Like earthquakes, the initial signals seem somewhat innocuous: a release of steam, the entire animal kingdom becoming restless and agitated.
But Libertarian Party of Louisiana leaders say make no mistake: qualifying candidates in five of the six congressional Nov. 6 elections is — what seismologists would call — a precursor to becoming Louisiana’s second major party.
“That’s what we’re trying to do: Set ourselves up to be the new alternative,” said Reed Ebarb, of Shreveport, the Libertarian Party of Louisiana’s secretary.
Ebarb said the numbers, right now, are small, but they are growing at a significant clip. Libertarians want to register about 40,000 voters during a seven-year plan hatched in April by party leaders.
About 5,600 of Louisiana’s 2.9 million voters are registered Libertarians, according to the Secretary of State’s August statistics. Democrats have about 1.4 million registered voters and Republicans have about 792,000. Only one U.S. senator and one congressman are Democrats, all the other major offices are held by Republicans.
Democrats fielded only four candidates in November congressional races, which includes the incumbent congressman and one of his challengers.
“Politics is like horse racing,” said Rufus H. Craig, a Baton Rouge lawyer who, as a Libertarian, is challenging incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy. “The donor class stands back and sees what horses are in the race, then they handicap it with their contributions. ... The Democratic (Party) donor class has decided to get out of the horse race business.”
Louisiana Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Carter Peterson, of New Orleans, did not return two requests for an interview.
“They’re flexing their muscles,” said Roger Villere, of Metairie and chairman of Louisiana’s Republican Party. Libertarians are taking advantage of the Democrats’ difficulty in finding candidates, he said.
“You have to step up and run,” said Wes Benedict, who chairs the Baton Rouge party affiliate. “That’s how you build a party.”
Benedict had served as the Libertarian Party’s national executive director before moving to Baton Rouge earlier this year and still runs the party’s two political action committees.
“A win would be awesome,” said Adrien Monteleone, of Lafayette, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Louisiana. But winning in November is unlikely for the challengers in congressional districts that were recently remapped, largely to satisfy incumbents’ electoral needs.
The point, Monteleone said, is to do the grassroots organization: prepare the advertising, knock on doors, hand out push cards and go through all the piddling details of an active campaign. In addition to practical experience for the future, the goal is to publicize the Libertarian message of smaller government, both in cost and scope.
“We need boots on the ground. We’re already eyeing 2013,” Monteleone said. Libertarians have organized local party affiliates in Caddo, Lafayette and East Baton Rouge parishes, and are looking to do the same across the state, he said.
Monteleone said it’s a “perfect storm” for Louisiana Libertarians. There’s a confluence of factors: Democratic Party default, anger at the intransigence of the two major parties, the tea party movement, and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
Paul, the congressman for the Gulf Coast suburbs of Houston, is the godfather of Libertarians. He polled 11,467 votes — roughly 6 percent of the 186,410 cast — in Louisiana’s March 24 GOP presidential election. But his well-organized supporters used the state party’s Byzantine-like rules to attend the Republican National Convention, which begins Monday in Tampa, ousting several establishment figures — like Timmy Teepell, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s political adviser — from their delegate seats.
“There are two complimentary processes here: Frustration with the process, gridlock and polarization, and a perception that neither party is capturing the views of the electorate,” said Kirby Goidel, who heads LSU’s Public Policy Research Lab. “The Libertarian Party clearly fills a void for people who don’t like taxes but also have no problem with gay marriage or feel uncomfortable about religion in public life.”
Historically, third-party movements — and that’s what the Libertarians represent in Louisiana despite the cowing of Democratic donkeys — are coopted by one of the major parties, he said.
But, Goidel says, politics is more an art than a science, and thereby defies predictions.
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. His email address is email@example.com.