My latest over at the CommonWealth Magazine. A little different than what many readers of my blog would be used to, but about an issue I feel as strongly about as I do towards ballot access and transparency, if not more. An excerpt:
This humanistic outlook on what other people do with their own life is a trait that I respect and admire within the party, which is why your reluctance to defend the rights of our transgender citizens to live authentically confuses me. How can we claim we’re for protecting the safety and freedoms of the individual when we’ve become complicit in letting our society create a caste of second class citizens?
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.”
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.”
With the close of another September primary, there was one question that rested on the minds of many- candidate and voters alike- who participated: “where is everybody?” Poll-workers from elections past recall when lines of early voters were exactly that, when the workers didn’t outnumber the voters, and when rush hour was more than just a few soccer mom’s bringing their children in to use the bathrooms before game practice. Citizens are raised to believe in the old moniker of “one man, one vote”, but lately in modern day Massachusetts, you might find your vote to be worth somewhere closer to that of ten.
“I didn’t even know”
This marks another year of depressingly low turnout numbers, and while this isn’t a problem specific only to Massachusetts, it is one that has achieved record levels in the Bay State. With over 4.2 million registered voters, about as much as all of the rest of New England’s registered voters combined, Massachusetts continues to struggle to motivate even a fifth of them to turn-out to vote in non-presidential elections. Secretary of the Commonwealth, William Francis Galvin, estimated that turnout would taper off at about 17%, and current uncertified results show that, unfortunately, he was right.
Unlike in years past, voters from both major parties were presented with contested elections. Depending on the town, some voters found they had more choices than others, but every Massachusetts resident who pulled a ballot this week was guaranteed at least one major contested race. Yet even then, as schools, halls, and polling precincts across the Commonwealth opened their doors, many found that it was once again the same old voters who come out to vote. Galvin put the blame on a general malaise with those who’ve decided to try their luck in the arena of politics, but for many, it was a much more simpler reason as to why they didn’t show. They just didn’t know.
A Fisher, a Baker, an Election Day Maker
While the stage was primarily set for the Massachusetts Democratic Party’s race for a successor to governor Deval Patrick, a lone spotlight was occasionally flashed over the fight between the MassGOP’s Charlie Baker and Mark Fisher. That there was a race at all came as a surprise for a number of the MassGOP’s brass, as Fisher wasn’t expected to survive the convention. The threat of one legal snafu later, and Fisher was granted access to compete in the primary, saving the MassGOP both a damaging inter-party conflict and an embarrassing PR disaster.
MassINC’s tracking polls, as well as those from Suffolk University, had typically shown Baker to have a commanding lead over Fisher, similar in number to the delegate tallies which came out of the party’s state convention. Baker confidently sat in the area of a 60 to 70 point lead, with Fisher never leaving the high single digits or low teens. Part of this had to do with Fisher’s name recognition, which started low, and never successfully took off. The primary was set to look like a repeat of the convention, and very well could have been, until only a handful of voters made the effort to show up on election day.
Government of the Interested, by the Interested, and for the Uninterested
The events of Tuesday offer Massachusetts voters a taste of what happens in low turnout elections. Candidates who face off against frontrunners in David vs. Goliathesque scenarios will traditionally benefit from low-turn out races. Billing himself as the “conservative alternative” to Charlie Baker, Fisher would weather the electoral seas with a smaller, yet more enthusiastic membership base. Whether it be from a deep resonance with the message or a personality trait that just woos them, such voters tend to show up for their candidate regardless of the political climate. Such surprises have been seen in the past, such as with the “Buchanan Brigades” of 2000, the “Ron Paul Revolution” in the last two presidential cycles, and most recently in Eric Cantor’s defeat at the hands of David Brat earlier this year.
Voter apathy created a scenario where Fisher voters suddenly gained a bigger presence in the pool, and he exceeded expectations and energized a base that the MassGOP has frequently had problems with. Claiming victory in a dozen and a half towns outright, as well as taking upward to 40% of the vote in every county west of Worcester, including in traditionally large population centers such as Worcester, Fitchburg, and Springfield, paints a much different picture than the 10% or so most polling had been expecting him to get.
Go West, Young Martha
Such a problem was not uniquely reserved for the MassGOP either, as the same can be said to have happened with the gubernatorial fisticuffs between Coakley, Grossman, and Berwick. Initial polling had given Coakley a safe lead since she left the convention, with Grossman only once bridging an otherwise large 20 point gap. Berwick often preformed in the low teens, with numbers similar to those seen by Mark Fisher in his race. The results? Coakley winning with a slight plurality of only five points.
Analyzing the results of Tuesday’s primaries shows a consistent trend seen with both parties; The further west you went, the weaker the “frontrunner” became. Political scientists can attribute this to the differing climate of western Massachusetts, and they wouldn’t be wrong, however, there’s a second factor to be considered in the direct decline in total number of voters. Galvin estimated that western Massachusetts would be the region most hit by poor voter turnout, and with some towns generating turnouts in the single digits. Low turnouts and declining votes create the perfect storm for firebrands and underdog candidates to shake things up, and create problems for parties further down the line.
If this remains constant, and it certainly has, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see Massachusetts’ three independent candidates overperform expectations in November.
All politics was local
It’s very easy to dismiss such results as the normal voter apathy associated with primaries, but for Massachusetts, it goes further than just Tuesday’s primary. Like a weed, it has dug its roots into the innermost workings of local government. Local elections all over have plummeted to embarrassing lows, as well as turnout in Massachusetts’ last statewide elections. This writer’s native Charlton barely cracked 5% this last spring in a town of over 9,500 registered voters. When former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neal said all politics is local, the Massachusetts mammoth had no idea that large families would one day become electoral power-brokers.
A common question in election official circles is “what can we do?” A mix of traditional GOTV efforts have been only superficial, bringing voters to the polls who then proceed to either vote for single candidates, or vote once and never return. Voter dissatisfaction with the election process also remains a consistent issue. Since the primary elections of 2010, numerous voters have voiced encouragement with the notion of a blanket style primary, as is used in Louisiana, and in a way, California, but there’s significant concerns in whether this would actually damage the electoral process even more.
One thing for certain however, is that voters in the Cradle have been increasingly taking such a liberty for granted, and it’s only a matter of time before they find themselves stuck with a selection of candidates, as well as their parties, only representing those that bothered to show up.
But, perhaps, that’s exactly what might be needed to finally fix things.