Marshall Burt’s historic statehouse win is first since 2002, fifth in party history
From LP News | Vol. 50, Issue 3 | Quarter 3, 2020
By Andy Craig • Maryland
For the first time in a generation, a Libertarian has been elected to a state legislature. Marshall Burt, a track inspector for the Union Pacific railroad and Marine Corps veteran, defeated a long-time Democratic incumbent to represent Wyoming’s House District 39. Burt’s campaign was spearheaded by Apollo Pazell, candidate support specialist for the Libertarian National Committee. Burt’s win was no accident, but the result of a new focus by the LNC to target resources, assistance, and talent on winning state legislative seats and local offices through the Frontier Project.
Burt attended the Frontier Summit held in Cheyenne in 2019 after Pazell identified him from the party’s membership list. His experience in the Marine Corps, where he served for nine years, and as a local leader in groups like the American Legion and the volunteer fire department in his hometown of Green River, made him an ideal pick.
Burt was not initially inclined to run for office. But after many hours of tough questions for Pazell and other Libertarian leaders, he was persuaded by the opportunity to represent his neighbors and friends in the state House of Representatives. Pazell recalls finally receiving the question most common from prospective candidates: “Why me?” to which the response was simply, “Why not you?” Convinced by the data showing a winnable race and the party’s plan to support his campaign, he agreed to run.
Burt didn’t find the Libertarian label to be a problem, either. Talking to voters, he describes his elevator pitch as simply “limited government, balanced budget, do what you want in your life without being infringed upon by anyone else.” It was a message that resonated in District 39, delivering Burt a convincing victory: 54.4% to 44.6% over incumbent Stan Blake, who has held the seat for 14 years.
Teams of canvassers were deployed to assist the Frontier Project’s targeted candidates, knocking the door of every registered voter in the district many times over, engaging in both persuasion and careful tracking of the state of the race. Pazell also worked closely in the community to secure key endorsements and support from local leaders.
LNC Chair Joe Bishop-Henchman sees Burt’s victory as a vindication for the Frontier Project’s model. “It’s time for the Libertarian Party to get out of start-up mode. Winning elections for state legislature is a crucial step for the party’s growth, and was one of my biggest motivations in running for chair,” he said.
Bishop-Henchman joined the candidates in Wyoming for the final push and met with Burt the day after the election to discuss the future of the party and policy proposals for Burt’s time in the legislature. “As a tax policy expert, I’ve gone to many state legislatures to work on crucial reforms, offering testimony and participating in negotiations. And I can’t overstate how much of a difference it will make to have even one principled Libertarian at the table in those discussions,” he said.
Burt’s goals in the legislature include defending Second Amendment rights, working to expand educational opportunities and diversifying the state’s economy at a time when the state’s dependence on oil and mineral extraction has been hit hard by the recession. As he explained, “We must make Wyoming the most attractive state to do business in and innovate. We need to begin diversifying our economy so that crises like this do not have such a big impact on our families in the future.”
Republican and Democratic members of the House also reached out to Burt, offering their congratulations and expressing their eagerness to work with Wyoming’s first third-party legislator in more than a century.
Another of the Frontier Project’s candidates, Bethany Baldes of Riverton, Wyo., came within just 32 votes of winning her election. Trisha Butler, running for Clarksville, Tenn., city council, also won her election after working closely with Pazell and the Frontier team, which invited candidates across the country to participate and receive strategic advice and assistance. Canvassers were also deployed to other states, including other near-wins such as Hanna Waugh for Lake County, Colo., Commissioner.
Pazell’s goals for the next year include training up more canvassers, campaign managers, and candidate support specialists to replicate this success. “This was proof of concept that Libertarians can win these races,” he says, “and now it’s time to expand this model across the country. I’m excited about where this will go.”