Given the GOP’s proclaimed support for limited government and fiscal conservatism, you might think Illinois Libs would derive some consolation from the Republicans regaining control of the U.S. House and several state governorships. Nationwide, the victories of Republicans such as Kentucky senator-elect Rand Paul and Minnesota Congressswoman Michele Bachmann—who proudly aligned themselves with the fiscally conservative, pro-small government Tea Party movement—would make them even happier, you might also suspect. After all, the national Libertarian Party claims the Tea Party movement began right here in Illinois, with anti-tax protests organized by state Libs back in 2008 and 2009.
Yeah, you might think. But you’d be wrong.
Some folks on the liberty-freedom-patriot blog circuit are enthusiastically referring to the “strides” made for the “conservative/libertarian movement,” as though conservatives and libertarians (or Libertarians) were one big, happily family. It’s not the case, says Lex Green, the Libs gubernatorial candidate. "Unfortunately, the Tea Party departed from its Libertarian roots—mostly thanks to the Republicans' infiltration," he says.
An electrician from Bloomington, Green has been active in the Tea Party movement through his early affiliation with the Tea Party Patriots. But his candidacy lost support from many movement activists, he says, because he supports gay rights and marijuana legalization—positions that are consistent with the Libs' limited-government approach, but not with the Republican Party's. Many Tea Partiers ended up backing Republican Bill Brady, which Green says gave him "mixed feelings" about the movement. Among all Libertarians running for statewide office, Green received the fewest votes—just 34,293, or less than one percent.
With people predicting a close race between the two main parties, and lively independent gubernatorial candidate Scott Lee Cohen also vying for votes, the Libs (and the Greens) faced a tough race this time around. The top vote-getter on the Libertarian ticket was Julie Fox, who ran for state comptroller and got 3.3 percent of the vote. Fox and secretary of state candidate Josh Hanson—who won 3.1 percent—were the only Libertarians to break 100,000 votes statewide.
Green thinks many Tea Party members are newbies to politics and don't realize that Republicans often spend as liberally as Dems. He hopes Republican-supporting Tea Partiers "will return to their stated values in the future," adding that he is encouraged by Paul’s victory even though Paul doesn’t share all the beliefs of his father, Congressman Ron Paul, who has run for office on both the GOP and Libertarian tickets. Paul Sr. is so much the king of the limited government scene that people have immortalized him on counterfeit silver dollars.
"The financial situation for the state and for the country is precarious at best—unsustainable," Green says. "I feel that, more than ever, the Libertarian option is going to be important. But how much more successful are we going to be in presenting [our] very important message, as we watch both GOP and Dems spend us into further financial oblivion?" He thinks more media coverage of the Libertarians' platform would help—especially because misunderstandings still skew people's perceptions of what Libertarians want. Green, for his part, believes in maintaining essential infrastructure and services and greater states' rights, as long as they're funded "responsibly, and whenever possible, at the most local level."
The Libertarian leadership shares Green’s views on the Tea Party/Republican relationship. In September, just before the Tea Party hosted its 9/12 "taxpayer march" on Washington, Libertarian Party executive director Wes Benedict issued a warning to Tea Partiers that "Republicans are trying to fool you again.” Libertarians, he continued, “have much in common with Tea Party goals of reducing government spending and taxes. While many Tea Party supporters will admit that George W. Bush's administration grew government, Libertarians want to remind Tea Partiers about previous Republican administrations that loved big government.”
Looks like Benedict's warning fell on deaf ears, at least in Illinois. Though the party remains the country's third-largest, their presence in Illinois remains minimal: The party's national website lists lists only five elected officials statewide, including two municipal library board members, two school board members, and a community college trustee.
Lex Green thinks Tea Partiers who expect the GOP to shrink government will soon learn "what we've already known—that both parties are essentially the same." Looks like some Tea Party-backed candidates are already going back on their pro-fiscal conservatism campaign promises: even Rand Paul is backtracking on his earlier, libertarian position on earmarks. Oh well, it's hard to be a purist!