The small-government movement in Arizona has given the Libertarian Party a chance to field more candidates for state office this year than any election in at least 14 years, though some candidates have been tagged as ideological carpetbaggers by their own establishment.
Twenty-two Libertarians have qualified for the Aug. 24 primary election ballot, and many are hoping that the anti-incumbent, fiscally conservative sentiment that helped spawn the tea party movement could lead voters to reject the mainstream parties and vote Libertarian instead.
The tea party movement has drawn in many conservatives who are disappointed with the direction of the Republican Party. The similarities between the tea partiers’ beliefs and the Libertarian Party platform waere bound to drum up interest in the Libertarian Party, said Rick Herrera, a political science professor at Arizona State University, though he said Republicans and Libertarians often differ on non-economic issues such as abortion.
“On some dimension, it seems like the Libertarian Party candidates would be closer to the tea party advocates than the Republican Party,” Herrera said. “There’s still quite a bit of discontent with the Republican Party generally. So they may be saying, ‘This is as good a time as any, so why not forget running as a Republican?’”
But the tea party movement has presented a complex set of problems for party leaders in Arizona who are trying to snare as much public support as possible without compromising the party’s core principles.
Barry Hess, the Arizona Libertarian Party standard bearer, said some of the newbie candidates may be tainted — specifically, the three candidates who are running against him for the party’s nomination for governor.
Hess, the vice chairman of the Arizona Libertarian Party and a candidate for governor in 2002 and 2006, is taking his third shot at the Ninth Floor. But unlike past elections when Hess ran unopposed or against one other challenger for his party’s nomination, he’s now one of four Libertarian candidates in the race.
“Not one of these guys has anything to do with the Libertarian Party. Never been to a meeting. Never interested in the philosophy. It’s all about ballot access,” Hess said. “And I think the state party will be reacting to these carpetbagging ideas pretty quickly.”
In some cases, the evidence backs up Hess’ contentions.
Alvin Ray Yount, a retired professor from Prescott who is running for governor as a Libertarian, initially filed to run as an independent, but later wrote on his website that he switched to Libertarian because it was easier to get the 2,467 signatures he needed to run as a partisan candidate than the 28,187 he needed to run as an independent. Yount also bucked his party’s opposition to public campaign financing by running as a Clean Elections candidate.
Yount said conversion was largely because his ideals on issues such as fiscal conservatism and small government are in line with Libertarian philosophy. He said he briefly explored the idea of running as a Republican, but was dissuaded by the fact that more than a dozen people were seeking the GOP nomination at the time.
“I’m super conservative and kind of wanted to go with the Republicans,” Yount said. “There’s so many parallels between me and the Libertarians that it was a really, really good match.”
Ronald Cavanaugh, another Libertarian candidate, said he used to be a registered Democrat who considered himself an independent. He is still very supportive of AHCCCS, Arizona’s Medicaid program, but said he has always believed in core Libertarian ideas like gun rights and limited government.
“When I read information on the Libertarian Party, we run side-to-side pretty much,” said Cavanaugh, a former truck driver and drug counselor who lives in Springerville.
Another Libertarian candidate, semi-retired pilot Bruce Olsen, said he used to be a Republican but became dismayed by what he views as the GOP’s hypocrisy on fiscal issues and lackluster record on illegal immigration. He cast his lot with the Libertarian Party after meeting Wayne Allyn Root, the Libertarian vice presidential candidate in 2008.
“I’ve been so fed up with the Republican Party for a number of years and really didn’t know much about the Libertarian side of things,” Olsen said. “(The Republicans) didn’t solve anything, and we kept getting deeper and deeper and deeper in debt.”
Hess referred to Olsen as a “disgruntled Republican” who had no business on a Libertarian ticket, but Olsen said the criticism is off base.
“I’m being criticized because they think I’m hijacking the Libertarian Party. I’m not. That had nothing to do with it,” said Olsen, who lives in Overgaard.
Hess’ three challengers, of course, questioned his claim to the mantle of the Libertarian Party. Much like Republicans’ constant battles for the soul of the GOP, they say Hess’s beliefs aren’t the only proper way for a Libertarian to view the world, and say it’s time for him to step aside and give someone else a shot at the governor’s race.
“He hasn’t won, has he? He’s the wrong candidate. That’s what it tells me,” Cavanagh said. “If you tried twice and you haven’t gotten anywhere, then give up. It wasn’t meant to be.”
Hess isn’t taking the perceived affront to his party lightly. He said the party will do its best to get the word out to voters. While the party won’t give out official endorsements until after the Aug. 24 primary, Hess said the party’s website will soon include a list of candidates it is specifically not supporting, including his three rivals.
The party considered challenging Cavanaugh’s petition signatures, Hess said, but decided to discredit him instead.
“We’d rather make fun of him and humiliate him than knock him off the ballot,” Hess said.
For Libertarians, electoral success is a relative term. Even though Arizona voters have a reputation for supporting small-government ideals, no Libertarian candidate has ever won a statewide or legislative office. Hess, for instance, has yet to receive more than 2 percent of the vote in a general election.
Of the 22 Libertarian candidates, one is running for U.S. Senate, four are running for governor, seven are running for the U.S. House, and 10 are running for legislative seats.
Michael White, a Libertarian candidate for the Senate in Legislative District 12, said he has been involved with the party for about five months, and Hess supports his candidacy. The 32-year-old teacher at Centennial High School said he was a longtime Republican who ultimately rejected the GOP.
“I think I’ve been a Libertarian all along,” White said.
The Libertarian Party has seen stranger defections. Jack Kretzer, a House candidate in Legislative District 24, ran for the same seat in 2008 as a Green Party candidate. He said he wanted to run in 2008 as an independent, but chose the Green Party instead because of easier access to the ballot. This year, the Green Party had no ballot access when he decided to run again — the party has since been certified for ballot access by the Secretary of State’s Office — so he ran as a Libertarian instead.
While Hess vowed to retaliate against any Libertarian candidate who fails to pass muster with the party, he said he hopes to build on the momentum created by the 2008 presidential campaign of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, who ran as a Republican but sought the presidency as a Libertarian in 1988. The conservative tea party movement has laid claim to Paul’s legacy, Hess said, but said that claim belongs to the Libertarian Party.
“The Libertarians are the heart of the tea party. There’s no question,” Hess said. “We’re not the spoilers. They are.”
2010 Libertarian candidates
Governor: Ronald Cavanaugh, Barry Hess
Bruce Olsen, Alvin Ray Yount
US Senate: David Nolan
CD2: Powell Gammill
CD3: Michael Shoen
CD4: Joe Cobb
CD5: Nick Coons
CD7: Andrew Ibarra, George Keane
CD8: Steven Stoltz
LD9 Senate: Michael Patti
LD12 Senate: Michael White
LD17 Senate: Garret Chartier-Dickie
LD18 Senate: Andrea Garcia
LD24 Senate: Jack Kretzer
LD2 House: Frank Mulligan
LD7 House: Jim Iannuzo
LD17 House: Crisian Dumitrescu, Damian Trabel
LD18 House: Chris Will