The 2018 election is over and Jilletta Jarvis, the Libertarian candidate for Governor of New Hampshire has failed to reach the 4% required for the Libertarian Party of NH to retain ballot access, which it achieved in 2016 for the first time in two decades. I want it to be clear, I really like Jilletta and she was a much better candidate than the 2016 offering from the LP, Max Abramson. Jilletta ran a good campaign and was much more active than Abramson, but didn’t even come close to Abramson’s 4%. She got 1.46%. What happened?
It’s pretty clear that 2016 was a fluke. I’d speculated then that Abramson, who barely existed as a candidate, and other “Libertarians” like Gary Johnson at the national level had benefited from people’s frustrations with Trump and Hillary being their main presidential choices. It’s pretty clear this palpable frustration benefited all third parties in 2016, with the Libertarian and Green presidential candidates getting three times their vote totals from 2012. People weren’t voting for the Libertarians and Greens, they were voting against Trump and Hillary.
Add to that the fact that major media entities WMUR and the Union Leader set their debate rules to exclude the Libertarian candidates like Jilletta, and it’s pretty clear she didn’t get a fair chance from all New Hampshire media. Shame on WMUR and the Union Leader for excluding their viewers and readers from knowing about their third choice.
Of course, the two-party duopoly has long been complicit in excluding libertarians politically. In the 90s when the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire got ballot access for the first time by getting over 3% of the vote, the Republicans and Democrats voted to raise the bar 33% higher to its current level of 4%.
Not all the blame can be placed on the media and government, however. While Jilletta is a wonderful person and a far better candidate than we had in 2016, she wasn’t the most principled libertarian. Doubt my claim? Even the Keene Sentinel knows what a libertarian is supposed to sound like. In a recent piece in the Sentinel, opinion page editor Wilfred Bilodeau said:
She seems enthusiastic and smart, but we were struck at how her libertarian vision differs from some of the party’s more orthodox candidates. She says she’s for smaller government but outlined several programs that would necessitate spending more money. To improve education, she pitched the concept of centralizing public education, with the state collecting all education taxes and determining how to best spend them. That strikes us as anything but a libertarian approach. Overall, we feel Jarvis has some worthy ideas, but her vision for the state seems unfocused, perhaps due to the pressure of trying to appeal to enough voters to garner the 4 percent of the vote needed to keep the party on the ballot.
The good news is the media, at least in Keene, has learned what a libertarian is supposed to say. A true libertarian should be advocating the non-aggression principle and applying it consistently across all government programs. That means eliminating coercion from the system, or eliminating the system entirely. That’s it. If Jilletta believes in some government coercion, she really shouldn’t be the party’s nominee. Watering down the message does not win over votes. Staying true to principles is what the LP is supposed to be about. Hopefully the LPNH will offer more principled state level candidates in the future so we can see how their vote totals compare to Jilletta and her similarly – as the Sentinel described it – “unfocused” predecessors.
Meanwhile, the Libertarians have once again lost ballot access and will need to struggle to get it again in 2020 via the difficult and expensive process of gathering petition signatures. All the while the Republicans and Democrats benefit by merely having to pay $2 to run for state rep and $10 for state senate. Plus, the duopoly parties benefit from straight-ticket voting, which appears to be what many voters do. Many voters don’t know who the candidates are, so they just vote for their party – likely the same party to which their parents were registered.
For years, libertarians in New Hampshire have been debating whether or not working within the Republican and Democrat parties is the best strategy. The LPNH folks typically say they’d be stronger if the libertarians who’d joined the major two parties would have joined the LPNH. However the libertarians joining the Rs and Ds are getting elected and have been for many years now. How many of them are watering down their views or hiding them from the big party members, I don’t know. The point is they are winning and many of them have been re-elected multiple times, like the A+ rated liberty “legislator of the year” Mike Sylvia of Belknap county, or Mark Warden, also an A+ rated liberty “legislator of the year”, as awarded by the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance.
It’s hard to argue with success. Also, in any other state besides New Hampshire this takeover-the-major-parties tactic would be near impossible due to the small number of libertarian activists elsewhere. In NH, we have the largest (and growing) contingent of libertarians, voluntarists, and liberty-loving anarchists on the planet.
Political takeover is a reality and the reason why I resigned from the national Libertarian Party in disgust in 2008. The national LP had been infiltrated by a bunch of Republicans and sure enough they took control of the party’s presidential nominations in 2008, 2012, and 2016.
However, if the Republicans and Democrats refuse to treat the LPNH fairly by making ballot access difficult and excluding us from debates, then they shouldn’t be upset when we join their parties instead. Now that the state is going to eliminate Libertarian from the registration options, I can be “undeclared”, or declare as Democrat or Republican. I was a Democrat previously (and ran for governor in the Democrat primary in 2012 and 2014). Perhaps it’s time for a new approach and… join the Republicans? What would you do in my position?