The dozen or so candidates who secured Libertarian nominations for public office in Arkansas at the party's convention Saturday are hardly intent on winning. That is all, except one.
Mark West believes he can take the governorship in November as a third-party candidate, and Libertarian candidates down the ballot plan to focus their efforts on West's race, even at the peril of their own.
For this band of political individuals, the race for Arkansas governor is a chance to lay the foundation for a statehouse that includes people without Rs or Ds beside their names.
From Frank Gilbert, the party's gubernatorial nominee in 2014 who was nominated to run for lieutenant governor this year, to Elvis Presley, the party's 1st Congressional District nominee who legally changed his name to match that of the King of Rock 'n' Roll, the focus will be on getting West 3 percent of the votes cast in November's election.
West has an uphill battle. In 2014, Gilbert received just 1.9 percent of the vote.
"Any race I get into, I do so with the intention to win," West, a Batesville pastor, said.
"[Losing] wouldn't be a failure. It would be a failure if I don't get 3 percent."
That percentage would give the Libertarian Party of Arkansas guaranteed spots to future ballots. Under state law, parties whose candidates in the most recent governor or presidential race received more than 3 percent of the total vote can automatically get candidates on the next cycle's ballot. Other third parties must collect signatures to get on the ballot.
This year alone, the party spent about $30,000 gathering signatures to secure ballot status on Nov. 6, West said.
Libertarians on Saturday chose candidates to run for all four of Arkansas' U.S. House of Representative seats and for five of the state's seven constitutional offices. The party will continue nominations today for candidates to seek state legislative seats and county-level offices.
The nominees have until Thursday to formally file for office with the Arkansas secretary of state's office.
Libertarians at Saturday's meeting were energized. They see a growing group of voters disgusted with the status quo dominated by two political parties. West noted that about half of registered voters don't even show up at the polls on Election Day.
"They don't vote because they're annoyed, and they're tired of choosing the lesser of two evils," he said. "It's ripe for us to present a candidate they vote for because they want to."
Nearly every speaker at Saturday's convention spoke of liberty, raising affirming shouts of "Hear, hear!" The meeting drifted in and out of formal order. At one point, Presley engaged in a death penalty debate with the sister of a murder victim, who opposed capital punishment. Later, a candidate for lieutenant governor lost a race for the party's nomination after telling the delegation that he smokes marijuana.
Each candidate must be nominated by a party member. Then, he may speak and answer questions before a party-wide vote.
Votes were taken on nominations even if only one candidate was involved, because members could choose "none of the above."
"None of the above" nearly won in a close vote on Presley (20-18 in Presley's favor) for the 1st Congressional District seat. Some party members thought Presley may attract the wrong type of attention.
A sign at the front of the room Saturday read "More freedom less government," and candidates commonly announced that they're "socially liberal and fiscally conservative."
Michael Pakko, the state Libertarian Party chairman, said the party nominated more candidates than expected Saturday, despite flooding and stormy weather keeping some people from attending the convention. He hopes this is the last year that the party must submit petitions to get candidates on the ballot.
"It's unfair," he said. "We've been a legitimate party for at least the last four years."
Metro on 02/25/2018