Libertarian voter registration surges, but debates still exclude candidates

Libertarian Party voter registration has surged 92 percent in the last 10 years, according to Ballot Access News. The number of registered Democrats has declined 8 percent over that time, and Republican voter registration is down 5 percent. Democrats and Republicans are also being battered by people leaving their tribes to register as independents, who are up 19 percent in the last 10 years. Despite all this, the exclusion of viable Libertarian Party candidates from debates in contested elections is reaching new highs.

About 800 Libertarian Party candidates are stepping up this year to fill the vacuum of common sense created by feuding Democrats and Republicans. When Libertarians are on the debate stage, they provide common-sense solutions to our political problems, not just talking points from team red or blue.

Nicholas Sarwark, chair of the Libertarian National Committee and the Libertarian Party candidate for mayor of Phoenix, participated with three other candidates in an hourlong televised debate on Sept. 17. Fortunately, this was one of the rare instances in which Libertarian Party candidates are not omitted outright from political debates, and the results show why Libertarian participation matters.

In his allotted time, less than 15 minutes, Sarwark made a few major points. First, by extending the payment window of the city’s unfunded public pension liability by a decade, Phoenix saves $15 million per year in short-term costs but saddles his children’s generation with $2.3 billion in extra interest. An across-the-board city spending cut of 3 percent now would solve the pension crisis. Second, the problem of homelessness is best solved by removing the barriers to private charitable solutions rather than allowing the city council to choose a single vendor to deal with the problem. Third, today’s light rail problems were caused by the city refusing to listen to the needs of ordinary people during the planning stages. Fourth, Sarwark is the only candidate entirely opposed to taking money from ordinary taxpayers to subsidize billionaire sports team owners. He closed by saying that he is not working for lobbyists or taking their campaign contributions. He would be working for the ordinary residents of Phoenix.

Even though there were four candidates on the stage during the Phoenix mayoral debate, each had time to make their points. Libertarian Party candidates should be welcomed to the arena of public debate because they have common sense solutions, not excluded because they might upset the Republican-Democratic duopoly. Unfortunately, Libertarian Party exclusion from debates is the norm.

W. Scott Howard, the Libertarian Party candidate in Idaho’s first congressional district race, reached 10 percent in a Dan Jones & Associates poll conducted for Idaho Politics Weekly. The Republican and Democratic candidates in the race are polling at a close margin, 35 percent to 27 percent. Undecided voters are at a whopping 20 percent, and a fourth candidate got 6 percent. The name recognition that results from debate inclusion could put Howard in the winner’s circle, but when he reached out to Idaho Public Television, which hosts the debates, he got this form letter, they responded that “The Idaho Debates committee has decided that you do not meet the criteria for participation in the Idaho Congressional District 1 Debate.”

Japheth Campbell, Libertarian Party candidate in the Missouri race for U.S. Senate, polled at 6 percent in an NBC News/Marist survey. Only four points separated Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill and establishment Republican Josh Hawley, the latter of whom had to fend off a libertarian-leaning primary challenger. When the poll left Campbell out of their options, respondents chose McCaskill and Hawley in almost equal numbers. There’s little surprise that Hawley therefore refuses to consider any debate that includes Campbell.

Jeffrey Whipple, the Libertarian Party candidate in Utah’s second congressional district race, is polling at 5.2 percent in a Lighthouse Research survey. The Utah Debate Commission, however, has set its cutoff polling qualification just out of reach for debate inclusion, at an effective 6 percent (10 percent, with an allowed 4 percent margin of error).

Chris Powell, the Libertarian Party candidate for governor of Oklahoma, is a proven vote-getter after he received 36.43 percent of the vote for clerk of Oklahoma County in 2016 — the highest Libertarian Party percentage in Sooner State history. Oklahoma City daily newspaper the Oklahoman is holding a debate on Sept. 24, but did not invite Powell.

”My name will be at the top of every ballot in the state, but the Oklahoman doesn’t think voters need to know about their first option,” Powell said in a statement.

Tom Bailey, the Libertarian Party candidate in North Carolina’s 13th congressional district race, received 3 percent in a Civitas poll, with a 4.7 percent margin of error and a huge 19 percent of voters still undecided. The Democratic and Republican candidates are separated by only 5 points. Despite this, the Piedmont League of Women Voters, in partnership with the Greensboro News & Record, notified Bailey that he will be excluded from the debate.

Roger Barris, the Libertarian Party candidate in Colorado’s second congressional district race, is a Bowdoin College summa cum laude graduate in economics, a University of Michigan MBA in finance, and a former Wall Street investment banker who moved to Colorado because he loves the state. He founded Peakside Capital, which he still advises. His Democratic opponent, Joe Neguse, is so afraid of debating him that he turned down an offer of $10,000 that Barris would have donated to Neguse’s favorite charity if they both participated in a public debate.

Mark Tippetts, the Libertarian Party candidate for governor in Texas, is being shut out of the gubernatorial debate that will be televised throughout most of the state by Nexstar Media Group and Telemundo Sept. 28. One of their criteria for inclusion was a sufficient number of unique news reports. Tippetts, who is bilingual both in English and Spanish, provided them with many news stories covering his campaign in both English- and Spanish-language media. Ironically, the organizers refused to consider the Spanish-language news stories, despite the debate being hosted by a Spanish-language cable channel.

”I’m shocked that press coverage by Spanish-language stations in Texas is not recognized by Nexstar in deciding who will or will not be allowed to participate in the debate,” Tippetts said. “The only qualification that should matter is that we are on the ballot. There are only three candidates on the ballot in Texas because it is very difficult to get on the ballot. With the support of Texas voters, the Libertarian Party has ballot status. It is unfair to Texas voters to deny them the opportunity to watch a candidate they put on the ballot participate in the debate.”

At least one state Libertarian Party is threatening to go to court over debate exclusion.

Travis Irvine, the Libertarian Party candidate for governor in Ohio, knows how to attract viral attention. In a previous political campaign, Irvine made TV ads that were so entertaining, they were featured on PBS, CNN, and The Jay Leno Show. Irvine is nevertheless being excluded from an Oct. 10 debate in Cleveland sponsored by the Ohio Debate Commission. One of the founding members of the commission is the nonprofit City Club of Cleveland. Libertarian counsel Mark Brown argues that the City Club is effectively making an in-kind campaign contribution to the Democratic and Republican campaigns, in violation of federal election law, by inviting those candidates to the debates while excluding the ballot-qualified Libertarian Party candidate.

Despite concerted efforts by the Democratic and Republican political duopoly, along with a fossilized media landscape, about 800 Libertarian Party candidates are in it to win it this November.