Leadville Libertarians Sworn Into Office
by Ari Armstrong
[The following article originally appeared in the February 2002 edition of Colorado Liberty.]
Libertarians Carol Hill and Ken Cary took their oaths of office January 7 to join the Leadville city council. Together with councilors Joe Swyers and Lisa Dowdney, they formed the first Libertarian-majority city council in Colorado and the second in the nation.
Libertarians Joe Swyers, Ken Cary, Lisa Dowdney, and Carol Hill hold a majority on the Leadville city council.
"This town proves that we can do it -- we can win," said Joe Swyers, the ranking Libertarian on the council who has served since 2000. He said the council now has an "incredible opportunity of accomplishing things instead of just debating them." He added, "This will give Libertarians some experience in dealing with the wide range of issues that face councilors or any legislative body."
Swyers said of his colleagues, "They are all very strong personalities and strong classical liberals." He said the main two goals of the council are to restrain the budget and reduce the burden of property regulations. He wants to "turn loose the power of free enterprise to resurrect our economy, something we ought to do on a national scale." One of Swyers' pet peeves is a local ordinance that restricts fireworks above what state law requires -- he wants to repeal that ordinance.
Swyers said the success of Libertarians in Leadville should encourage others in the party to run for winnable local offices. "Libertarians as a party have become so used to not winning that it's become a mindset." He said running for local offices brings two advantages.
"First, the public gets experience with us, with classical liberals and that whole philosophy." He said that some people may be nervous about electing Libertarians to office when they have no track record. Serving in a local office lets people see that Libertarians can lead responsibly.
"Second, Libertarians get a chance to serve in office. Then we don't make those naive, greenhorn mistakes in higher races." Libertarians in office are able to "communicate with constituents and also learn to negotiate and compromise to accomplish things." He said establishing priorities is one of the main challenges Libertarians in Leadville and elsewhere face.
As an example of how local service can lead to higher office, Swyers referred to Ken Chlouber and Carl Miller, who both served as county commissioners before winning a seat in the state legislature. He said Libertarians on the council have the opportunity to run for higher offices in the future as well.
Longtime Libertarian Hill said, "The main thing for me is to get the budget under control and stop spending the city's reserves." She said she wanted to end some taxes and repeal some of the zoning ordinances.
Hill said the council must take care to remain in the good graces of the community. "This community can get really energized. We are going to have to make an extra effort to keep people informed and keep people with us. They're willing to give us the benefit of the doubt." She added, "Local politics truly is very personal. We have to keep in mind that I was elected as a citizen of Leadville, not as a Libertarian."
She added, "I'm really excited. If we play our cards right, we can accomplish a lot. If we do it right, I think people will come to understand they are much more libertarian than they realize. 'Libertarian' is the word that describes a lot of people's beliefs. Having a Libertarian majority is unique. Having a libertarian philosophy on the council is not unique." She said Libertarians basically invoke the principles on which our country was founded, those outlined in the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence.
Hill agrees with Swyers that Libertarians should run for local races, gain experience, and get involved with their communities. She cited a recent article by Pennsylvania LP chair Lois Kaneshiki that encourages local involvement. Hill remains chair of the Lake County Board of Adjustments and has served on that board since 1994. She also served on the Lake County Planning and Zoning board for three years and on a jail committee for three years.
Dowdney said, "I'm thrilled with both Carol and Ken coming on." She has also served on the council since 2000, and prior to that she served for four years on the council before taking a break. Dowdney joined the LP shortly after Hill and Cary won their elections.
"I want to cut back on wasteful spending," Dowdney said. For example, she said the city currently collects a $50 tax on businesses. "If we don't do anything for that $50, we shouldn't be charging it." Cary was unavailable for comment.
A number of Libertarians drove to Leadville to witness the historic occasion. Ralph Shnelvar drove a group from Boulder that included Ari Armstrong, David Aitken, Ron Bain, Jerry van Sickle, and Larry Hoffenberg. Mark Holden, Steve Gresh, BetteRose Smith, and Tony Ryan also attended. Following the ceremony and a reception, the group headed to a local pub to celebrate.
Shnelvar, who is considering a run for governor, said, "It was a historic evening. They look like the finest bunch of people I've ever seen on a city council."
Gresh, who ran for school board in Colorado Springs this past election, said, "What Leadville is showing Libertarians is it's possible to actually use practical, political ideas to gain control of a body of government. All of the Libertarians on the city council will keep us -- the rest of the Libertarian Party -- informed of what they're able to accomplish, and they will provide an excellent model for us to follow as we run campaigns. We'll have some real-world references, rather than just philosophical discussions about what Libertarians can do when they're in office."