Sunday, July 6, 2014

National Libertarian Party Convention Report 2014

If you are libertarian and enjoy meeting people and being inspired by new ideas and reports of progress in the field, you should put one of these national conventions near the top of your bucket list.  Go as a delegate if you can (and chances are, you can).  My first convention was 2012 in Las Vegas.  I bit and was hooked.  Not everybody reacts the same way, but I had no idea any activity in any way related to politics could be so soul-satisfying and fun, until Las Vegas.  On the other hand, if you are the sort that gets angry or overly frustrated when votes do not go your way, or you find civil disagreement over  political issues to be negative experiences, you just generally can't stand supporting any kind of centralized organizational structure even on a voluntary basis, you believe that "libertarian party" is a farcical contradiction in terms, that the comedy of that farce and the opportunity to attend the unofficial parties do not outweigh the time wasted in an unseemly homage to all the wrong rules of order, you are overly cynical, or some other destroy-a-joy applies, you may not find a convention experience quite so much fun.  It may even turn you off from party politics altogether.   Different tokes for different folks.

Personally, Columbus in 2014 did not disappoint.  I returned as a delegate, this time with a better idea of what to expect.  The floor fights were less confusing to me and my opinions on the issues and candidates were better defined and rooted in experience.  My only regret was missing the opportunity to attend Porcfest, happening on the same dates not far away in New Hampshire.  Choices!

Reflecting back, the voting on the floor is almost a sideshow.  If that were the main purpose, if could be done more efficiently by electronic means.  Inspirations received and friendships made are the more durable products of these gatherings.  If 2012 was my first joyful discovery of the good ship "Libertarian" floating on an ocean of statism, and its merry (crazed?) crew, 2014 was a time for more detailed exploration of its decks, cabins, common areas and characters.  Here are some of the highlights, as I remember them without notes, that may be of general interest.  My memory is imperfect.

Starchild and Aaron Starr continued their tradition of parliamentary maneuvering on opposite sides of most issues.  Many others were also engaged, but I remember our California delegates more easily just by virtue of longer acquaintance with them.  At one point, Mr. Starr and one of his usual opponents (I forget who) joyfully embraced after finding themselves in agreement on an issue -- producing some laughter from the delegates.  That is as good an emblem as any for the overall tone of this gathering.

 Bylaws, Platform, and Officers were up for vote.

Significant platform changes failed.  Some minor changes were made around the edges.  The resulting 2014 Platform has not been posted, but it will not be significantly different than the 2012 platform.

On the bylaws, delegate floor fees were once again at issue.  A majority supported eliminating these, but not a 2/3 majority.  So they remain possible for the time being.  The new Chair and Vice Chair, Nick Sarwark and Arvin Vohra, support eliminating mandatory delegate floor fees.  Whether or not they can (or want to) influence the rest of the board to put voluntary fees in place for Orlando in 2016 remains to be seen.

Voting for at-large LNC officers underwent changes.  The voting procedure was changed from "pick no more than number of offices up for election" to "approval voting."  Essentially, approval voting allows delegates to vote for as many candidates as they please, with the top vote-getters (in this case five) receiving offices.  Ranked choice voting would produce more finely tuned results, but is harder to tally.  Approval voting tends to result in the election of the candidates that the delegate body finds least objectionable. It is much harder for factions without broad support to elect more controversial candidates.  The impact of the new system was immediately seen in the at-large voting conducted later in the session.  Those elected tended to be nationally known, less controversial officers.  Namely, Bill Redpath, Sam Goldstein, Evan McMahon, Gary E. Johnson, and Guy McLendon.

The move to approval voting may make the LNC officers as a whole less focused on controversial topics and more focused on getting business done, which could be a good thing.  It may also tend to turn the ship in a somewhat more conservative, less controversial direction.  For example, candidates like Starchild may find it more difficult to win these at large positions.  He was not returned, to my disappointment.  The shift to approval voting may magnify the importance of the Chair and Vice Chair as drivers of change, but it is unclear whether the newly elected officers see leading change as a priority or even as their role.  Their campaigns emphasized enhancing candidate support, not bylaw reforms.

Another significant change was the shift of five at-large officers to state-elected representatives selected based on fastest growth and highest per-capita membership.  The new bylaws are not yet posted, so I must apologize for a lack of detail in my reporting.  Generally, this will give small states a chance to increase their representation at the LNC.  It's unclear to me exactly how this will be carried out.

An effort to reduce the number of LNC officers was defeated.

New procedures for electronic meetings were introduced.  These should make it less costly for members of the LNC to conduct business by reducing or eliminating the need for travel.  Perhaps business will be conducted more easily, but the membership's access and ability to observe these meetings is not well-defined.  Transparency may be better or worse than the past.

The contest for Chair was mainly between Sarwark and Neale.  Sarwark won after two ballots.  While Neale the former Chair is generally well-liked and respected, Sarwark ran the better campaign, and displayed a greater hunger for the position.  The elected Vice Chair Vohra campaigned with Sarwark, and these two can be expected to have similar views and work well together.  

Finally, the delegate body endorsed Neale's new project of building an international association of Libertarian parties.  Perhaps this was a historic moment; time will tell.  It is something to watch, regardless.