Mike Fellows sets national LP record in MT, mulls another run for office

Part of a series highlighting significant stories from the 2012 election

Mike Fellows, Montana LP Chair

In the 2012 election, Mike Fellows of Montana became the first Libertarian in national LP history to crack the 40 percent barrier in a partisan statewide race. He won 185,419 votes, or 43 percent, and carried 27 of the state’s 56 counties in a two-way race for clerk of the Supreme Court against incumbent Democrat Ed Smith.

It was also the largest vote percentage for an LP candidate in the state’s history.

Montana Libertarians credit his success to the election’s two-way race, to the name recognition Fellows has built for himself through previous campaigns, and to the state LP’s overall success in exposing voters to libertarian ideas.

“The large percentage that he got showed that, I think, more and more Montanans realize what ‘libertarian’ is,” said Roger Roots, who ran for Secretary of State. He says the state party has articulated the message of libertarianism well, winning over some Republicans.

“He’s been [active] a long time in the Libertarian Party here in Montana,” said David Merrick, the Ravalli County LP Chairman. “In fact, he’s probably been the glue that’s kept it together and kept us on the ballot here for probably 10 to 15 years.”

Fellows ran for Congress against Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) five consecutive times from 2002 to 2010, more than doubling his first-time vote totals in the last election. He won 8,988 votes in 2002, growing to 20,691 votes, or 7.9 percent, in 2010.

Fellows got out to plenty of events during his campaign, including the Missoula Hempfest, the the Missoula gun show and numerous parades and festivals.

“He did most of this on his own, but it’s been an accumulation over all the years he’s been involved with the party,” Merrick said.

Merrick played a role in the Fellows campaign by mentioning his colleague in interviews, placing his name in ads, and passing out some of his literature at rallies. Roots had a hand with his social media strategy.

Roots said that, in retrospect, he thinks Fellows would have won the race if the campaign had raised more money.

Fellows, of Missoula, ran because he said people need to know their rights when they serve on a jury and to improve the efficiency of the clerk of the Montana Supreme Court.

“We assert the common-law right of juries to judge not only the facts but also the justice of the law,” says the LP platform. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, juries nullified alcohol prohibition by exercising their right to acquit those charged with alcohol possession based on their view that the law itself was unjust, leading to the eventual repeal of the 18th Amendment. Since then, courts have refused to inform juries of this right, and it is therefore rarely exercised.

“My main issue was always the fully-informed jury,” Fellows said. “And some of the other stuff we talked about [included] trying to get some better indexing software within the Clerk’s office and have some better response times for getting the case numbers out for the various cases.”

Besides his own campaign, Fellows is the state LP chair and regularly supported other LP candidates by passing out literature, mentioning them at parades and on blogs, and writing op-eds on their behalf.

Fellows said that as state chair, it’s his job to encourage others to run for office in upcoming elections, like the 2014 legislative races — and that he’ll probably toss his hat into the ring again, too.