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.”

Charlton Republicans caucus to send delegates to Boston

If you’ve been following the news in Massachusetts, you’ve probably heard about the current Democratic caucuses set to take place during the months of January and February. For those unfamiliar with the inner-workings of the political process, a caucus is a meeting between party brass and party activists to fill positions of responsibility, amend party platforms, and set long-term strategies. The process is dictated by Robert’s Rules of Order, the same used to conduct business at open town meetings, and is the first step in organizing for 2014.

However, this isn’t something only happening within the Democratic Party. As Massachusetts Democrats meet to prepare for 2014, so are their Republican counterparts.

The Charlton Republican Town Committee, the recognized local affiliate of the Massachusetts Republican Party, conducted their own caucus this past week. While the act of voting was open only to members of the Town Committee, registered Republicans were still invited to come out in attendance to mingle, get involved, and observe the process.

A copy of the ballots designed for the CRTC straw poll.
A sample copy of the ballots designed for the CRTC straw poll.

Alongside the official caucus was also a preference poll. Preference polls, or “straw” polls as they’re more commonly known, are informal polls used to gauge the support of a local candidate or measure. Unlike the caucus, the straw poll was open to all participants.

The voting portion of the caucus was over within 15 minutes, with the CRTC voting unanimously to send twelve delegates, including alternates and ex-officio delegates, to the March convention.

Senate hopefuls James Ehrhard and Mike Valanzola, as well as Gubernatorial hopeful Mark Fisher, were also in attendance.

Mike Valanzola addresses the CRTC.
Mike Valanzola addresses the CRTC.

James Ehrhard, a lawyer based out of the Sturbridge area, and Mike Valanzola, a Wales selectman, are facing off against each other to win the chance to run for the Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire & Middlesex District seat. Stephen Brewer (D-Barre), who’s held the seat for seven terms, is retiring in the Fall. Democratic representative Anne Gobi is also running.

James Ehrhard addresses the CRTC.
James Ehrhard addresses the CRTC.

Ehrhard and Valanzola, aware that it will be an uphill battle, are still confident with their campaigns. “I’m young and experienced [and] an able campaigner” Valanzola remarked.  “We’re only four and a half weeks in, and we’ve already had a phenomenal reception.” But, he acknowledges that there’s no room to get lazy. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Ehrhard is also confident in the strength of his campaign, citing that 2014 is shaping to be a good environment for his prospects. “This is objectively a Republican year. […] We have good internal numbers. It really helps you know what you’re dealing with.” He also points to the recent gas tax as an important part of his running. “It’s symbolic of [Beacon Hill] having no regard for spending.”

Mark Fisher, a small business owner based out of Auburn, faces a different kind of battle. Whereas Ehrhard and Valanzola face off in a primary, Fisher’s fight is one that will be decided on the convention floor. Only with the support of 15% of the total convention delegates will Fisher be able to run in a primary against former Harvard Pilgrim CEO and 2010 Gubernatorial Candidate Charlie Baker.

Fisher, who is running as the “Tea Party” candidate, says he has already met with over 50 Republican Town Committees. “We’re confident we can pull it off.”

Mark Fisher speaks before the CRTC.
Mark Fisher speaks before the CRTC.

Addressing concerns that a primary run against Charlie Baker would weaken both candidates in the 2014 General

Election, Fisher claims the opposite. “I would make Charlie Baker a better candidate. He would make me a better candidate.”

As for his choice in a Lt. Governor candidate to balance the ticker, Fisher explained that Charlie Baker’s current pick, Karyn Polito, is “the choice of the people” and he would keep her. “Karyn Polito is [already] my running-mate, but not until after the primaries”.

Vice-Chairman Peter Cooper, Sr. addresses the CRTC while Chairman Joe Szafarowicz looks on.
Vice-Chairman Peter Cooper, Sr. addresses the CRTC while Chairman Joe Szafarowicz looks on.

As for the opinion of the people they were trying to woo, Vice-Chairman of the CRTC. Peter Cooper, Sr. is content with whomever comes out as the Republican standard-bearer in August, so long as there’s unity. “We need to come together. There can’t be a repeat of 2012.” he said, referencing the fight between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney delegates that broke out during the last time Republicans caucused in Massachusetts.

As for the results of the straw poll, the final numbers act as a testament to the closeness of the races, with Mike Valanzola defeating James Ehrhard 54% to 46%, and Charlie Baker defeating Mark Fisher by the same margin.

The Massachusetts Republican Party State Convention will be held on March 22nd, at Boston’s Agganis Arena.