Monday, March 21, 2005

Nothing To Do With Montana

From time to time, I find myself supremely bothered by the lack of action taken by some of our sister LP state affiliates. There are so many taxes and stifling, useless regulations to attack that would bring those states such good will and earn such support that it just frustrates me when those are simply given a free pass.

The only thing worse than this inaction is the action taken on positions that will leave a majority of voters to conclude that Libertarians are kooks. Most recently, the New York party conducted giveaways of toy guns in response to an NYC buy-back program that replaced kids toy guns with other toys. The LP action was poorly received by a public concerned about youth violence. Sure, the philosophical libertarian could grumble about this public policy, but a toy buy-back hardly stands as the most egregious public policy in Manhattan, what with all of the taxes there. But, that's what New York acted on, and got press on- all of it negative.

Therefore, I would like to make clear that I have nothing to do with the Libertarian Party of Montana. There is a world of difference between Indiana and Montana, and it goes like this- the LPIN takes policy positions in support of small business owners and property rights. The LP of Montana takes pet positions despite whatever negative backlash might come.

Can you think of any reason to support drinking alcohol while driving? The Montana LP does. Curiously, Montana is one of the few states that still permits drinking while driving, so long as the driver does not get intoxicated. From the LP News:

Legislative hearings are open to the public in Montana, and Mike Fellows -- chairman of the Libertarian Party of Montana -- is one of several people who have attended hearings on the proposed bills to speak out against the proposal.

Fellows doesn't oppose the legislation because he thinks people should be allowed to drive while drunk, but because he doesn't think the new law is necessary, he told members of the House Judiciary Committee in recent testimony.
While that's a fairly reasonable position to take, the problem lies in the press. How many times does the Montana LP get quoted? If this is the only thing they have testified on this year, too many people in Montana will know the Libertarian Party for one thing- standing up for the right to drink in one's car. It doesn't matter that this is an incomplete impression of what the Party stands for. What matters is what the people perceive the Party to stand for- and this is it. What's worse is when the AP picks up the story and runs it in newspapers where the local LP hasn't laid the groundwork for readers to know more broadly what libertarians are about. They know nothing about libertarians, conclude that some are 'in favor of drinking and driving', and summarize that libertarians are kooks.

This is why it is crucially important to prioritize issues, going after the ones that a majority of people can back right away, even if the press only partially quotes or covers you. I would be concerned about the LPIN's work on Indianapolis' proposed smoking bans if we hadn't been enormously on record in opposition to new taxes, budgetary increases, new stadium funding, $800 million for a light rail boondoggle, $80 million for a concert hall, etc., first. People in Indiana know us as fiscal conservatives first, and that matters, because so many Hoosiers are fiscal conservatives, too.

When we go after the proposed smoking laws, we always make sure to include a phrase about the right of business owners to set their own policies within their own establishments regarding the use of a legal product. It signals not only a broad support for property rights, but also tells a key constituency- business owners- who is on their side, and who is not. Montana simply went out there on a principle, and that's fine, except that there is very little to gain, and quite a lot to lose where it matters- with the voters. I hope like heck this item is not picked up by the AP.

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