Undeterred by lower support for third-party candidates in Louisiana than almost anywhere else in the United States, state Libertarians hoping to gain more experience with statewide elections by recruiting a candidate for state Treasurer in anticipation that the seat will become vacant after the Dec. 10 runoff for U.S. Senate.
Despite some national efforts by national Democrats to support Foster Campbell in the Senate runoff, Louisiana state treasurer John Neely Kennedy is considered the favorite to keep retiring U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s seat in the hands of Republicans. A Kennedy victory would leave the state treasurer’s seat vacant, however, likely triggering a special election — an opportunity Orleans Parish Libertarian Party chair Michael Dodd described as perfect for his party to use as a rallying point.
State Libertarian party officials do not have a candidate in mind yet, Dodd said. On one hand, they could try to recruit a strong candidate with experience in accounting, public finance and government for the job. On the other, they could simply recruit a popular Libertarian who is qualified, providing Libertarians around the state someone to get excited to support.
Either way, Dodd said last week at the Orleans Parish chapter’s monthly meeting, the treasurer’s race is ideal because it is statewide, allowing the local chapters to coordinate, but also likely limited to that single race, allowing them to all focus on the same election.
“Unless we have someone who comes from outside that’s kind of tied in and has that experience, it’s unlikely we’re going to get a high percentage of the vote,” Dodd said. “But this is what we have to learn to do. We have to grow. We have to get the vote out. We have to learn how to appeal across the party lines.”
The party is continuing to grow, with 14,158 registered members of the party around the state at the last count prior to the election, and Presidential candidate Gov. Gary Johnson drew 38,000 votes in Louisiana. But that amounted to only 2 percent of the ballots cast statewide — resulting in, along with Mississippi and New Jersey, one of the worst showings for Libertarians in the country.
In fact, Johnson did not exceed 3 percent of the vote in any parish in Louisiana, and did better than 2 percent in only 10: St. Tammany (with the highest percentage, 2.7%), Lafayette, East Baton Rouge (with the highest total of Johnson votes, 4,959), Jefferson, Lincoln, St. Charles, Orleans (the seventh-highest percentage, 2.2%, and fourth-highest total, 3,638), Ascension, Calcasieu and Bossier.
National commentators have been quick to accuse third parties like the Libertarians and the Greens of only showing up to run for President every four years, a criticism that chafes local activists who work to field candidates for all levels of government. A number of local Libertarian activists around the state (and the New Orleans area) are planning more serious bids for seats in the state House of Representatives in its next cycle, Dodd said — so the treasurer’s race could allow the state party to concentrate its efforts in areas where those candidates will be running, to begin building recognition for the party ahead of time.
Unlike the state legislature, the treasurer’s position itself is not particularly partisan, Dodd acknowledged. With such a small-government focus, a Libertarian might track the spending of any excess funds more closely than members of the other parties, he said. Kennedy was an outspoken critic of former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s fiscal maneuvers to make the state’s budgets appear balanced, Dodd noted, and a Libertarian treasurer might have a similar inclination.
“It’s an appropriate role for anybody,” Dodd said of that sort of scrutiny to state spending. “It’s the responsibility of every citizen and every politician to be vigilant in minimizing the role of government.”