Why the LPCO's Line-Holder Strategy Backfires
by Ralph Shnelvar, May 26, 2004
[For more material about Mark Brophy's Libertarian nomination for the Colorado legislature, along with commentary about the Liberatrian Party of Colorado, please see Mark Brophy Updates.]
Several months ago I had written an (unpublished) harsh critique of the Libertarian Party leadership. I held off because I did not want to do any damage to the recently held convention.
I sat on the critique then as I sit on it now. Ari Armstrong has read it and urged me to publish it. Joe Johnson and the newly elected Legislative Director (Rick Randall) have urged me not to. As such, I have decided to sit on it ... at least for a while.
In a small part, Ari asked me to publish the critique so that he would not be the only one to take the heat for his Rest In Peace article. Let me say that I completely agree with Ari's critique. My unpublished critique is a much longer and personal version of Ari's.
I am still struggling to as to whether to publish. Part of my reluctance is that I want to make sure that I have my facts straight. Joe Johnson had pointed out an error of fact. The last thing I need is for the major thrust of the article to become lost in "Oh, Ralph doesn't know what he's talking about." I've been in politics long enough to know that people will attack irrelevancies or minor errors if they cannot attack the substance of a position.
Having said that, I want to make it explicit: I am throwing in my full political support to Ari in this article. I had urged him to hold off publishing this for a week but he gave me very good reasons why he shouldn't. I respect those reasons.
Since 2000 I have been fighting a losing battle within this party with respect to filling the ballot with line holders. The person who has been pushing this agenda hardest in this Party is Joe Johnson. Joe is a friend, a political ally, and a man I vastly respect. Yet on this one single issue of strategy I disagree with him and have disagreed with him for the last four years.
On July 13, 2000 there was a meeting of Republicans and Libertarians at Tom Goonan's house. (Tom left the Party years ago for reasons unknown to me. I don't know if he is still registered as a Libertarian.) It was at this meeting that I first met Ari Armstrong and Joe Johnson. It was at that meeting that I got up and told the assembled 20-or-so people that if this strategy of filling the ballot continued that there would be severe consequences even to the point of destroying the Party because the Republicans would pull our ballot access.
I was poo-pooed by the assembled Libertarians.
After the meeting and in the driveway of Tom Goonan's house, State Senator Jim Congrove turned to me and said, "You know, of all the Libertarians there, you're the only one who has a clue." Yes, I did know.
Congrove lost the 2000 election, the Republicans lost control of the Senate, and the Republicans (justifiably or not) blamed it on us.
The result of this is HB1142, a much watered-down version of a much nastier bill. It was watered down only because of a sympathetic Secretary of State (SoS). The SoS didn't go far enough in protecting our constitutional rights, but as Bill Compton (Director of Elections in the SoS's office) told me "Our dog isn't in this fight."
So what does this all have to do with the Mark Brophy affair? The art of politics is complex. There is far more going on than first meets the eye.
In terms of Mark Brophy. I met him once at lunch. He seems to be a nice guy and, I hope, he does not take Ari's criticism of him as a personal attack. Mark, like so many other Libertarians, are political neophytes who are thrown to the wolves long before they are ready just so that a ballot can be filled with Ls.
I think Joe Johnson took Brophy aside at the convention and explained to him the Libertarian position on guns. Apparently, Mark Brophy had never thought about guns. "It just wasn't an issue for him," said Joe Johnson on the phone and in a private eMail.
OK, everyone, let's stop and read that last paragraph. It goes to the heart of what is wrong here.
We're running a candidate for state office for whom gun rights are not an issue? We're running a candidate for state office whose gut instincts don't yield the right answer?
Mark Brophy, please, this is not an indictment of you. I have found that most people who join the LP who have not spent years thinking about liberty, economics, and politics don't get it right. My nominee for Mr. Libertarian is Joe Johnson and he admits to not getting it right on the issues of drugs and schools when he joined the LP.
Mr. Libertarian definitely gets it right now and he is a very eloquent explicator of LP positions and libertarian principles.
Not "getting" the whole thing is fine for people who are not running for office but for whom the Libertarian Party represents the right direction of freedom. It is not fine for those who seek to represent the Libertarian Party.
Being a Libertarian candidate has more requirements than just being able to breath. It is, at minimum, being able to explain the party line of freedom in every dimension.
So, I imagine, Mark Brophy was pressured by Norm Olsen and Joe Johnson to get onto the ballot while he is also pushing the Fort Collins grocery tax reduction effort. Instead of being praised for his efforts, now he may feel that he is being blasted.
Well, I don't think that Ari is blasting Mark Brophy. In any event, Ari shouldn't be blasting Mark Brophy because Mark Brophy was unprepared and he was unprepared because of a seriously broken system. Ari and I are blasting a system that puts unprepared people on the ballot who may then get caught up inadvertently in a maelstrom.
I imagine that Mark Brophy didn't know who or what the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO) is. He couldn't possibly know the history of the RMGO and the LP. Yet he was given a questionnaire to fill out and he answered the questionnaire as best he could. He was, I assume, trying to do the right thing.
This Party does not have the resources to run unprepared candidates. Unlike the Democrats and the Republicans, we don't have a farm system for grooming people. Hell, we're lucky if we can get a dull and lifeless publication to all the paying members four times a year.
For years I had heard from so many inside and outside the Party, "You know what's nice about Libertarians? It's that you can ask any candidate just about anything and you'll get the same answer." That has changed. That is no longer nice.
He certainly did not intend it, but Mark Brophy's answers on the RMGO survey have caused, are causing, and will cause considerable damage to us in both the gun owners/rights community and in the legislature. For this Ari and I are justifiably upset. We are even more upset that the Powers That Be in this party are so politically spineless that they actively try to sweep this issue under the rug.
Ari, far more than I, has worked to promote the Libertarian Party as the place for those who want to preserve and strengthen gun ownership rights. I spent a lot of political capital promoting gun rights to the drug legalization crowd and I made considerable progress. Neither Ari nor I will stand by and watch years of work destroyed because the Powers That Be are politically inept.