An editorial by Scotty Boman
Sometimes when you win, you really lose, and sometimes when you lose, you really win, and sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie, and sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose. Winning or losing is all one organic mechanism, from which one extracts what one needs.
– The character Gloria Clemente in the movie, White Men Can’t Jump –
Yes. I know the Libertarian Party of Michigan (LPM) fell short of the two-thirds vote needed for a formal endorsement of Proposal One. That doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the Libertarian Party has advocated drug legalization since it was founded in 1971 and Michigan’s electorate has legalized one drug in spite of stubborn resistance by both Democratic and Republican party establishments (until now).
We own this. There simply hasn’t been any other political party that has steadily held their ground on the drug legalization issue for as long as the Libertarian Party. Sure the US Green Party has been supporting the legalization of the green drug, but they didn’t come on the scene until the turn of the century. Marijuana has been a bit of a poster child in the drug legalization debate; it is demonstrably less harmful than many legal drugs (as is also the case with LSD and psilocybin mushrooms), and was more broadly used than other illegal drugs. This made legalization an easy sell, but health concerns were never our primary argument; it has always been a matter of personal choice.
Many political scientists view the role of “third parties” as being a vehicle to
mainstream policy positions that Democrats and Republicans are unwilling to adopt or, in some cases, even discuss. The LPM has been filling that role quite well.
The legalization of marijuana is just one example of how Libertarians win in a big way; by making our marginalized issues mainstream. This isn’t the first time. In 2006 we had two major victories: The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative and Eminent Domain reform. Libertarians have a long history of opposing eminent domain as a form of theft. This proposal didn’t do away with it all together, but it did eliminate one way of abusing it. Eminent domain can no longer be used to take property from one private owner to be handed off to another.
Most of the Libertarian Party of Michigan’s attention that year however, went to the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI). This was a proposal to amend the Michigan Constitution to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, ethnicity or national origin in government supported hiring, employment, and education. The first attempt to get it on the ballot was organized by Gregory Creswell whose goal was to put the measure before voters in 2004. This early effort was interrupted by court challenges, but got on the ballot in 2006 with the support of civil rights activist Ward Connerly.
That year none of the other candidates for governor would come out in favor of MCRI. In fact Republican Dick Devos and Democrat Jennifer Granholm both opposed the measure under the mantle of the pro-discrimination organization, “One United Michigan.” Our candidate, Gregory Creswell, boldly used his candidacy as a platform from which to advocate for the measure. His words were amplified by a clever media campaign crafted by our own Tim O’Brien. The MCRI won by a landslide. Now many Republicans will act like it was their idea and the Democrats have come to accept it after some early court challenges.
Twelve years earlier the taboo issue was guns. Enter Jon Coon. In 1994 the future of personal gun ownership was uncertain. The George H.W. Bush “assault weapon” ban was in effect. The Federal assault on the Mt. Carmel Center in WACO Texas was fresh on people’s minds, and Michigan residents could only carry a concealed weapon if a county gun board granted them the privilege (sic). Open-carry was sometimes treated as “brandishing.” He made gun-law reform the centerpiece of his United States Senate campaign.
The Republican Spence Abraham took the gun-owner vote for granted and wasn’t going to take any positions that would appear radical; he figured being the lesser evil to the Democrat Bob Carr was good enough. Many of Michigan’s gun-owners enthusiastically supported Jon Coon with contributions and time. He organized the first Brass Roots Rally at the Michigan Capitol, attracting about 10,000 supporters. On Election Day he earned 4.2 % of the vote. The highest percentage earned by a Libertarian on the statewide partisan ballot. This percentage was enough to convince the major parties (especially Republicans) that they could not take the gun-owner vote for granted. Coon then formed Brass Roots. Brass Roots focused like a laser sight on one facet of Michigan gun laws: the right to carry a concealed weapon. Their efforts made Michigan a “shall-issue” state, meaning any individual meeting an enumerated set of requirements would receive a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Michigan remains a shall-issue state and people who open carry are no longer treated like criminals.
In the long haul the Democrats and Republicans could adopt enough of our platform to take the wind out of our sails. That would mean even fewer electoral victories, but we would live in a state and country that had less aggression and more freedom. Consider how successful the Socialist Party was. The Socialist Party was initially doing even better than the Libertarian Party is doing now, but they have pretty much disappeared from ballots. If one looks at the list of industrial demands (and some political demands) they enumerated in their 1912 Platform, one will quickly realize that most of them have been adopted by the Democratic and Republican parties. Certainly we would like to reverse some of these and we can do it the same way. The longer we stay the course, the more we can change policy.
It is easy to get discouraged by low vote totals, but we have the power to transform our state with or without our candidates taking office. Our Federal candidates, including candidates for president can affect the course of our nation as well. That is where we can find our strength to continue and not get discouraged.