Background:  Continuing our series of interviews with leaders of New York's political parties, we spoke with Chris Edes, who is currently chairman of the NYS Libertarian Party.


Q#1: From your point of view what's the biggest problem facing New York State and how would the Libertarian Party solve that problem?

A: The biggest problem facing New York State is dysfunctional government.  One could fill a book with the whys and hows, but the root cause is our two-party system of government.  The "right side/wrong side" mentality inherent in the system privileges power over public service.  Tactics of doubtful moral or ethical virtue are often employed to retain this power, and defeating the other team is given higher priority than real outcomes for New York's citizens.  Civic engagement suffers when issues are oversimplified, so that one side's position can be presented as "right" and the other "wrong".

The Libertarian Party is America's third largest political party.  We're committed to providing a real alternative on your local ballot.  Unlike most "third parties" in our State, cross-endorsement of Democrats and Republicans is the exception for us, rather than the norm.  For the Libertarian Party, independence is a way of life, not a party label.

If we really want to shake up Albany, we have to vote both major parties out.  By consistently providing a real alternative, we strive to offer New York voters a way out of our dysfunction dilemma.

 

Q#2:  Is the Libertarian Party making any headway in NYS?  I'll grant you that your presidential candidate in 2008 received almost three times more votes (19,596) than your 2000 candidate (7,649), but you came in 7th statewide behind the Conservative, Working Families and Independence Parties, each of which received more than 150,000 votes. Even Ralph Nadar more than doubled your party's turnout.  What is going to change that will make the Libertarian Party a factor in NYS and how long will it take?

A: One problem is ballot access.  The constituted "third parties" in NY (Conservative, Independence, Working Families) often endorse Democrats and/or Republicans, avoiding the "lesser of two evils" problem by endorsing one of them.

This happens almost without exception in the race for Governor, and for good reason.  That way constituents can vote for their party without risking that the greater evil might win.  Thus the party can get at least 50,000 votes on its line for Governor, which gives them constituted status in NY, making ballot access much easier.

Since the Libertarian Party insists on providing an alternative candidate, we fall short of this goal.  As a result, it's more difficult for us to put local candidates on the ballot, which is vital to building a support base.  We're not the only party in NY facing this problem.  Most other states have higher levels of third party participation.

Another problem is that "third parties" tend to over-intellectualize.  We need to focus on finding concrete solutions to local problems.  To some extent this means stepping outside ideological boundaries.  The fiscal conservative/social liberal emphasis of the Libertarian Party appeals to most Americans, but has not been actuated to best effect by our party.

Over time we're seeing this situation improve.   Recent polls agree that support for our party is strongest among young adults.  Fresh thinking and optimism will bring the change we need, without compromising our integrity in the gubernatorial process.

 

Question #3:  Speaking of New York's elections laws, legislation was introduced this past year that would reduce the number of signatures required to get on the ballot (Assembly 4161), reduce the ability of challengers to disqualify opponents' signatures (Senate 355) and remove certain language from nominating petitions that can discourage voters from signing them (Senate 1366/Assembly 4959).  How does the Libertarian Party feel about these bills and about New York's election laws in general?

A:  This is all needed legislation.  I'm pleased that S1366/A4959 was signed into law, fixing the unconstitutional language in election law, with regard to independent nominating petitions.  A4161 will go far toward bringing NYS more in line with national standards for ballot access, and reduce the importance of the gubernatorial race by making it easier for independent candidates to qualify.

S355 addresses the serious problem of ballot disqualification for obscure technical reasons.  The rules and regulations of the State Board of Elections already include a similar provision in Section 6215.6(a), but the county Boards of Elections are not required to comply.  While admirable in intent, I fear that old habits die hard, and S355 would be ignored, much as the State Board of Elections has ignored 6215.6(a) when under political pressure.

I cite as an example the State BoE's ruling regarding the Libertarian petition in this year's special election for Congress in the 20th C.D.  The BoE disqualified a large number of signatures on our petition, because the witness wrote his village, instead of his town, in the "Witness Identification Information".  The State's interest in identifying the witness is to allow him or her to be subpoenaed, if necessary.  Given that the full address of the witness is also supplied on the petition, it's hard to understand the reasoning by which the use of village instead of town can fail the "substantial compliance" test.

If there was one improvement I could make to New York's election law, it would be none of these.  I would make all elections below the State level non-partisan.  27 states have some non-partisan county level elections, and in 8 states all county elections are non-partisan.  Most California cities and all Texas cities have non-partisan elections.  41 of the 50 largest cities in the U.S. with an elected mayor hold non-partisan elections.

This is not a new or radical idea.  Non-partisan local elections ensure that local issues are not obscured by party politics, as is too often the case in our state, where demographic patterns often result in de facto one-party rule.

 

Q#4:  We live in an era of professional politicians some of whom earn high salaries plus "consulting fees" from would-be contractors -- vide: Anthony Seminario and Joe Bruno.  John Faso, the 2006 Republican gubernatorial candidate, would have us go back to the days of part-time legislators by reducing legislative salaries, perks and staff.  How do you feel about that concept?  Do you have any other suggestions to clean up New York's "ethics" problems?

A: In New Hampshire, legislators are paid $100 per year (technically, $200 every two years), and the state seems to get along just fine.  Part of this is due to the wisdom of their legislators, in keeping the size and scope of government small enough to manage on a part-time basis.

In New York, the big ethics problem is the unequal distribution of salaries, staff and perks.  The distribution favors the majority party, and is usually controlled by the leadership, allowing them to exert pressure against rank and file members, who might otherwise act in the interest of their constituents at the expense of party leaders.

I favor eliminating extra compensation for committee chairmanships, as it encourages such positions to be awarded as favors, rather than on the basis of personal talents.  Pension plans should be eliminated entirely.  Legislators need some staff to keep track of matters which impact legislative decisions, but every legislator should have the same budget for hiring.

Base pay should be halved, and any increase thereof should require a statewide referendum on the November ballot.  I can't vote to increase my salary, I have to ask my employer.  The same should apply to our public servants.

In addition, we should have term limits for all partisan public offices in New York.  I also favor non-partisan elections on the local level, which would give counties and municipalities the freedom to set their own rules regarding term limits.

 

Q#5: Non-partisan local elections sounds like a good idea until you remember that legislative bodies need to elect officers, appoint people to committee chairs, etc. in order to function. Without party affiliations as a means of organizing themsleves, wouldn't it be hard for non-partisan legislative bodies to operate efficiently to conduct the people's business?

A: Organizations like the Rotary Club and Kiwanis have familiarized people with Robert's Rules for centuries.  There are thousands of philanthropic and advocacy organizations which offer the requisite experience in parliamentary organization and procedure.  Participation in civic organizations is an excellent way to establish a reputation and base of support in the community.  Those most likely to be elected to non-partisan office are those who have gained experience in this field.

No doubt the political class in this country believes themselves indispensable.  This has been the case throughout recorded history, for good or (all too often) ill.  Participation in civic and community service organizations produces people who focus on the good of their community.  The party political process produces people who focus on acquiring power.  The former unifies the community, the latter divides it into factions.

In my home city of Rochester, the Democratic Party has held an absolute power monopoly for over 30 years.  They recruit their candidates from civic organizations.  These candidates already possess organizational skills, and are perfectly capable of running on their own merits.  Why should they require the imprimatur of party bosses?  That extra step may profit a few, but contributes nothing to the community.

Over larger territories, it's more difficult to gain a personal reputation.  In that case, it does make sense to outsource the identification of agreeable candidates to political parties.  On the local level, however, political party involvement does little good, and encourages party politics to outweigh community concerns.

 

Q#6: Rightly or wrongly many people associate the Libertarian Party with certain issues -- such as legalizing marijuana and opposition to laws requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets.  What image would you like people to have of the Libertarian Party?  Why should people consider voting for your candidates or becoming a member of your party?

A: The Libertarian Party believes that you own yourself, and have the right to make your own decisions.  If an adult does not want to wear his or her seatbelt (or helmet), we're fine with that.  If you want to smoke marijuana, that should be your right.  The American Medical Association and American Bar Association, medical and legal experts, support the legalization of marijuana.  The Libertarian Party is proud to stand with the experts and base our positions on fact.  The question I ask is, why do our politicians do otherwise?

People should consider voting for us, and joining our party, because we stand up for their rights.  We believe America's greatness derives from our strong respect for the freedom of the individual.  If people want politicians to tell them what to do, and take more of their hard-earned money, they should vote for some other party.  That's their prerogative.  The Libertarian Party will continue to stand for the dignity and integrity of the individual.

 

2 Responses to “Interview with Chris Edes, chairman, NYS Libertarian Party”

  1. Willie Aponte Says:
    Thanks for publishing this most intelligent interview. It was a pleasure to read.
  2. Mark Glogowski Says:
    As a Libertarian, I agree with our state leader on all but one issue: Making local elections non-parician. There is much benefit to the association of like minded individuals at the local level. For one, it is the base for state and national parties. After years of frustration trying to build such a base, it is not unexpected to have third party leaders abandon the effort as being ineffective and needless, and hope some mysterious process will create a new base. After years of abuse of power, it is not unexpected to see people abandon the political party structure. Nevertheless,what is needed at the local level is for people to begin talking about what it is that they have in common with other citizens in the area. Libertarians are no exception. They need to discuss what they have in common and then finding solutions to local issues that are based on those principles. I would be glad to provide some examples of solutions to problems where the solutions are based purely on the philosophy of Democrat, Republican, Reform, and Libertarian philosophies if you would like to send specific issues needing solutions. Once people begin to understand how different such approaches to government can be, the rational for perserving and promoting local political parties will be clear and easily understood.

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