The Libertarians

Wild card on the right

Democrats and Libertarians in Texas don't agree on too many things, but they cheerfully share antagonism toward the GOP. It's also true that the Libertarian Party of Texas isn't exactly filled with big fans of the Democrats, but in a knife-edge electoral year, the question is how much of a role the state's biggest third party might play in switching the state House.

In 2006, the LPT fielded 88 candidates in state House races. In seats where they ran as the third party, they typically pulled in only 3% (that jumped to about 20% in Republican or Democratic seats where the only challenger was a Libertarian), but the power of that ideological or protest vote shouldn't be underestimated. In 2008, the Libertarians only have 81 House candidates ("It was higher in January, and there's been some attrition over time," noted LPT Executive Director Wes Benedict), and Republicans actively courted some to step out of the way (see "State GOP Fears Libertarian Upset," Aug. 8).

By their own calculations, Libertarians are running in 14 potential swing seats. Four of those they count as being at medium risk of a party switch (all Democrat to Republican, including the Donnie Dippel-Tim Kleinschmidt race in Central Texas HD 17) and four as high risk (all Republican to Democrat, including the Diana Maldonado-Bryan Daniel face-off in HD 52). Even if they only pull in numbers similar to 2006, that could be enough to bolster a Democrat incumbent's margin or to pull away enough disenchanted conservative voters from a Republican to boot them out. Not that Benedict would be much happier with a Democratic House. "Both sides are out there just smearing each other," he said, "rather than talking the truth."

Part of the Libertarian plan has been to pick up some anti-war Democrats and, more numerously, the Ron Paul Republicans and small-government advocates enraged by Gov. Rick Perry's $3 billion cancer research fund, the business franchise tax, and the changing base of the GOP. "Religious extremists have taken over the Republican Party, and they are alienating more libertarian-minded Republic­ans," said Benedict. "They care about abortion and not taxes and freedom." The push was muddied somewhat in the tug-of-war over the party's presidential nomination. (A brief reprise: Libertarian "Draft Ron Paul" efforts collapsed when Paul ran for the GOP's top slot, then Bob Barr picked up the Libertarian nomination and offered Paul his veep slot, but on Sept. 24, Paul snubbed both his own party and the Libertarians by endorsing Constitution Party presidential candidate Chuck Baldwin. Confused yet?) Benedict admits this episode backfired on the LPT. "The Libertarians with Bob Barr screwed up and alienated a lot of our own base," he ruefully concedes.

House Democratic Caucus Leader Jim Dun­nam, D-Waco, is under no illusion that disenchanted free-market, anti-tax Republican voters will suddenly swing to his candidates: Instead, he sees another rip in the big tent the GOP has spent the last two decades sewing together that could benefit both his candidates and the Libertarians if disgruntled fiscal conservatives stream out. "The Republicans pandered to that vote for a long time, and they didn't deliver," he explained, "and that's come back to haunt them."

Got something to say on the subject? Send a letter to the editor.

  • More of the Story

  • Taking Back the House

    Texas Democrats say this could be their November
  • Seven in Play

    Seven key races across the state could turn the House back to Democratic control

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Libertarian Party of Texas
State GOP Fears Libertarian Upset
State GOP Fears Libertarian Upset
Republicans see the future, and it is the Libertarian Party of Texas!

Richard Whittaker, Aug. 8, 2008

More by Richard Whittaker
In a Violent Nature
An undead monster is revived and seeks revenge of a group of teens

May 31, 2024

Ethan Hawke and the Inner Life of Flannery O’Connor in <i>Wildcat</i>
Ethan Hawke and the Inner Life of Flannery O’Connor in Wildcat
Finding the drama of an author who laughed at her own biography

May 29, 2024


Libertarian Party of Texas, Wes Benedict, Ron Paul, Jim Dunnam

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle