The first line of an actual recent obituary reads, “Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond (Virginia) chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God on Sunday, May 15, 2016, at the age of 68.”
If only she had known she had other choices.
Those would include the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, and assorted others.
Let’s focus this column on the Libertarians, Arkansas’ most active third party. If you’re not familiar, it’s the one that says it’s for less government and actually, really, really means it. The Libertarians would cut social programs, including the popular ones, and they support gun rights. But cutting government also means shrinking the military, and they also would remove government from people’s personal decisions, which means they’d legalize marijuana and end the drug war. The party’s chairman in Arkansas, economist Dr. Michael Pakko, describes the party as a combination of small government constitutionalists, anarchists who want virtually no government, and “minanarchists” who fall somewhere in between.
The Libertarians this year are running 23 candidates in Arkansas, including likable party veteran Frank Gilbert for U.S. Senate and candidates in all four congressional races: Mark West in the 1st District; Chris Hayes in the 2nd; Steve Isaacson in the 3rd; and Kerry Hicks in the 4th.(Democrats could muster a candidate only in the 2nd District.) Eleven Libertarians are running for the state Legislature. And the party is doing this despite the fact that, under a law passed by Republicans and Democrats, it had to select its candidates a year before the election.
For Libertarians, this year represents the party’s best hope to ever make a splash. Their two-time presidential candidate, former Republican New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, won only 1.5 percent of the vote in Arkansas in 2012, but a recent Fox News poll showed him with 10 percent support in a hypothetical matchup with Trump and Clinton, and his running mate, former Republican Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, is an effective fundraiser.
The Libertarians won’t get 10 percent. Republicans and Democrats are highly skilled at painting each other as so terrible that many voters will decide they must pick one to save the country from the other. So don’t look for the United States to produce its third President Johnson.
But if Johnson can win 3 percent of the vote in Arkansas, it would be a big win for the state party. That’s the threshold it needs to qualify for the ballot in 2018 without having to collect 10,000 voter signatures, a task that Pakko said cost $34,000 this year as well as a lot of legwork.
How doable is 3 percent? The Libertarians’ top vote-getter in 2014, Hayes, won 6.36 percent in the treasurer’s race. Some conservative Republicans won’t vote for Trump, and they’re certainly not going to vote for Clinton, so they’re looking for an alternative. Gilbert said some Republicans won’t forgive Gov. Asa Hutchinson and legislative Republicans for Arkansas Works, which is the state program that uses Obamacare dollars to purchase private health insurance for Arkansans with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Meanwhile, maybe the Libertarian nominee could pull votes from disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters who see Clinton as part of the problem. Some Sanders voters will vote for the Green Party candidate, presumably Jill Stein, who won .9 percent of the Arkansas vote in 2012.
If the Libertarians do win 3 percent, the next question is, so what? Probably the party takes more votes from the Republicans than the Democrats, but that won’t matter in most races in a state as red as this one is becoming. Libertarians are a long way from actually winning races for important offices. The party wants a much smaller government than most Arkansans would support. To win, Libertarians would have to moderate, but if they do that, would they become what they’re fighting against?
For now, Libertarians, Greens, and other parties offer this – a choice, one that Mary Anne Noland’s son, who wrote her obituary in honor of her sense of humor, didn’t take into account.