Historic LP Texas State Convention Meets Online, Names New All-Female Leadership

From LP News | Vol. 50, Issue 3 | Quarter 3, 2020

By Chris Clemence • LPHQ Stewardship Associate

Chris Clemence, LPHQ Stewardship Associate

The Libertarian Party of Texas bore witness to profound change this convention season. After a 103-day delay, the state convention moved 500 miles across the state to host both in-person and online delegates as they elected the party’s first-ever all-female team of executive officers.

LPTexas held its biennial convention in Big Spring, Texas, forced to relocate in both time and place from the party’s initial plans to hold it in McAllen in mid-April. With only days to find a new venue and make arrangements for the gathering, Big Spring mayor Shannon Thomason stepped forward and arranged for his party to use the historic Big Spring Municipal Auditorium to carry out its convention.

With a venue identified, the convention committee went to work. The 87-year-old building presented unique challenges for the tech team, and several days of tests began almost immediately. Drawing upon the knowledge and experiences gained at the national convention a few weeks earlier, delegates who were unable to attend in person were linked to the venue via Zoom and managed on a Discord channel.

The work of the party began on Saturday morning, gaveled in by outgoing state chair John Wilford of Denton County. The first issue to decide was that of online participation. Though questions remained and doubts lingered, the delegates in the 1,412-seat auditorium allowed online participants to become credentialed and have input in the party’s business by a comfortable margin.

LPTexas’s rules were the scene of a great deal of activity and interest, as the delegates chose to return to amending them at the conclusion of all other business for the day. The rules committee submitted a report offering almost three dozen proposed changes, with all but ten of them entered into the rules in some form. Seven of the committee’s recommendations were passed unamended, and four of those without objection.

Of the changes made to the bylaws, a sizable portion of them were done in an effort at distinguishing the party from the election code and to increase the avenues for electronic submissions. The highly-controversial process for filling vacant seats on the State Libertarian Executive Committee (SLEC) was again amended this year, striking most of the language added in 2018 in order to increase transparency and openness to the process.

Perhaps the most seismic shift to the state’s rules was from first-past-the-post voting to approval voting. Citing complaints with the lengthiness of the process and the limiting nature of having to choose only one individual from among possibly several preferred candidates, the move to approval voting will eliminate the spoiler effect from party elections that will now be decided likely in only one round. Additionally, the perennial Libertarian candidate NOTA has now gained a significantly stronger place in the process, as s/he now runs head-to-head against every candidate and not as but one entrant in the melee.

Delegates broke for the evening on Saturday to attend a 1920’s-themed gala at the nearby Hotel Settles, the historic 15-floor, 150-room hotel built in 1930 by local ranchers Will R. and Lillian Settles. Long the tallest building from El Paso to Fort Worth, the edifice barely contained the free-spirited delegates as they recreated the spifflicated flappers and ossified Gatsbys of a century past, donning gladrags and putting on a sockdollager the likes of which haven’t been seen in those parts since the repeal of the Volstead Act.

The delegates reconvened on Sunday to make some of the most momentous changes the party has seen in decades. Largely on the strength of the very personal testimony of Chairman Wilford, the body adopted a new plank staking out the party’s position that personal relationships among consenting adults of any plurality as being decidedly outside of the purview of the state. Delegates also chose to add to the platform a plank supporting medical freedom and recognizing the liberty each person should have to direct the care of his or her own health without the interference of the government.

With the Trump Administration’s crackdown on the free migration across the Rio Grande in front of mind, LPTexas planted its flag firmly in the territory of liberty with its passage of an all-new plank on immigration. The “Liberty to Immigrate and Freely Trade” (LIFT) plank replaced in its entirety the existing “Free Trade and Migration” plank, cementing the party’s belief in the clearest language yet that individuals have the right to live and work wherever they choose so long as they recognize the individual rights of others. Rather than leaving the most basic of choices to politicians and bureaucrats, the new language entrusts the decision to the responsibility of each person as they make their own decisions on how best to participate in the free market.
“Texas made a statement about treating people equally instead of like second-class human beings,” explained convention secretary and Bexar County delegate Arthur M. Thomas IV. Though a token objection was made to the addition, the new LIFT plank sailed through the delegation on its way into the 2020 platform.

Caucusing of the party’s 31 state senate districts took place over lunch. Fifty-six Texans were chosen to represent their districts for the upcoming term on SLEC, which will run until the party’s next convention in 2022.

From Left: Kate Prather, Treasurer, Bekah Congdon, Vice Chair, Whitney Bilyeu, Chair and Stephanie Berlin, Secretary. (Photo courtesy of LPTexas)

LPTexas saved its most historic gesture for last as it chose its new executive officers for the coming two-year term. In a moment almost a century in the making, LPTexas honored the recognition of a woman’s right to vote in perhaps the best way it could, by selecting four imminently-qualified candidates to positions in state leadership who also happen to be female. Franklin County’s Kate Prather followed up her role as interim treasurer by running unopposed for the position in the new term, while Bexar County’s Stephanie Berlin replaced outgoing LPTexas secretary and former LNC secretary Gary E. Johnson of Travis County in similar fashion.

The lone contested election was that of vice-chair, held among Harris County’s Scott Ford, Bexar County’s outgoing chair Bekah Congdon, and NOTA, hailing from parts unknown. Accomplished entirely via email ballot, the 30-year-old LNC staffer won the day, replacing Williamson County’s Steven R. Harris.

LPTexas completed the filling of state officer positions by naming Harris County real estate agent and LNC Region 7 representative Whitney C. Bilyeu to the party’s highest office by acclamation. Upon a stage that once held Wayne Newton, Hank Williams, Jr., and Elvis Presley, Bilyeu tearfully joined Congdon, Berlin and Prather as the women who will navigate LPTexas into its 50th year and the challenges that the next two years will present.