Packing into the dining hall of Tweed’s Restaurant and Pub in Worcester, Libertarian stalwarts from across the Commonwealth assembled over this past weekend to continue their push to change the Massachusetts state government.
With roughly two dozen total attendees, slightly less than the convention of last year, party loyalists met to discuss strategy, elect leadership, and meet with candidates. Topics on the agenda included state committee elections, reports and speeches from an assortment of speakers, and the discussion of adding a plank combating racism to the platform of the state party.
As attendees dined, party officials and state committee candidates gave speeches about the direction they most wanted to see the party move towards. For most, the goals to building a successful party were the same; recruit new volunteers, run a consistent slate of candidates, and continue to build upon an effective social media presence. For others, it was utilizing the current crop of volunteers in a much more effective and progressive manner.
Also in attendance was independent gubernatorial candidate, Evan Falchuk. Falchuk, one of the three independents in the five-way race to succeed out-going Governor Deval Patrick, sought to rally the support of the Libertarian Party behind his spirited bid.
Discussing issues such as the second amendment, enforcing medical marijuana laws, clashing with the major party candidates in debates, and his choice in running-mate, Falchuk tried to appeal to libertarian sentiments. Falchuk also gave praise to the “combined efforts” of the Libertarian Party, Green-Rainbow Party, and Socialist Workers’ Party in challenging ballot access, citing them as his “inspiration for creating electoral reform.” before sharing a personal experience he had trying to do the same for his own “United Independent Party” label.
“Shortly after [organizing], someone sponsored a bill to raise the 50 registered members needed to be a party to 500 registered members.”, he said, “The Establishment does not like to be poked!”
Convention reception of Falchuk, while initially tepid, was met with an overall sense of approval. While not all members agreed to support Falchuk, or expressed uncertainty with his fledgling party, they did agree that electoral reform is long past overdue. One such member was party activist and state committeeman candidate Al Hopfmann, who said that “Libertarians shouldn’t yield to independents” but that he supports “the notion of a unified ballot access.”
The state committee election process, which followed later in the afternoon, was a simple, straight forward process, with each candidate being elected either unanimously or by super-majority.
While the convention went smoothly, one particular issue which created a spark was one of race. In the face of current events such as Ferguson, where a black youth was shot and killed by a police official, leading to one of the worst public outcries in recent history, the question of race has been more prevalent in the media spotlight than ever. In response to this, a plank to amend the party platform, appropriately titled “RACISM”, was brought up for discussion, and if passed would add “Individual racism is bad. Institutional racism is worse. Governmental racism is the worst of all.” to the official platform of the Libertarian Party of Massachusetts.
The pragmatic and purist divide that so famously defines libertarian politics erupted, and in true libertarian spirit, there were as many opinions offered as there were members in attendance. A lot of the debate came from a concern over the perceived wording of the amendment, and how it was interpreted.
Arguments for changing the amendment ranged from concerns that it elevated certain types of racism, something seen as innately bad in all forms, above other types, to coming off as exclusive to those in the LGBT+ community, a community that also continues to face significant forms of discrimination.
Likewise, those opposed to changing the amendment did so on the basis that a person’s right to practice “freedom of association” should be protected, as well as the notion that while all racism is bad, it should be recognized that the government has been the largest and worst perpetrator of racism of all.
Discussion of the amendment would continue on for hours, before ultimately being edited to change the wording, such as “racism” to “discrimination”, and then tabled for further future discussion.
Joshua Katz, chairperson of the Connecticut Libertarian Party and elected Libertarian officeholder, served as the keynote speaker. A Libertarian elected in a partisan election, Katz is a bit of a rarity in the party, having edged out both a Democratic and Republican opponent in his 2013 run for Westbrook Planning Commission.
Katz offered valuable insight to the party’s office hopefuls, reminding Libertarians that they need to “stay current” and discuss only current events, “cleanse the line” of individuals using the party label for their own gain, and most importantly to put in the time and effort. “If you have the same shoes after three months, you aren’t working hard enough.” he mused.
Katz also reminded the party of the significance of local government. “Ninety percent of government interaction is local”, he said, “Local government isn’t as “sexy” [and] this is why people [run] for state and federal over local [but] we need to occupy all levels of Government.”
Katz also had a message for Libertarians who were skeptical of why elected Libertarians just don’t start dismantling the system from day one. “I’m an anarchist who holds political office” Katz said. “I can’t just eliminate government. I need to operate it in a way that’ll keep our people free and prosperous.”
Before Katz’s speech came to a finish, he used his speaking slot to drop even larger news. “I am forming an exploratory committee to consider a run for President in 2016”, he announced. This makes Katz the second candidate officially interested in the nomination for the Libertarian Party, behind New Hampshire activist Darryl Perry.
As the day drew to a close, interim-Chair George Phillies gave closing remarks, reminding Libertarians of the challenges they face and the role they play. “We are the Libertarian Party of Massachusetts” Phillies boomed, “We stand for peace, liberty, and prosperity [and] we are the people who are going to bring a successful future to Massachusetts.” Then raising his glass, he made a toast to Edward Snowden, the whistleblower famous for releasing classified documents back in 2013, and then to Dr. Douglas Butzier, the Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate in Iowa who was recently killed in a plane crash.
The Libertarian Party was founded in Colorado in 1971, and is dedicated to “Minumum Government and Maximum Freedom.”