CPAC 2015 – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch But There Is Free Swag

CPAC 2015 – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch But There Is Free Swag

National Harbor, MD — As this past weekend drew to a close, so did CPAC, the largest gathering of conservative activists in the nation, but between the booing of Jeb Bush, panelists faking heart attacks on stage, and a man dressed from the 18th century, the conference is far from ordinary. And there was free stuff. Oh, was there free stuff.

Participants vote in the famous CPAC straw poll.
Participants vote in the famous CPAC straw poll.

CPAC, more formally known as The Conservative Political Action Conference, is the annual conference offering conservative candidates, supporters, and activists an opportunity to come together to network and prepare for future election cycles. With over 10,000 participants, this American Conservative Union sponsored event draws activists from all stripes and colors. Yet the most significant aspect of CPAC is perhaps not its networking capabilities, but its famous presidential preference straw poll, acting as one of the earliest events to usher in the election season.

Expect the day to be dominated by free speech and free gifts. Speeches are a vital cornerstone of the CPAC experience, starting early in the morning and continuing into the evening. Conservative, and sometimes not so conservative, icons make up the schedule, with some speaking alone and others as part of a larger panel. Popular topics of the conference included the dangers of common core, promoting a strong military presence, ending the IRS, and stopping “Obamacare”, though many disagreed on a number of issues. Speakers raging from England’s United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage to Hewitt Packard CEO Carly Fiorina take the stage, offering attendees an opportunity to hear from people they would otherwise never have the chance.

Donald Trump addresses CPAC.
Donald Trump addresses CPAC.

But if the large halls aren’t your scene, off to the side are smaller, more intimate rooms, giving attendees an opportunity to hear other speakers discuss specific issues and pet projects. Panelists range from former New Mexico Governor and 2012 Libertarian Party Presidential candidate Gary Johnson to former Speaker and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, and unlike some of those in the main hall, discussion can get even fierier, depending on who’s getting to ask the questions.

Downstairs is “The Hub”, the name given to the loft like room directly beneath the speaking halls. The Hub serves as a “farmer’s market” of conservative political ideology, with booths advocating for a plethora of hot button issues and an almost endless supply of free swag.  Issues are as diverse and varied as the crowd in attendance, and as it often goes with such diversity, booths tend to overlap in message as they try to redefine conservatism.

One such group was the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, or informally the TFP. A representative of the TFP explained that they are a lay Catholic men’s organization who have been sponsors of CPAC for “over 20 years”, and are seeking to defend traditional marriage, private property and enterprise, and Christ’s honor. Taking a moment from gathering signatures for a worldwide petition to encourage Pope Francis to take more conservative positions in the Catholic Church, he explained that even in the ever-increasing social libertarian CPAC crowd “it has been a good turnout [and] we’ve had a pretty supportive crowd.”

Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum talks to supporters in The Hub.
Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) talks to supporters in The Hub.

The Our America Initiative, an organization started by fmr. Governor Gary Johnson, was another group in attendance, and would be one seen as contrary to the TFP. While many preach for general conservative issues, or the restoration of the Republican Party, Our America’s booth is filled with Libertarian Party paraphernalia, bumper stickers, and quite a few pictures of Johnson’s face. Speaking with members of the booth, they expressed a skepticism of the de facto liberty movement head, Rand Paul, the importance of libertarianizing social issues, as well as the necessity of ballot access reform.

You might think you’ve seen it all, but the party doesn’t stop when the speakers leave for the day. Outside of the Gaylord Convention Center, attendees young and old flock to the many bars, clubs, and restaurants to mingle. CPAC has become progressively younger throughout the years, so the club scene has become increasingly more popular, with attendees in jackets thrown over club attire being something appearing on the internet’s comical “CPAC bingo sheets” in the past.

The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property is one of many groups that have booths in The Hub.
The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property is one of many groups that have booths in The Hub.

But conservative activists aren’t the only ones showing up at night anymore. Sometimes so do the candidates, as was seen with Kentucky Senator, and possible presidential hopeful, Rand Paul, who came out to conduct an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity at a bar down the street from the convention center. Hannity, picking up on the scene, even jokingly said that he would open a tab and “fireballs were on him.”

As it goes, with such a large and diverse breed of activists now attending CPAC, emotions can run high. Most of the time, such instances are minor and just the occasional firebrand in the panel audience or the main hallway, but sometimes they get noticed, such as when Rand Paul’s supporters conducted a mass walk out on Jeb Bush during his speech. For the most part, things remain relatively calm and activists instead fight it out with who has the most colorful team pride. Sometimes, supporters give the word “colorful” a whole new meaning.

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) takes questions from Sean Hannity at Bobby McKey's Dueling Piano Bar.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) takes questions from Sean Hannity at Bobby McKey’s Dueling Piano Bar.

Abigail, a bubbly young girl with bright purple tips in her hair, represents some of the diversity that can be seen in attendance at CPAC. “Rand is the reason I’m here”, she said, proudly sporting the equally bright “Stand With Rand” shirt associated with his supporters. “He’s my choice candidate because he’s a real supporter of the Constitution. No other candidate seems that genuine.”

In contrast to Abigail, Ryan, a young man with a large sticker on his jacket reading “Jeb! 2016” sees things a little differently. When asked why he thinks Jeb is a decent candidate, Ryan actually referenced his positions, something putting him at odds with a lot of his peers, saying “It’s admirable that he has differing position and is not following talking points. He has flexibility [and] an independent streak.”

When asked about comparing him to his brother, Ryan was quick to dismiss any concerns. “He’s more conservative than [his brother]”, adding “look at his record as Governor of Florida”.

Newt Gingrich speaks in one of the smaller Potomac rooms.
Newt Gingrich speaks in one of the smaller Potomac rooms.

As for why others continue to attack Jeb Bush, Ryan expressed little concern. “There’s a candidate overload right now, and Jeb is the frontrunner, so it’s expected that he will be a target of everyone”, he explained.
Ben, a journalism student attending a Newt Gingrich panel, was another interesting stripe of activist in attendance. When asked which candidates he supported, Ben said he was a fan of both Rand Paul and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the latter being someone who has been heavily criticized for his stances in the party. When asked how he could be a fan of both candidates, he cited Paul’s sensitivities to the people of Westchester County, Yonkers, the Bronx, and other such locations.

“I’m Jewish and where I’m from there’s a lot of racial profiling”, Ben said. [Paul] is in touch with reality, [and] goes where poor people are and where they need to be helped.”

Regarding Christie, Ben explained “I support Christie on everything but cannabis. He’s on the same page [as Paul], but he’s a little too afraid to take on the establishment”

An enthusiastic supporter of straw poll victor Rand Paul holds a sign during his speech to CPAC.
An enthusiastic supporter of straw poll victor Rand Paul holds a sign during his speech to CPAC.

Ben also expressed favor towards individuals like Newt Gingrich, citing intelligence and respect as important qualifiers in a commander-in-chief.
Like all things though, CPAC had to come to an end, with Rand Paul winning the straw poll for the third year in a row, though with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker surging to a strong second. Conservatives left the conference feeling invigorated to stake their claims in the 2016 cycle. If there’s one thing that could be taken from the conference however, is that there remains an ideological battle for the soul of the conservative movement, and with the ever-changing demographics of the conservative movement in America, one that could possibly last for years to come.

Libertarians Convene in Worcester; Discuss Rights, Race, and More

Libertarians Convene in Worcester; Discuss Rights, Race, and More

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.

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Convention attendees attentively listen to guest speaker Evan Falchuk.

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.

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Evan Falchuk takes questions from convention-goers.

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.

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Members spent hours debating the racism amendment.

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.

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Joshua Katz (L-CT) announces his interest in running in 2016.

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.”

Libertarian Party of Massachusetts 2014 State Convention Election Returns

The Libertarian Party of Massachusetts met in Worcester this past Saturday, electing their new State Committee, as well as to conduct general party business. The State Committee, elected every year, is responsible for managing the day-by-day operations of the Libertarian Party of Massachusetts, as well as electing its leadership. In complying with Party rules, vote counting is to be handled and tabulated by an unbiased observer whom has no official membership with the Libertarian Party.

Once again filling that role, and in the spirit of promoting a healthy civic duty, I assisted in their State Committee election process, and have taken the liberty of listing the convention tabulations here for the sake of keeping a certified public record for the LPMA.

Libertarian Party of Massachusetts 2014 State Committee

Approval Voting – Candidate’s final vote total is decided by the number of approval votes subtract the number of disapproval votes – Highest nine win. In the case where nine candidates are not available, vacancies can be filled via the State Committee at a future date.

  1. George Phillies – 16 Favorable, 0 Unfavorable, 0 Abstentions
  2. Robert Clark – 16 Favorable, 0 Unfavorable, 0 Abstentions
  3. Daniel Fishman – 16 Favorable, 0 Unfavorable, 0 Abstentions
  4. Cris Crawford – 16 Favorable, 0 Unfavorable, 0 Abstentions
  5. Kenneth Van Tassle – 16 Favorable, 0 Unfavorable, 0 Abstentions
  6. Steve Sadowski – 16 Favorable, 0 Unfavorable, 0 Abstentions
  7. Al Hofpmann – 15 Favorable, 1 Unfavorable, 0 Abstentions
  8. Heather Mullins – 15 Favorable, 1 Unfavorable, 0 Abstentions
  9. Dick Martin – DECLINED
  10. Mike Coombes – DECLINED
  11. Arthur Torrey – DECLINED
  12. Peter Bougioukas – DECLINED
  13. David Blau – IN ABSENTIA NOMINATION 

    16 total votes cast