Lib­er­tar­i­ans pon­der clos­ing pri­mary elec­tion ranks

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - NEWS - BY DALE DENWALT Capi­tol Bureau dden­walt@ok­la­

Ok­la­homa Lib­er­tar­i­ans are fac­ing a big choice as they set­tle into their first gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign sea­son: Who gets to pick their can­di­date?

When the party of­fi­cially formed last year, it told the state that any reg­is­tered in­de­pen­dent voter could cast a bal­lot in Lib­er­tar­ian Party pri­mary elec­tions. Now, how­ever, the party’s lead­er­ship will de­cide whether to close ranks, only al­low­ing the 4,000 or so reg­is­tered Lib­er­tar­i­ans to cast a bal­lot.

An ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee will meet next month to de­cide, but mem­bers and can­di­dates spoke out re­cently at a fo­rum cov­er­ing the topic. There is a split among the party, even among its can­di­dates for gov­er­nor.

Can­di­date Rex Lawhorn, a small busi­ness man­age­ment con­sul­tant from Tulsa, said he fa­vors a so-called closed pri­mary. He said in­de­pen­dent vot­ers have shunned po­lit­i­cal par­ties be­cause they are an­gry or have no pas­sion for their poli­cies.

“We are giv­ing them the op­por­tu­nity to ex­er­cise their lack of pas­sion for our mes­sage by not com­mit­ting to our party,” Lawhorn said. “There is still zero in­ter­est on their part, there is still zero un­der­stand­ing of core Lib­er­tar­ian prin­ci­ples, and we have al­lowed an un­e­d­u­cated pop­u­lace to de­ter­mine the Lib­er­tar­ian mes­sage in our in­fancy.”

Lib­er­tar­i­ans are now hav­ing the same de­bate Democrats had two years ago, as the Ok­la­homa Demo­cratic Party strug­gled with de­clin­ing mem­ber­ship and po­lit­i­cal power. Party of­fi­cials chose to open pri­maries, in part to at­tract Ok­la­homa’s bur­geon­ing class of un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers.

Joseph “Joe Ex­otic” Mal­don­ado, an­other Lib­er­tar­ian can­di­date for gov­er­nor, said by let­ting in­de­pen­dents in the door, they might de­cide to reg­is­ter.

“In or­der to grow this party, you’re go­ing to have to in­vite some peo­ple in and ed­u­cate them in the stan­dards and be­liefs of the Lib­er­tar­ian Party,” Mal­don­ado said at the fo­rum. “Fight­ing for one small, lit­tle group right now of 3,900 peo­ple, and just shut­ting the door on that idea, is not com­mon sense for me at all.”

For es­tab­lished po­lit­i­cal par­ties, Rose State Col­lege po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor James Daven­port — not a can­di­date — thinks closed pri­maries are bet­ter.

“Ev­ery­body kind of knows what it means to be a Repub­li­can or a Demo­crat,” he said.

But for the Lib­er­tar­ian Party, which is rel­a­tively new in Ok­la­homa as an or­ga­nized in­sti­tu­tion, not many vot­ers are fa­mil­iar with the plat­form.

“Right now, they just need greater ex­po­sure to a larger group of vot­ers,” Daven­port said. “If ev­ery reg­is­tered Lib­er­tar­ian voted in the gov­er­nor’s elec­tion next year for the Lib­er­tar­ian can­di­date, that wouldn’t get them any­where near the num­ber of votes they need to stay on the bal­lot in fu­ture elec­tions.”

To re­main a rec­og­nized party in Ok­la­homa, Lib­er­tar­i­ans must get at least 2.5 per­cent of the votes for gov­er­nor next year, and the same per­cent­age dur­ing the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Lawhorn said it’s not about the party or the can­di­date, but about the mes­sage that Lib­er­tar­i­ans be­lieve.

“And if you can’t get peo­ple to buy in to the mes­sage by mak­ing the sim­ple com­mit­ment of show­ing your pas­sion for the mes­sage by rereg­is­ter­ing as a Lib­er­tar­ian in or­der to choose who de­liv­ers that mes­sage, then we might as well not even be a party be­cause we have com­pletely de­feated our own pur­pose,” he said.

Chris Pow­ell, the third Lib­er­tar­ian can­di­date for gov­er­nor, ac­knowl­edged there are strong feel­ings on both sides of the is­sue. He has an opin­ion, but no longer ad­vo­cates for it to avoid alien­at­ing the other side.

“I think we would be do­ing our­selves a ser­vice by al­low­ing in­de­pen­dents to vote in our pri­mary in or­der to bet­ter pave the way for suc­cess in the gen­eral elec­tion,” he said.

Joseph “Joe Ex­otic” Mal­don­ado

Chris Pow­ell

Rex Lawhorn

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