Mixed Message

The curious condition of the local Libertarian Party

Illustration By Peter Noonan

illustration by peter noonan

The Libertarian Party is offering its strongest presidential ticket in history this year. The combination of two former Republican governors from the Southwest and Northeast (Gary Johnson and William Weld, respectively) is expected to be competitive in several states, but particularly here in Live Free or Die country — and that’s despite the state having essentially no local Libertarian party.

One reason for this party deficit is that the Libertarian cause has already won in New Hampshire, and there’s little need for a formal party to exist. On the national level, Republicans generally advocate for a smaller role for government when it comes to taxes and spending but more government regulation of social issues. Democrats typically believe the opposite. Libertarians are purists; they don’t believe the government should be in your wallet or your bedroom.

In New Hampshire, Republicans and Democrats are essentially different shades of Libertarian. No Democratic candidate for governor in 14 years has advocated for an income tax or sales tax, and, on social issues, they are, well, liberal. New Hampshire Republicans are for lower taxes, but the consensus is essentially a shrug of the shoulders when it comes to abortion or same-sex marriage. Case in point: The Republican nominees for governor and US Senate in 2014 were pro-choice, and this is likely to be the case for governor again this year. The local political parties have co-opted the Libertarian message.

Because of this, it is hard for the Libertarian Party to stand apart in local races. The situation is different when it comes to the presidential race. This contest features Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, two of the most unpopular major party nominees in the nation’s history. You cannot blame voters for looking around for another option. Some are looking to the Libertarian ticket, which has no problem getting on the ballot here.

At the same time, New Hampshire has seen a recent influx of Libertarians. A movement called the Free State Project claims to have already convinced 20,000 Libertarian-minded people to move to the state and get involved in politics. For context, in 2012, Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney in New Hampshire by 40,000 votes.

Even though the Libertarian philosophy is the governing ethos of our state’s politics, the actual Libertarian Party in the Granite State is a hot mess. The party is officially recognized in 33 states but has not been recognized in New Hampshire since 2002. No one has been elected as a Libertarian to the Legislature since the 1990s. Even the Free State Project, which encourages members to run for office, hasn’t helped; the group’s members have mostly run within the Republican or Democratic parties.

Much of what exists of the local Libertarian Party pops up around election season, aiming to collect enough signatures to place specific candidates on the ballot. For a statewide candidate like president, US senator or governor, this means collecting 3,000 signatures for each candidate — a lot of work  for candidates who, in recent elections, have typically failed to get more than about one percent of the vote.

Yet despite this lack of party structure, the Libertarian ticket, with its Live Free or Die platform, could do surprisingly well this year. So well, in fact, that they could go long way to establishing the party in this state that already shares so many of its principles.

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