

The quasi-official group consisted of six members: Miller, Wagenhoffer, Tiger, Gresh, John Lappart, and James Vance. Gresh switched parties and Vance, "supposed to be the chair," dropped out. The remaining group does not exactly inspire confidence. Miller might eventually find a place on a legitimate Platform Committee: he has run two competent (if lackluster) campaigns for state house. The frantic, gratuitously insulting, barely coherent e-mail rantings of Lappart are well-known to anyone subscribed to the "lpco-chat" e-mail list.

I didn't even know the LPCO had a platform of any kind. Berntson claims a short one exists that covers water and perhaps a couple other issues, but I've never seen it and I don't know where a copy might be found.

I am opposed to the adoption of any platform whatsoever.

A state platform would be essentially useless. Voters certainly don't read that kind of material. If the goal is to inform LP candidates with good arguments about contemporary issues, surely a better way to do that is through a campaign team. The national platform is already extensive. It's pretty obvious what the libertarian position is on most issues, and when it's not obvious, an official platform will only create unnecessary friction.

If there were any legitimate purpose for a state platform, it would be to extend libertarian principles explicitly to regional issues not covered by the national platform. I am not convinced any such issue exists. If one is found, a much more effective way to address it is simply to issue a press release or article about it. There's not something magical about voting a position into an official platform that makes the position more true or more compelling.

But extending libertarian principles to regional issues is expressly NOT the purpose of at least one member of the quasi-official committee. As Wagenhoffer explains in a December 19 e-mail:

The reason the "platform" is being considered is b/c candidates don't necessarily agree 100% with every thing the National Platform says. The voters were shocked that we want "open border's". They won't feel secure with "open border's". This needs to be explained in depth to some. Some say the ideals are ridiculous, there not ridiculious there just toooo many years tooooo early for most. So if we need to make adjustments etc...it is done through the "platform committee".

I.e., Wagenhoffer's goal is to use the state platform to contradict and supplant parts of the national platform. And that is completely inappropriate.

We are thus reminded of two troublesome issues that have faced the LPCO over the past couple years. First, how do we determine which set of beliefs helps define a libertarian and which is debatable among libertarians? For example, a person who advocates drug prohibition or disarmament laws is simply not a libertarian -- those are signature issues central to the meaning of libertarianism. However, libertarians can reasonably disagree about issues like vouchers and abortion. Even properly classifying matters like immigration can be troublesome.

Second, just how tolerant should the LP be of leaders and candidates who stray from established libertarian principles? Obviously this problem doesn't arise in the context of an issue-based coalition. So long as people can agree about one issue, the rest of their beliefs are irrelevant to that issue. But the LP bills itself as the "party of principle," an organization that promotes the entire libertarian framework.

Candidates uncomfortable with libertarian positions are free to run independently or with some other party. The same goes for activists.

Wagenhoffer supports candidates who "don't necessarily agree 100% with everything the National Platform says." Well then, what percent agreement is necessary for the LP to accept somebody as a Libertarian? 75%? 50%? Can a Libertarian candidate just willy-nilly reject any part of the platform he or she happens to dislike? If so, what then is the purpose of the Libertarian Party?

I am not prepared to grant that libertarianism can entail a rejection of the voluntary hiring of workers from other countries. However, I certainly recognize that a number of otherwise libertarian scholars, popular writers, and activists in fact call for immigration restrictions. I am thus prepared to concede that any large libertarian organization will include members of both persuasions. But even if we grant the LP can legitimately run candidates who call for immigration restrictions, why does this entail a need to subvert the national platform?

If individual candidates want to argue for restrictions on immigration, let them explain how such a policy is consistent with libertarian principles. They don't require a change in any platform.

If the goal is to alter the national platform, then interested parties should become involved in the LP at the national level.

Certainly the current group calling itself the "Platform Committee" is neither qualified nor competent to suggest changes to Colorado's platform. If the state LP is going to have a platform committee, then let's have a real one with serious participants.

But I repeat my original position: trying to change the state's platform is a waste of time. The attempt to alter the platform is yet another example of how LP members tend to get so bogged down in tedious complications they forget to do anything that's actually useful.

* * * * *

Recent Events Involving the LPCO

When I joined the board in April of 2000, things seemed to be happening for the LPCO. BetteRose Smith (now Ryan) continued to serve as chair, and she treated the role as a full-time job. I had already produced two issues of Colorado Liberty, and I went on to produce ten more issues before the next convention -- including a 36-page September/October issue that featured scores of LP candidates. For the first time, taking advantage of relaxed ballot access, the state LP offered a nearly full slate of candidates -- more for state legislature than even the Democrats. Sheriff Bill Masters was beginning to make waves with his critique of the war on drugs. Harry Browne struck many of us as an eloquent and exciting spokesperson for the party.

But then news came out that Browne paid a campaign worker who was simultaneously drawing funds from the national LP, in violation of the party's rules. In May 2001 Bob Glass announced he would run for governor -- then later backed out. Carol Hill won a seat on Leadville's city council -- a position she still holds -- and fantastically two other board members became Libertarians to give the LP a majority on the council. But then one of the Libertarians switched to unaffiliated and another resigned. (Masters remains a shining star for the national libertarian movement.)

In May 2001, Smith stepped down, leaving John Berntson to fill her large shoes. Nobody with a separate job could hope to match her energy, though Berntson offered a steady and experienced hand. I produced nine more issues of Colorado Liberty for financial compensation as Publications Advisor. I thereby also gave up some autonomy and acquired a boss. I also helped produce a fundraising letter to help cover the costs of the newsletter.

Stanley made his first appearance in the June/July issue following the 2001 convention. By my last issue of May, 2002, Stanley along with James Vance were accusing me of giving them inadequate or poor coverage in the newsletter, and I faced pressure from the board to alter my editorial decisions.

I was still a member of the board when James Vance attended a meeting to announce he was running for governor. Vance had recently attempted to become the candidate for the Buchanan-wing of the Reform Party. He said he left the Reformers because of their right-wing views on abortion and other issues. A Reformer I talked to said Vance's plan to expand government schools alienated him from that party.

When he first appeared at the board meeting, Vance made a number of proposals that flatly contradicted libertarian principles. He said he wanted to impose mandatory rules for motorcycle insurers and increase one tax for schools. In the February 2002 edition of Colorado Liberty, Vance wrote, "[I]f you simply eliminate free education [t]he immediate net result is that you have also just lost the ability to require people to educate their children to today's academic standards." Obviously libertarians oppose the political control of schools and support a free market in education. (Much later I responded in detail to Vance's article. Shnelvar replied in the next issue.)

It was no secret that I opposed Vance and supported Glass and then Shnelvar (who replaced Glass). As far as the newsletter was concerned, though, I maintained fair coverage of all the candidates (unless I gave Vance and Stanley too much coverage to compensate for my interest in the matter).

For a while, I thought Stanley would tear apart the LP. Obviously, his candidacy continues to impact the state LP, even though he's left the party.

I might still be producing Colorado Liberty had Stanley not entered the race. His bitter attacks against me created tension within the board and between the board and me. Ironically, though Vance eventually became a critic of Stanley's campaign, he also put Stanley in a position to win the nomination, as I have argued.

Though Vance lost the nomination for governor to Shnelvar, he was nominated to run for CU Regent -- and, to my great surprise, elected as Publications Director. It turned out that sitting Publications Director Richard Combs, without bothering to mention it to me, had encouraged Vance to take over the position. I had been busy preparing for the convention, and I was discouraged by the fights over the newsletter anyway, so I didn't put any effort into trying to find a replacement that promised a better working relationship.

To my knowledge, the state LP has not sent out a fundraising letter since August of 2001 (making it difficult to argue Wagenhoffer would do worse). It was, then, almost a blessing that Vance failed to produce a regular newsletter, as that's the party's biggest budget item.

In a year, Vance has produced and distributed three issues of Colorado Liberty, two before the elections and one just recently. My 21 issues evolved from good to arguably the best state LP newsletter in the nation. Vance's 3 issued devolved from amateurish to pathetic. Whereas several people criticized me if I allowed the web page to lapse by a few days, Vance managed to update the page a handful of times in a year.

The 2001 convention was announced in three consecutive issues of Colorado Liberty. The 2002 convention was announced in five consecutive issues of Colorado Liberty. The 2003 convention was announced in a single mailed issue of Colorado Liberty -- one that, while promised in February (and dated for that month), arrived about a week before the March 28 registration deadline. (My wife and I produced the two-page ad for the convention that appears in that issue.)

A fourth issue of the newsletter was actually printed in January -- but never mailed. The state LP spent $470 to print 2100 copies -- none of which was mailed. Ironically, the front page of the "missing issue" is devoted to an article by Vance titled, "The First Word: Mea Culpa." (It is unclear whether two versions of the newsletter were created. I am referencing a digital version downloaded from the web page.) Vance admits, "I've failed you. I've managed to revamp the website -- but the Liberty and its sister quarterly publication have suffered because I've let life get in the way of my duties... I've also failed in the perspective that I've made some bad choices in my months as Publications Director." However, "for 2003," Vance adds, "I'd like to rededicate myself to this position as best I can."

Oddly, Vance blames me for his failure to produce the newsletter:

First Ari, the former Publications Advisor, hastily he didn't like the idea [sic] I was going to be an ACTIVE Publications Director -- that is -- actively help with the Liberty, actively take over the redesign of the web site, etc. Basically -- he didn't like the change from being the central controlling figure for the Liberty. He thought *I* was a bit too controlling for his apparently "free spirit" tastes -- yet he hadn't even tried to work with me. He resigned his position and I struggled to get the next two issues of the Liberty out the door as I searched for a replacement Pubs Advisor to take over the major duties of the Liberty's production.

I have several responses to Vance's claims. First, it's simply not true that I resigned before I had "even tried to work with" Vance. At the convention, I told Vance I would put our differences aside and work with him to produce the newsletter. However, even though I told him up front I wouldn't be micromanaged (as I have previously mentioned), the first thing he did was try to assign me to various stories.

Second, the fact that Vance had nobody to do all the work for him is no excuse. With the help of my wife, I produced 12 issues of the newsletter on a regular schedule on a strictly voluntary basis. In previous years, David Bryant, W. Earl Allen, Ron Bain, and others have produced the newsletter as volunteers.

Third, I had demonstrated my qualifications to produce the newsletter, and Vance had not and still has not. Why should he expect to order me around?

In retrospect, while I truly enjoyed producing Colorado Liberty, I regret having helped create the position of Publications Advisor. I was the first person ever to be paid for producing the newsletter, and I hope I'm the last (Vance never found a replacement), at least until the party has become more stable. (I think eventually a single person should take over the job of running the office, maintaining the database, and producing the newsletter, as a paid full-time job.)

Despite his inability to follow through with previous goals, Vance retains high hopes for his future. In the belated February edition Vance writes, "I already have speaking engagements to both high school and college students about political activism and libertarianism as a philosophy... and I have a major project I am going to be working on that will pave the way for my future political career..." While Vance has started to sound more libertarian since his first meeting with the state LP board, I doubt he's gained much more of an understanding of libertarianism "as a philosophy." He adds, "I'm not permitted to 'promote' the Libertarian Party under penalty of being banned as a guest speaker." So much the better for the Libertarian Party.

Another little irony is that I was featured in a column by Joe Johnson in Vance's first issue. Johnson quoted me, "I was a libertarian long before I was a Libertarian. That is, I developed my political philosophy before I joined the party." And now, while I remain a member of the LP, I write about it from an independent platform, which suits me better.

To return to the original theme, it is significant that, for the first time, a slate of candidates is running to fill the LPCO board. It is also significant that, for the first time, an independent media outlet is covering the story.

The Colorado Freedom Report--www.FreeColorado.com