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Spoiler alert: Libertarian Party looks to shake up the status quo

The Republican supermajority in the Legislature has a new challenger as Libertarians line the ballot, often in races that would otherwise be uncontested.

Gavin Goodman, chair of the Alabama Libertarian Party, is hoping to upset the status quo during the General Election in November. Jacob Holmes/APR

A Republican candidate for the Alabama Legislature sat across the table last Friday evening from a current Republican representative and his wife, chatting while awaiting the start of the state GOP’s annual summer dinner.

“Do you have a Democrat running against you,” the representative’s wife asked the candidate. He replied that he did not. “So you’re done,” she posited.

“Well, there’s a Libertarian running,” the candidates replied.

The conversation is a microcosm of a new reality hitting the supermajority this election cycle.

The political football for decades has been Republican vs Democrat, with Alabama very lopsided toward Republicans.

But in the party’s first election cycle on the ballot in 20 years, the Libertarian candidates are challenging Republicans at a higher rate than Democrats.

Unofficial numbers from Ballotpedia show Libertarians have 57 candidates running for the Legislature between the state House and Senate, while Democrats have 62. 

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Those numbers don’t match up exactly with the number of candidates running for House on the Alabama Libertarian Party website, which lists a more modest 28 candidates running for House seats. The Libertarian Party could not confirm by publishing time which number was correct.  

Libertarians do have candidates in all seven U.S. Congress races compared to Democrats only running in five. The party also has candidates for the top statewide races including U.S. Senate, governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, Secretary of State and auditor.

Gavin Goodman, chair of the Alabama Libertarian Party, is one of the seven Congressional candidates challenging the status quo.

Goodman talked to APR Thursday about the party’s efforts to rock the establishment and “give voters a choice.”

“The way establishment politics all across the country has become so polarized, it’s more about making the other side bleed than helping citizens prosper,” Goodman said. “The way elections work in Alabama, if there’s no challenger, there’s barely an election. It seems to me like the desire by the establishment is to keep the status quo. 

“There are areas of the state where Democrats and Republicans won’t run candidates. The citizens are not even being offered a choice. That is something very important to the Libertarian Party. We don’t believe elections should be coronations; citizens should be given choices, not just go with big-time government politicians. Part of our strategy is to highlight that establishment politics doesn’t want to give voters a choice.”

The Alabama GOP took actions Saturday at its summer organizational meeting to restrict all Republican candidates from running as independents or write-ins if they lose a primary election or are denied ballot access by the party. They also moved to block candidates from ballot access for six years if they publicly support or give money to any non-Republican candidate.

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One Republican during discussion on the action said “Democrats are no longer a viable option in Alabama” and hinted that Libertarians could be a growing source of opposition for the party.

Goodman said such actions are antithetical to the Libertarian Party.

“The Libertarian Party doesn’t have those rules and never will have those rules; it’s part of the foundation of the party,” Goodman said. “If members want to endorse or give money or work on the campaign of another party, that’s their choice. We wouldn’t stop them and certainly wouldn’t ban them from our party for six years. It’s a really poor approach to politics. It shows that you don’t trust your own beliefs if the only way you can protect the party is to ban members from engaging with Libertarians. They’re afraid the message might ring true with them.”

The foundational principle of the Libertarian Party is that citizens should be free to do what they wish as long as their actions don’t interfere with the rights of others.

“We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose,” the national party’s statement of principles reads.

Goodman said the Alabama party follows the national platform, although there are some issues specific to the state that are not covered in the platform.

Although the party’s principles spring from that root foundation, the party’s policy positions sometimes align with that of either party, making it somewhat of a middle ground.

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“Even a broken clock is right twice a day,” Goodman said of the instances Libertarian policies align with the parties. “We like to say we approach issues differently than Democrats and Republicans. The way we approach things, we don’t believe the majority of solutions come from giving the state more power and money. 

“How does it play into strategy? We’re reaching out to voters on both sides, tell them how we came to those beliefs and what our solutions are. I think there’s a strong culture of loving liberty in Alabama. We want to get the government out of your business and give you the opportunities to succeed. The issues we speak to directly affect both sides.”

Goodman criticized the recent redistricting process as built to protect the status quo instead of being designed to give voters a fair voice.

“The critics are correct here. Alabama likes to maintain the status quo and know exactly how chips are going to fall. The government treats citizens here like we are stupid and can’t analyze choice. It’s incredibly insulting and not true. People in Alabama want to explore the options. If you are a Republican in this state, and you believe in liberty and small government, which party do you actually want to support? It seems hijacked by big government and special interest groups.”

The themes of small government and free enterprise are common in Republican messaging and are also a bedrock of the Libertarian Party, but the party differs on many social issues including some major focuses of Republicans in the last session.

LGBTQ+ issues

Alabama became the first state last session to criminalize the provision of gender-transition medical treatment to minors experiencing gender dysphoria, a law which is currently enjoined in federal court with a judge saying the law is likely to be struck down on the merits.

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Goodman said the Libertarian Party believes it is the parents’ right to choose medical treatment for their children and that the state should not be involved.

“It’s another very emotional issue, but when states pass a law legislating the morality of the issue … “ Goodman said. “Our candidates may feel one way or the other, but I think they would agree that who should be out of the conversation is the state.”

The party also supports gay marriage, at least in the context that the government remains involved in marriage at all. The party platform states “consenting adults should be free to choose their own sexual practices and personal relationships. Until such time as the government stops its illegitimate practice of marriage licensing, such licenses must be granted to all consenting adults who apply.”

Some Republican probate judges across the state fought the U.S. Supreme’s 2016 decision establishing the right to gay marriage by refusing to perform any marriages at all in those counties. The state has since simplified the marriage process so that probate officials no longer have to involved and making the marriage certification a more standard filing.

Six years after the Supreme Court ruling, there are few sources on how Alabamians view the subject at this time. A majority, 51 percent, were opposed to gay marriage in 2017. Six of Alabama’s seven Congressional delegates voted this year against the respect for Marriage Act that would have codified the right to gay and interracial marriage in America. The Senate has yet to vote, but Sen. Richard Shelby said marriage is between “one man and one woman.”

Abortion

The official stance of the Libertarian Party on abortion in 2016 stated that “abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.”

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The abortion plank was removed in 2022 shortly before the reversal of Roe v. Wade, which has returned the regulation of abortion to the states.

But Goodman’s position on the issue still closely resembled the 2016 plank.

“We don’t believe in creating a prohibition market,” Goodman said. “There are a lot of ways to reduce abortion without a government ban. The solutions we talk about are making birth control more readily available over the counter, sex education, making adoption easier. The solutions are very libertarian. It has nothing to do with creating a government ban; an individual has the right to make their own medical decisions. We want to get government out of the business of regulating pregnancy.”

Education

The national platform states that the free market is the best provider of education and that parents should have the control and responsibility to educate their children.

Goodman didn’t go so far as to say public education should be completely disbanded, but said that education decisions should be made “at the most local level.”

Goodman also said the party supports school choice and a state lottery to fund education.

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Other notable issues

“Some people say Libertarians are just Republicans that want to smoke weed,” Goodman said. Libertarians have long advocated for the decriminalization of marijuana.

“What we believe is that it’s creating a position where you are inviting in the criminal justice system,” Goodman said. “Our approach is different than Democrats and Republicans. We believe in free markets and all evidence would show marijuana is significantly less harmful than alcohol and tobacco.”

The drug war, Goodman said, has increased the incarceration rate, which is one problem Alabama is facing with its prison system.

Similarly, the national party believes in the decriminalization of sex work, once again on the principle that it involves two consenting adults exchanging money and services where neither is harmed.

The national party opposes the death penalty.

So what’s the measuring stick for success in this first election cycle? Goodman said he obviously wants every libertarian candidate to win their race, but would be happy to see a third of them achieve victories.

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“There are multiple things we’re trying to do during this venture,” Goodman said. “We want to present to voters that they do have a choice, not just two parties and they have to pick one side with no other options. 

“We want to bring awareness to the party and what we stand for and what we believe. We also want to get candidates comfortable running. Some candidates have more active campaigns than others. This is the first time on the ballot for most of them.

“We’re trying to build our own candidate infrastructure. This is not a fly-by-night party, we’ve been around 50 years. We’ve had consistent messaging the entire time. We have not flip flopped on many issues.”

Goodman said the party hopes to build on the momentum of this cycle to make the party a mainstay on Alabama ballots.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Goodman said. “We’ve been here for years, maybe quietly in the background, but we know what we believe and we’re going to run the next time and the time after that and we’re going to change the conversation in this state. Our state motto is ‘We dare defend our rights.’ Part of our rights is to run for office and speak for truth as we see it.”

The General Election is November 8.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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