I know what you’re thinking: Every year there’s a situation where there’s a lot of animosity towards both Republicans and Democrats, some Libertarian claims, “This is it! This will be our year!” Typically, the result is a disappointed base with little to no success, especially in state and federal elections. This is not what I’m about to talk about.
The other two parties will be distracted
First and foremost, I think we should address the elephant in the room: Republicans and Democrats are going to be distracted as heck in 2020. It’s Trump’s re-election year and the Dems want to get him out. Dems are also planning on gaining more seats in Congress and state legislatures. This is going to be an extremely expensive year for both sides at both of these levels, especially after the Janus decision in the Supreme Court. They’re likely going to leave local offices in the dust, financially speaking.
To think big, think smaller
Every election cycle, we find a small handful of people willing to put themselves in the public eye. However, many of them seem to run for bigger offices like state legislative and congressional seats. These are flashier sounding offices that usually come with some kind of pay. Unfortunately, these races tend to have debates that Libertarians are often excluded from.
So how do we work around having our message muted? The answer is simple, but it involves sacrificing a flashier sounding race: Run for County Commissioner, City Councilor, School or Utility Board seats, etc. A Libertarian that is running in a race they honestly think they won’t win should ask themselves why they’re running. Is it to make a difference in the community or is it to have the bragging rights of “I ran for something?” Every party has people that do it for both.
Let me be perfectly clear: I’m not trying to discourage anyone from running for a legislative or congressional seat. Rather, what I’m trying to encourage is people getting into races they will not only take seriously, but actually believe they have a good chance of winning. Larry Sharpe believed that he would either win or come in second place — that didn’t happen, but he took his race very seriously and was a great example to the party’s candidates.
What “lesser” offices have to offer
For many, they don’t understand what kind of power or impact they would have if they ran for something as low in the political hierarchy as school board. Many don’t really even know what a school board does! In short, they’re (often) elected (or appointed) officials tasked with holding their district’s leadership accountable. They also make extremely important decisions, such as what should be taught at what grade level. Though some states don’t require an actual economics or personal finance class in high school, the school board could pass a resolution to incorporate it into a curriculum. You read that right: If your state’s department of education isn’t cutting it, the school board can make a school district try something out.
City councils often make a lot of impactful decisions (no surprise there!). In Eugene, Oregon, Uber and Lyft used to be banned. Of course, they lifted that ban after a long stretch of public outcry over the corporatism behind appeasing local taxi companies. In either case, the city council and mayor were ultimately the deciding factors in both of these decisions. The city council could vote to cut wasteful spending and even lower (or cut) property or payroll taxes — certainly a Libertarian issue.
County boards are also seriously impactful and are often the best paid out of these lesser viewed offices. Another paid county office that Libertarians should be lining up to run for — given they have the proper background, of course — is Sheriff. County commissioners are essentially city councils, but for counties. Sheriffs, on the other hand, can tell law enforcement to stop enforcing certain laws (within reason). If you’re the Sheriff in a blue state and the legislature passes gun control laws, you can tell local law enforcement within your county to back off. Can you imagine the possibilities for Libertarians in such an office!?
Local officials need a good challenge
Believe it or not, so many people don’t run for local offices to the point that some stay in office for a decently long time. In fact, some make a career out of being a local official. A friend of mine was a city councilor in her town and eventually became the Mayor. She didn’t win her State Representative race, but I believe she’d make a fine State Rep. or Governor. That said, those who make a several decade career out of local politics should be challenged. Who better than Libertarians to give it to them?
Remember how I said that we often have our message muted in debates by polls in the bigger races? Since most local and county offices aren’t partisan, everyone is given the chance to speak in an open forum (or debate, depending on what they decide to call it). In 2018, most Libertarians that were able to participate in these functions either made some decent points or totally mopped the floor with their opponents.
It’s not hard to hold a local official’s feet to the fire. Whomever you’re running against, point out what they did that you disagreed with and what you would’ve done differently. If they’re from Oregon, they likely spend anywhere from a few thousand to tens of thousands on a volunteer position. To the vast majority of people who know about this, they’re going to wonder why it’s necessary to spend tens of thousands on an unpaid gig.
What you can do to get the ball rolling
After reading about the possibilities, are you considering a local run? Even if you’re not, the hope is that you’ll be a bit more pumped to volunteer or encourage a Libertarian friend of yours to run for one of these several offices. If you’re running or considering a run, head over to LP Action, the Libertarian Party’s free resource for Libertarian leaders and candidates. I’m also offering consultation services to Libertarians either at very low-cost rates or pro-bono in most cases.
Another helpful way to get involved is to get in touch with your state’s Libertarian Party as well as your county affiliate (if available) and volunteer and/or fundraise. Unfortunately, the national committee can’t dole out huge donations like the other guys can. LP Action is seriously an amazing resource that even the other parties don’t really have — use that to your advantage.
The vast majority of our wins in 2018 were local offices. Given the power and opportunity for meaningful impact I described earlier, can you imagine what a Libertarian-Majority city council, county board, or even school board would look like? Whether you’re in awe or scoffing at the idea, it’s a very real possibility. We just have to come together and work hard to spread the ideas of Liberty. After all, if you’re going to go big, you should consider going small.