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Who are these Libertarians anyway?
The Libertarian Party of Allen County says they’re closer to the mainstream that they’re given credit for
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Over four months ago, Mike Sylvester, a local CPA and former chair of the Libertarian Party of Allen County, sent a list of 58 questions about Harrison Square to the Mayor’s office.
It was Sylvester’s contention that the city’s financial picture of Harrison Square was rosier than the reality, and he wanted further information as to where they came up with their numbers. Basically, he wanted to know whether or not Harrison Square would work from a business standpoint.
As of this writing, Sylvester is still waiting for a full reply, and that, according to the Libertarian Party of Allen County’s secretary Doug Horner, is outrageous. The public has a right to access that information, he says, no matter how obscure or irrelevant it might seem. “I’m paying for it. Why don’t you have to tell us?” Horner says. “The people, the ones who pay for it, who choose the leaders, should have access to all the local information. We’re not talking national secrets and troop movements; we’re talking ‘how did you arrive at these numbers exactly?’ If they just said ‘we guessed. We asked three real estate agents and we guessed.’ Fine. You’re using a reasonable standard. But they’re not even willing to do that.”
This sort of secrecy is just one issue that the Libertarian Party of Allen County (LPAC) has with Fort Wayne and Allen County government. A list of the other issues reads like a round-up of local political blogs and editorial pages from the last few years: Harrison Square, the smoking ban, eminent domain, property taxes, annexation…
Which is all to say the concerns of the LPAC seem to be the concerns of a lot of citizens in Fort Wayne. That’s part of the reason the party decided the time was ripe to run no less than eight candidates for Fort Wayne City Council this year. It’s the greatest number of candidates fielded by a single third party in Fort Wayne politics since… well, no one can quite remember when, and the announcement raised a few eyebrows in an election year that hasn’t lacked for controversy.
But more to the point, it was a real show of strength, organization, and commitment from a political party whose basic principles address some of the most contentious issues the city has faced in the last few years — namely, how much control the government should have over private business and private property.
Doug Horner, LPAC secretary and candidate for Fort Wayne City Council At-Large, says that issues like the smoking ban, eminent domain, and Harrison Square didn’t necessarily effect the decision of the party to run so many candidates this year. “That’s only part of it,” he explains. “In the end, our goal is to run candidates. We’ve been building for three years. When we first formed, the elections were too close. We’ve grown, we’ve stayed in power… Let’s get an organization going.”
Nevertheless, the LPAC says it has seen a level of frustration among the citizens of Fort Wayne with their elected officials. It would seem that 2007 is an opportune time for a party that espouses less interference and more transparency on the part of government. Jennifer Jeffery, who took over as LPAC chairperson from Mike Sylvester last February, has seen a lot of her friends, in particular small business owners, struggling over the last few years. Her husband is currently serving in Iraq, and she finds it bizarre that while the U.S. military is supposedly fighting to promote our ideals and freedoms in another country, those things are being taken away at home. “We saw our friends getting crushed by the system, and losing their individual rights, their property rights, and the government standing in the way because a few people have an idea of a better business coming in to town, “ Jeffrey says. “It wasn’t one ordinance, or this or that, it’s been a build up, build up, build up.”
Most members of the Libertarian Party of Allen County have extensively followed or studied politics. Some, like former party chair Mike Sylvester, have run for political office, and others like current vice-chair John Bartels, have worked on political campaigns (Bartels was involved in the Ohio gubernatorial campaign of Libertarian Dr. William S. Peirce before moving to Fort Wayne). But all tell a similar story — the more they learned about the way government conducts itself, the more baffled, stunned, and outraged they became, and the less they were able to distinguish the ideals of the two main political parties in the way those parties operated. “Something wasn’t right,” says Bartels, who used to be a Democrat. “The Republicans said they’re fiscally conservative, but they keep spending. They say they stand up for the Constitution, and they really weren’t doing things that were helping the states out. The Democrats push for social change, but they bend over for big business the same way the Republicans do.”
Horner, who describes himself as a “recovering Republican,” puts it like this: “I’ve come to the opinion that the Republicans who believe in small government and less taxes, and believe that their party is still following that, are poor, misguided souls who need to wake up, drink a cup of coffee, and realize that their party has left them.”
Horner, host of two TV shows on channel 57, Libertarian Perspective and Libertarians At Large, stresses that Libertarians can disagree over certain issues, but that he believes the basic principles remain consistent. And what are those basic principles? “Most Libertarians are fiscally conservative and believe the government ought to stay out of our lives,” he says. “If that’s socially liberal, that’s socially liberal. If you want to call it something else, you can call it something else, but I believe the government should perform very basic functions and tax the least amount possible for those (functions), and always look to save money, because they’re not working for it: you are and I am.”
Organizations such as churches, charities, and foundations are far better equipped to deal with social ills than the government. “I don’t know too many problems the government has solved,” says Horner. “We’ve had a war on obesity, a war on poverty… Government has very noble ideas, but it takes them to the extent that it overlooks the fact that they shouldn’t do anything about it.”
Horner says that what the government can do about social ills like health problems and addiction and abuse is keep you informed. Make food and drug companies tell you what’s in their products, for example, and let the citizens make the choice. But ultimately, you’re responsible. “If you want to gamble and go broke, don’t come running to me or the government,” Horner says. “We told you this was bad.”
Citizens of Fort Wayne don’t have to think very hard to come up with an example of a harmful yet legal activity that was recently restricted. Though most Libertarians I spoke with seem to wish that, say, eminent domain had really galvanized the public, the smoking ban is a hot button issue for the LPAC, one that goes to the heart of many of their core beliefs. Jonathan Bartles, LPAC vice-chair and 2nd district City Council candidate, concedes that it seems a minor thing, but… “It’s just such a prime example of how nine people have an idea, and all of a sudden, we go to these meetings of the Indiana Bar Owners Association, and we see 20 or 30 bar owners and their staff there, who say ‘this is hurting me. I have to lay off these employees.’”
Make no mistake, smoking is a bad and dangerous habit. But the Libertarians say that’s beside the point. “Treat it like nose-picking,” Bartels jokes. “Make it socially unacceptable. But don’t legislate it.”
But more than that, they say it’s tantamount to giving the city away. “(The ban) took away (bar owners’) right to do a legal activity in their own, private business,” says LPAC chair Jennifer Jeffery. “You’re eroding the tax base, the quality of life, handing over a local business to an out of town businesses, who will come because the market is flooded with very cheap liquor licenses. These people from out of town are not vested here. And they will pull out like they’ve pulled out of every other community.”
“The whole fiscal idea behind this is very flawed,” Jeffery continues. “When they lose their property, they’re not going to pay their property tax, they’re not going to pay their food and beverage tax, they’re not going to pay their sales tax, they’re not going to pay their income tax…”
The LPAC sees the use (actually, Horner calls it “abuse“) of eminent domain as another example of local government basically taking private property and giving it away. Horner points out that the Constitution does allow for eminent domain where the state has a specific need, like a highway, military base, or prison. But in many cases in Fort Wayne and even nationally, local governments are using eminent domain to help facilitate private development. “Local government comes up with a good idea, but your house, or Ed’s Fish Fry is in the way. ‘They’re not paying us enough taxes. Take it.’ That’s not right. You paid for it. To me, it’s yours. I don’t care if you want to be a stubborn jerk and demand a million dollars a square foot for your property. It’s where you’re raising your children, or it’s where you were raised, or it’s where you decided to live, and to me, that’s obscene.”
The LPAC didn’t put a mayoral candidate forward this election year. Jeffery says the reason why is no big secret: they simply couldn’t find anyone. And though some elements of the party’s platform are similar to Republican mayoral candidate Matt Kelty — a belief that community development should be market driven, and that local governments stick to infrastructure and safety, for example — the party isn’t yet sure whether or not they’ll endorse a mayoral candidate. Kelty’s social conservatism doesn’t sit well with some members, and Democratic candidate Tom Henry… “Most of us don’t know a lot about where Henry stands on a lot of things,” says Jennifer Jeffery (as of this writing, neither do most people in Fort Wayne).
But Jeffery adds that neither party is where they’re supposed to be. “(The LPAC) is a lot closer to the mainstream than you might think,” she says. “We are closer to some of the core beliefs of the other parties than they would like to admit.”
Most of all, she thinks the ideals the LPAC represents give hope to people in Fort Wayne who feel their elected officials aren’t listening to them or don’t care. “I know people who want to sell their houses because of property taxes and they want to move away,” she says. “And I want my kids to have a community, not a mass exodus. I don’t want Fort Wayne to turn into a Flint, Michigan. I think this is the year for that hope, that people will stand up and look around them and say ‘what happened?’ I want people to see that this city will work for them.”
The LPAC’s website is www.allencountylp.org