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Friday, Oct 24, 2014
Politics

Libertarians, meeting in Tampa, aim to be more than spoilers

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Published:   |   Updated: May 17, 2014 at 10:09 AM

­­— Everybody’s heard of Rick Scott and Charlie Crist, and many have even heard of Nan Rich, but who’s heard of Adrian Wyllie?

Not many — and it’s possible they still won’t have by Nov. 4, when Wyllie expects to be on the Florida ballot as the Libertarian candidate for governor, along with the Republican incumbent Scott and either Crist or Rich, the potential Democratic challengers.

You could say the same about Libertarian candidates Bill Wohlsifer for state attorney general and maybe Lucas Overby, who got 5 percent of the vote in Pinellas County’s U.S. House special election March 11 and is running again in November.

Still, Libertarians say, they’re not going away.

“We need to show people we’re here, we’re organized, we have a plan,” said Dana Cummings, a Valrico homemaker and former Democratic Party activist who’s now chairman of the Florida Libertarian Party.

The party is holding its state convention in Tampa this weekend, with activities today including a lunch speech by Wes Benedict, executive director of the Libertarian National Committee; a dinner speech by Judge Jim Gray, running mate to 2012 Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson; and a news conference with Libertarian candidates including Wyllie.

“What we have to do is get out there and make ourselves seen and make people realize we’re here,” Cummings said.

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Political experts say chances of success for any minor party are limited by the nation’s winner-take-all elections systems, which deny even close runner-up candidates a role in government.

That helps keep minor parties in obscurity.

Wyllie, for example, couldn’t get arrested in Florida for three years — until May 9.

He’s been driving without a valid license since 2011 — and alerting law enforcement that he was doing so, he said — hoping to get arrested so he could challenge the state’s Real ID program in court.

He considers the program a violation of constitutional 4th Amendment rights, he said, saying driver’s license photos are put into a national database that can be used with surveillance cameras, such as those in downtown Tampa since the 2012 Republican National Convention.

The program, he said, allows “Orwellian tracking of us wherever we go.”

That’s not exactly true, said state Department of Motor Vehicles spokesman. The photos are stored in a state database, but not a national one. Tampa police can search that database for a name, but don’t have facial recognition software to search for a face, although they tested such software a few years ago, said spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

Wyllie’s arraignment is set for June 6, and he said he intends to plead not guilty and seek a jury trial.

Libertarians and other “minor party” or no-party candidates have problems getting attention from pollsters, who typically omit minor candidates; reporters who feel compelled to spend their limited time covering candidates with the best chance of winning; and debate sponsors, who don’t want their TV time spread among many candidates.

There are currently 33 active candidates for governor listed on the state Division of Elections web site — seven Republicans, seven Democrats, an Independent Party candidate, a second Libertarian and the rest no-party.

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Alex Snitker, a New Port Richey software salesman who was the party’s 2010 Senate candidate, said he understands pollsters can’t list them all in survey questionnaires and reporters can’t cover them all.

“We have to earn it, by being involved in every level of government we possibly can be,” he said.

But the biggest problem is winner-take-all voting and single-member legislative districts, said University of Florida political scientist Dan Smith, an expert on political campaigns.

Parliamentary systems in nations including the United Kingdom encourage multiple parties by allowing minority parties a share in coalition governments, which gains them credibility and governing experience, he said.

If Florida elected its 27 U.S. House members in statewide voting, with the top 27 candidates getting seats, it’s likely at least one minor party candidate would win, he said — but that’s unlikely in a single-seat district.

“People are afraid of wasting their vote,” Smith said. “Do you want to take a chance of the candidate you consider the worst being elected, or do you hold your nose and vote for the least worst?”

As result, Libertarianism’s long-time champion, former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, moved to the Republican Party after running for president as a Libertarian in 1988. His son and ideological heir, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, is also a Republican.

Despite the obstacles, Libertarians say there’s growing sentiment among voters to look beyond the two major parties.

“People are overwhelmingly looking for another alternative,” Snitker said. “The general public is not happy with the choices they’ve been given.”

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The most important trend in national politics, they contend, is movement by voters away from registering or identifying with the two major parties.

In Florida, where voters register by party and the trend can be measured, no-party and minor-party voters have been gaining for years.

Last week, for the first time, minor party and no-party voters outnumbered a major party in a major Florida county, Palm Beach, with 366,413 Democrats, 235,470 Republicans and 235,691 “others.”

Statewide, “others” are gaining steadily, with 3,016,524, or 25.6 percent, up from 3.4 percent in 1972,

But Libertarians, although they’re the most active minor party in Florida, had only 19,892 of those voters as of 2012.

For now, the party’s strongest role could be that of spoiler — drawing enough votes away from a major party candidate to affect an election outcome.

But their issue stances make it uncertain which party they would draw the most from.

The party’s focus on individual liberty causes members to favor legalization of marijuana and abortion rights, but their fiscal stances and hostility to social “safety net” programs align more with Republicans.

Conventional wisdom, stemming largely from the Pauls, is that the party is a greater threat to Republicans.

But veteran Florida political pollster Brad Coker said he believes Overby drew more votes from Democrat Alex Sink in the March special election than from Republican David Jolly, possibly helping Jolly win.

Overby said his current polling shows Scott performing better against Crist than other polls, in part because he includes Wyllie in his polls.

wmarch@tampatrib.com

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