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Colorado Libertarians Message Board › Elections Reform is the Tool of Incumbents

Elections Reform is the Tool of Incumbents

A former member
Post #: 1
Greetings to All Libertarians and other Freedom Lovers,

After every national election there are forces that demand “reforms” of the political process. By a large part, these forces are small voices in liberal and progressive circles who manage to gain a foothold with newly elected liberals, often Democrats. Even in the non-partisan arena, such as local subdivisions of towns and cities that eschew partisan elections. Such reforms are seldom forwarded by Republicans or conservative voices.

Elections Reform is the tool of incumbents to marginalize the efforts of newcomers to challenge their stronghold. Incumbent office holder will advocate for donation and expenditure limits; they will demand deadlines and timelines for when a campaign may start and when it must report; they will impose massive fines and make candidates into criminals with overlapping and vexatious laws and codes. Above all, they will discourage the participation of candidate hopefuls. Election Reform is designed to Limit Ballot Access.

Savvy incumbents seldom end their campaigns when elected, so they generally do not have to follow newly written codes and remain grandfathered under old rules. New candidates are at a distinct disadvantage, having to follow the new rules, and their Ballot Access may suffer.

It is very likely that your town or city or county is currently in the process of Reforming campaign finance laws and rewriting how elections will be done in the near future. This was done in my town.
Reform in Longmont was needed in my opinion for the simple reason that our former city attorney created a body of code that was unconstitutional both in respect to the US constitution and the Colorado constitution. Our city council, without better information or opposition to the city attorney’s double-speak and loophole filled code, voted for and passed the horrendous mess he presented. The Colorado Court of Appeals found most of what he’d written to be unconstitutional in 2005. However, the CA did not advise the city council of these mandated changes, and so they remained in city code and were by all intents and purposes unenforceable.

The unenforceability of Longmont’s elections codes became evident in 2007 when the Fraternal Order of Police ran a campaign for ballot issue to force the city into collective bargaining, and when our municipal judge failed to file required reports. The FOP and the sitting judge were able to claim that the code was defective. The judge was prosecuted, but the police union was not. The judge won her case, and the police union, with its questionable campaign practices, won their ballot issue by a 0.09% margin.

The voices screaming for reform generally came from the losers in the anti-union faction. They were loud enough to institute an Elections Reform Task Force. This task force was made up of conservatives, liberals, progressives, and libertarians. Though our elections are non-partisan, the newly elected council did not want to appear partisan, so it attempted balance.
The new seven member council was hoping for limitations that it did not receive, because the Task Force refused to deliver much more than bringing the code into compliance with the state constitution. In a minority opinion from the liberals and progressives, the council was asked to limit campaign finances on donations. With little public opposition, the council added stringent donation limits, which will apply to new candidates. Quite simply, few people understood what they did or why.
Advocates for reforms believed that they’re voices had been heard and that campaigns had been reformed. What voters actually received was a new method for incumbents to stay in office and repel challengers.
For the large part Longmont’s new election’s codes were reconstituted to be enforceable, but the small part that was changed by the council itself without the help of the Task Force will have a great effect on Ballot Access of challengers.

In 1976 the US Supreme Court has ruled in Buckley vs. Vallejo that the giving of money to advance political goals is protected under First Amendment free speech rights.
Before this past month’s Longmont council decision the idea that money equals free speech was endorsed. Candidates and issues committees in our locale were not limited to how much money they could from a single source.
Liberal and progressive voices asked the council to consider that Buckley vs. Vallejo did not fit ‘our times’ and that decisions made in the nation’s capitol by the high court could be disavowed locally in a home rule community. The council went along, but hardly for the reasons that these advocates believed true. They went along to maintain their incumbency.
One particularly vehement local Democrat, when speaking before council, mimicked Nancy Pelosi’s thoughts in opposition to conservatives with, “You just don’t get it. You lost. You don’t get to choose.” She wasn’t addressing council, she was addressing the TV cameras and internet stream of the council session.

So where am I going with this information, you may ask?

Libertarians tend to spend a lot of time discussing topics of freedom and liberty in these forums. It is not exactly ineffectual, because many of us learn a great deal from one another. However, if you really want to have an effect on elections and who gets to play, then you have to go and get involved.
Your town or city or county is going to make these sorts of changes with or without you. It would be better if you were involved. Your voice can count beyond the ballot box. If you are involved then it’s quite possible that you can make a difference. If all you do is wait for the next election cycle, or even if you work hard on the campaign of your favorite Libertarian, you may end up being sadly disheartened at the outcome.

What I learned in the past ten months of work on this task force was that there are many libertarian thoughts inside of non-Libertarian affiliated voters. The most articulate person on our team claims to be a life long independent, yet his voice and thoughts were strikingly libertarian from start to finish. It was a rare pleasure to work with these people, and I am sure that if we’d left the entire business to our city council and their legal advisors that the outcome would have been far different. I only wish that their had been more Libertarians and conservative voices to oppose the incumbent rule of law.

Be that voice in your neighborhood. The popular saying of “Think Globally and Act Locally” has real application.

Hair Trigger
A former member
Post #: 1
"Hair Trigger"...what a wonderful moniker!

This is one of the best written/presented opinions I have read in all the time I have been monitoring these forums.
"Thank-You" for writing it.

Although now 71 years old, I did take a course in "practical politics" while in my late 20's, in which I learned the FIRST RULE OF POLITICS......GET RE-ELECTED! In the ensuing 50 years I have NEVER observed any change to this rule.

I have always been against "term limits", believing that "elections" ARE "term limits". I believe now that I have been wrong all these years. We have lost any concept of "citizen politicians" performing service to their country and have instead found ourselves with a "class" of "professional" politicians whose ONLY interest is in helping "themselves" and feeding at the public trough for as long as possible. We limit the President, why not everyone else?

Attacking the system at the National level is, I'm afraid, not going to be where the Libertarian Movement is going to find it's best chance for success. "Change" must be made from the "bottom up". The "system" is MUCH too entrenched and will be impossible to move if attacked as a whole.

As you say, fighting the fight at the City Council and other LOCAL levels, repeated 1000's of times across America is the only way I see any progress being made toward "change" ... in spite of Obama's mantra.

Do you REALLY think Congress will put itself under the Social Security system? STOP setting it's own salaries? Do ANYTHING that would go against the providers of all the MONEY necessary to get RE-ELECTED.

If YOU think that this is had better stop smoking that stuff in the baggie in your sock drawer!

One last thing...what has been wrong with politicians is this: They get elected....and think they now have to DO SOMETHING! Let them all STAY HOME for a year...collect their pay, and DO NOTHING. In the end we will all be better off.

I'm getting too long
that's MY opinion...and I'm stuck with it.

A former member
Post #: 5
AndyB (et al),

Term Limits - what a great topic to bring up in the area of elections reform. Thanks for sharing.

Within the Libertarian Party (or rather outside or near the edges) there has been a group that calls themselves "ground up Libertarians". Do a web search and you'll find a bunch of blogs and web sites, like­.

When I joined the LP in 1996 I thought that the LP was all about putting a Libertarian in the White House, and as a result I wasn't very active. I'm anti-federalist, so it seemed like nonsense. However I met Joe Johnson at a Boulder County meeting in 2001 who wanted to fill the state ballot with Libertarians for local offices. And so in 02 I ran for a county office. I was a serious candidate, but I also figured that if elected I would do things that would make me a one term office holder. I wasn't elected and didn't have to worry about that.
Interestingly, the Democrat who was elected as Boulder County's Clerk & Recorder (the position that I ran for) was not only one term, but also replaced by her own party's chair. Not because she did great work that went against her party, but because she was inept and probably crooked. Another way to assure one term.

Boulder County, as in many places, incumbents can be assured of being "professional politicians" by being the only person on the ballot. Colorado has a stupid law that puts unchallenged incumbents on primary ballots, even when they are unchallenged within their own party. Plus they get to be unchallenged because their parties choose who is worthy at county caucuses, where a handful of party wanks make choices for the entire electorate. That's actually where the corruption begins.
The major parties won't run anyone against their incumbents, unless the incumbents have shown up as being inept crooks, and most of the time not then either. Actually, if the incumbents are artful crooks, the party will prevent the better candidate from appearing on the ballot, even if they have groundswell support.

Andy, you have hit the nail on the head, because you have 50+ years of voting experience. I hope that people are listening to you. We are not going to change the face of politics by changing the leadership at the top, unless we start at the bottom.
The bottom is your city council and school boards and special districts like water and fire boards. The people elected there will either become entrenched or climb to the level of their incompetency. The Peter Principle of Politics.
Our party has failed to elect a president, because it chooses to put candidates on the ballot who cannot be elected third assistant dog catcher in Podunk Iowa. (no offense to Podunk, because I went to college there)
The LP has succeeded in gaining ground by putting Libertarians on the ballot at the bottom. At the bottom, our hard workers get to understand how the machine works, and can climb from there. They do not have to prostitute themselves to the machine to gain ground, but they have to convince the electorate that they are different and worthy of higher office. But only if they want to, for we have had some excellent Libertarian public servants that remain serving their communities at the ground level. It is really up to them and their voting constituents as to where they will do best. If they suck, then they won't be re-elected, or elected to a higher office.

Term limits is the ballot box, I agree. So let's think about what goes on within our own party. In 2003 the LPCO changed the party rules so that our state executive board positions were staggered. Every year some board positions are up for election, while others remain until the following year. This was designed to create continuity, which prior to 04 was lacking. Each year it was a new show, and a complete mess. In my town, as in most, staggered terms are accepted. At every election there is the possibility for new blood, while others will remain to help keep things on an even keel.
As the LP doesn't believe in term limits (excepting the ballot box), and we understand how some can become entrenched, the party itself tends empower incumbents by re-electing the same people over and over. Furthermore, as incumbents will do, they create a political situation that denies challengers and empowers themselves. AKA corruption.

No matter how wonderful the present administration has been, we should elect new people to office. At the very least, we should have new candidates willing to challenge entrenched incumbents.
To keep electing the same people over and over shows how little we care. When those people are re-elected they have a clear understanding that no one cares and they can do as little as possible to remain in office

In May the LPCO will have an internal party election that will give state Libertarians the opportunity to breath new life into our party. What local Libertarians should understand is that the old paradigms do not apply to us. They should not apply. Certainly not in the Party of Principle.
Therefore, Libertarians now registered as such should show up at the state convention and vote in new officers. An even better idea is to present yourself as a candidate, if you've been a registered Libertarian for at least the past two months (you need to have been a registered Libertarian for 90 days preceding the election of officers).
Don't worry about who you challenge; how long they've been there; who their special friends are; how much money they have; or how good they look in a suit.
And the same idea should be in the minds of the Libertarian voter and all voters. In with the new and out with the old. Stop thinking inside the old dingy dark box.

Hair Trigger
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