Libertarians in Utah; the fastest growing third-party option

ST. GEORGE – As election time nears, the Libertarian Party of Utah offers an alternative to two-party politics, saying it’s time for a change.

Who are the Libertarians?

Carrying the motto of “maximum freedom, minimum government,” the Libertarian Party advocates that every citizen is endowed with individual rights, and that the government’s only authority should be to uphold them. They promote a variety of choices in areas including education and self-defense, and that any lifestyle choice should be allowed as long as it does no harm to others. While focusing on individual freedoms, the party also supports a strong national defense and a firm, yet fair, criminal justice system.

Many Libertarians identify with values that are considered both right and left-wing; however, the party itself lies between the two sides. Its platform supports the ideas of libertarianism: free markets, open immigration, non-interventionism, drug legalization, rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens and an emphasis on civil liberties. Officially, the party is classified as being fiscally conservative and socially liberal.

The Libertarian party was formed on December 11, 1971, in the home of political activist David Nolan. He, along with a half-dozen politicians, had become dissatisfied with both the Democratic and Republican parties in light of the Vietnam War and the end of the Gold Standard, feeling that they had abandoned the principles of the Founding Fathers. The following year, the party had grown significantly and put forth its first presidential candidates, John Hospers and Theodora “Tonie” Nathan. While they earned only a fraction of the popular vote, they received one electoral vote, which made Nathan the first woman in United States history to do so.

Like Hospers and Nathan, Libertarian presidential candidates have not fared well in elections, typically receiving less than one percent of the popular vote. Despite this, the party is the third largest and fastest growing in the country, with 157 Libertarians currently holding office. Its rapid growth over the last 40 years and continuing support have led some to believe that a third major party could be possible in the future.

“Every party began small,” said Tom Garrison, a St. George resident and Libertarian. “At one point in our history, the Republican Party was a third party.”

Utah Libertarians

A native of Santa Barbara, California, Garrison was an active member of the Socialist Party USA and the California Peace and Freedom Party for many years. But in the mid-1990s, he started reconsidering his commitment to left-wing politics after observing “a lack of respect for the concept of personal responsibility” and “strong intolerance for diversity of ideas” among fellow socialists. In reading material by Libertarian authors, he soon found that his views on many of the country’s issues matched those of the party.

By 1997 he had joined and is now an outspoken Libertarian advocate; in May he represented Utah as a delegate at the 2012 Libertarian National Convention. His transition, as well as the experiences of other liberals who became Libertarians, is chronicled in “Why We Left the Left: Personal Stories by Leftists/Liberals Who Evolved to Embrace Libertarianism.” He is also the author of over 20 essays, ranging in topic from politics to humor and travel.

Utah has long had an affiliation with the Libertarian Party. The town of Big Water, in Kane County, made national headlines in 1986 when mayor Alex Joseph abandoned the Republican Party while in office, making him the first Libertarian mayor in the country. In 2001, long after Joseph left politics, Big Water voters elected Libertarian Willy Marshall as Utah’s first openly gay mayor.

Since Joseph, the Libertarian Party of Utah has grown exponentially and is headed today by Jake Shannon, an entrepreneur and former candidate for Congress. He is also the host of Mental Self Defense Radio, which broadcasts on K-Talk 630 AM, a South Jordan-based station focusing on independent politics.

Party members are active not just at election times but throughout the year, hosting twice-monthly meetings and dozens of public rallies across the state. In April 2012, the party hosted its very first State Convention in Salt Lake City. Among the featured speakers were James “Flaming Eagle” Mooney, a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization of former and current law enforcement officials seeking to legalize drugs and the Dargers, a polygamous family seeking equal rights for plural marriages.

“Utah is a great state for alternative party politics,” said Mark Hilgenberg,             vice chair of the Libertarian Party of Utah. “(We have) a big draw (with) registered independent voters, which is currently larger than both Democrat and Republican voters.”

Hilgenberg and his staff are highly involved in public outreach. Social media has been instrumental to raising awareness about the party, as well as boosting candidates’ recognition. At Libertarian events, staff will frequently invite passers-by to take the World’s Smallest Political Quiz, a series of 10 questions that determines a voter’s political leanings.

2012 candidates

Federal candidates

Gary Johnson – President

Jim Gray – Vice President

Jim Vein – House of Representatives, Utah District 4

State candidates

Ken Larsen – Governor

Robert Latham – Lieutenant Governor

Andrew McCullough – Attorney General

Vincent Marcus III – Treasurer

Courtney White – Senate, District 19

Jared Stratton – House of Representatives, District 8

Kevin Bryan – House of Representatives, District 16

Chelsea Travis – House of Representatives, District 35

Chase Lantis – House of Representatives, District 47

Kenny Barlow – House of Representatives, District 59

Barry Short – House of Representatives, District 72

Local candidates

Steven Sorenson – County Commissioner, Millard County

With the 2012 elections rapidly approaching, Libertarian candidates are sending their campaigns into overdrive, reaching out to the public, especially to youth and those looking for an alternative to the two major parties. Presidential candidate Gary Johnson has endorsed several hopefuls, who have also appeared on Mental Self Defense Radio in recent months.

Lieutenant Governor candidate Robert Latham joined the Libertarian Party 20 years ago and has since served as chair of the Utah branch and a representative on the Libertarian National Committee and LNC Judicial Committee. However, his political views were once far more conventional.

Latham began his political career as a law student working under Utah senator Orrin Hatch at the Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C. in 1992. He quickly climbed the Republican Party ladder and ran for a position in the Utah State Legislature in 1998. It was though this, and his work with a political consulting firm in Sacramento, California, that he began to understand, in his words, how “private interests seek to obtain unfair advantages over their competitors through government-created corporate welfare, and how so-called public interests (amass) more regulatory and taxing power through the political process. That awareness launched my journey away from the Republican Party and (towards) the Libertarian.” He pledged to become a life member in 2009, and today views his work as a criminal defense attorney as “advancing the cause of liberty.”

A self-proclaimed “recovering Republican,” Latham encouraged citizens who do not fully support either of the major parties to follow their values and make their vote count.

“A vote for the lesser of two evils still advances evil,” he said. “If you support the cause of liberty, (choose a) Libertarian.”

Though a third-party candidate has never been elected Governor or Lieutenant Governor of Utah, a state known for its strong conservative ties, Latham said he has confidence in his party and that voters should be willing to embrace new ideas.

“I’m encouraged that more people are realizing they are Libertarian and I look forward to the day when enough people realize that we can withdraw our consent to be governed by the political class,” he said. “Taking responsibility can be scary, but allowing (them) to treat us like tax cattle is scarier.”

Looking to the future

Past numbers indicate that it is unlikely Libertarians will clinch a large victory in the upcoming elections, but continued support for their candidates can only increase the party’s growing influence on politics in the U.S. And while he recognizes that Libertarian views are not for everyone, Hilgenberg said that people should never be afraid to think outside the box and make a change.

“(Being Libertarian) is the ultimate in peaceful politics,” he said. “We are coming to a point where change will happen fast, and I feel confident that individual liberty is the way of the future. If you value hearing a different message, you should vote Libertarian.”

Latham said, “I would be grateful, honored and humbled to receive the favor of your vote.”

St. George News Editor Joyce Kuzmanic contributed to this article.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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  • Murat July 26, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    “…Libertarian presidential candidates have not fared well in elections, typically receiving less than one percent of the popular vote.” And they’ll never receive much more than that. It’s the 1% club you don’t want to be in.

    • izzymuse May 30, 2016 at 7:50 am

      Would you like to see Trump or Clinton in the White House?

  • Libertario July 26, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    Rigged elections in the United States keep Libertarian vote totals low. In Costa Rica, which uses a more competitive and representative electoral method, Libertarians receive about 10 percent of the votes and 10 percent of the seats in the national legislature.

    Do Republicans and Democrats who conspire to cheat Utahns out of fair elections deserve our vote?

  • Tom Garrison July 26, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    Good article. The reporter did her homework and wrote a fair analysis of the Libertarian Party.

  • June July 27, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Please help Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson get into the official debates.

  • James July 23, 2014 at 10:51 pm

    yeah, too bad both republicans and democrats have screwed up the system so third parties can’t do much.

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