Electing One Libertarian

What Could Be Accomplished

A simple question: If we elected a single Libertarian state legislator, or a single Libertarian Congressman, what might he or she hope to do? One way to find out is to take a collection of would-be state legislators, put them in a simulated state legislature, drop a single Libertarian into their midst, and see what follows. That's exactly what happened in South Carolina:

Winning the Budget Busters Game

Sean Haugh,

Chair, Libertarian Party of North Carolina

Howdy friends, since everything's been so quiet here lately, I figured you'd have time to read another one of my long stories, intended for public consumption.

I'd like to tell you a story about how one Libertarian legislator just might make a big difference.

Currently I am enrolled in the Institute for Political Leadership. IOPL is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization devoted to training future North Carolina candidates and campaign operatives. In 10 weekend sessions over 4 months, 20 promising political novices get some incredible training.

The course covers many aspects of how to run a campaign, such as television, polling, fundraising, and voter identification. Also covered in detail are public policy issues facing NC, and exercises on how to be effective once in office. The goal is to elevate the level of political activity in this state, by producing graduates who run intelligent, positive, issues-oriented, and ethical campaigns. I am the fifth Libertarian to be accepted to the Institute in its 21 years history, and I consider it a great honor and joy to be a part of it.

This weekend, our class exercise was a roleplaying game called "Budget Busters", based on the true-life 1991 budget crisis here in North Carolina. Here's the story: our state Constitution does not allow us to run a deficit. However, when the General Assembly convened that year, it was discovered that due to "recessionary pressures" and greater than expected use of social services, the state was $800 million in the hole. This figure grew to $1.2 billion during the course of the game. Our mission was to figure out how in tarnation we would balance this budget.

In the last class, we were given our assignments. Eight of us were named to the Republican-controlled House Finance Committee, 7 to the Democrat-controlled Senate side, and the remaining five were given various lobbying roles. I was named to the Senate committee. So for two weeks, I got to refer to myself as Sen. Sean Haugh (L-Durham). That was just too much fun.

I took this game probably far too seriously. After all, as a Libertarian, what better platform could I have for demonstrating the sickness of runaway govt spending? Here was my chance to show just how we could stop it dead in its tracks.

To make a long story short, I burned plenty of midnight oil developing a very detailed plan on just what to eliminate. This plan ended up being 20 pages long, and took three parts. (I will gladly send a copy of my report to anyone who wants it.)

The Chair of the House committee, in his real life, is employed by the John Locke Foundation, our own little homegrown Cato Institute in Raleigh. He offered their proposal "Changing Course II" as his blueprint for reform. I gratefully accepted this as one of the three parts. I developed further cuts, which comprised a second part.

My real coup was that I did what I was told would be almost impossible. Not only did I procure a real live copy of the 1991-93 NC Budget, I discovered I could understand it. The budget document is 7 volumes, weighing about 23 pounds, listing state spending line by tedious line. Bet they didn't count on me being an office manager who understands the language of object codes. Killer dawg! I read the whole damn thing, and I became as one with the budget as I could for two weeks.

This document showed clearly the before and after -- I could see exactly what the real 1991 General Assembly themselves cut. (I also saw what they gave new funding for, but I didn't say a single word about that. I figured, hey, that's not what I'm about. If you want to raise spending, then do your own damn research.) That became the third part of my Comprehensive Plan.

Here are the overall highlights of the glorious Plan:

While this seems like a radical laundry list, I really could have gone much further. I hardly touched education, social services, or cultural resources. But I decided to take the strategy of pushing for what I thought I might be able to actually get, in a language my fellow mock legislators could understand. I felt that if I called for the complete elimination of social services, or separation of school and state, I'd get laughed out of committee immediately. I deliberately picked targets that I knew other Senate committee members would be interested in, and theorectially saved new cuts for the next session.

The Plan was greeted mostly with amazement, that I would be so crazy to stay up late nights all week (and until 7am Friday) reading the budget and putting it together. Yet everybody saw something in there they liked, so it took life.

It gave me tremendous power. By doing this work and offering it freely to the class, I had the respect of others who had not done the work themselves. And since I was far and away more prepared and organized than everyone else, I set the tone for everything that followed. My paradigm dominated.

That was the first lesson I learned: knowledge really is power.

The Senate Finance Committee consisted of 5 Democrats (2 liberal, 2 moderate, 1 conservative), one conservative Republican, and me. I was immune to the concerns about my reelection, a luxury others did not choose to have. I reasoned that I was doing just what I said I would do, and that if I could win as a Libertarian challenger, I certainly could win as a successful Libertarian incumbent.

Another nice benefit of being a Libertarian is that the lobbyists left me alone, assuming I was an ideologue and so talking to me would be a waste of their time. This turned out to be a critical error on their part, as not only did I develop incredible influence, but as it turns out I was more sympathetic to them than they thought. Yes, believe it or not, I am a Libertarian who is a friend to the state employees and to pensioners locked into state retirement plans.

Once in committee, my power mushroomed. I was able to put together coalitions for every proposal I could get to the floor. Our Chair took a very casual approach, which allowed me to control much of the debate. I wasn't just the swing vote, I was the power vote. Most of the spending cut votes went 4-3 or 5-2 in my favor, with a variety of allies for each. The Chair (at the behest of the Republican) managed to block a vote on the War on Drugs proposal, and stymied me in my efforts to present everything on my list, yet I was able to push through the vast majority of my program.

Once we got to the revenue raising side of the debate, I didn't fare so well. Quite often, the votes became 5-2, with my esteemed Republican colleague joining me. Yet I see some strong victories in what we didn't do: we left personal, corporate, and sales tax rates untouched, when to raise them would've been the easiest solution (and something that happened in real life). On the spending side as well, by setting the tone of the debate I ensured that most all new spending programs (including massive prison building projects) were never even considered. I'm proud to say there was only one 6-1 vote, when I got rolled over on a $25 million package for preschool handicapped children.

It was an exhausting, chaotic, and sometimes contentious process, resulting in an unsightly patchwork solution, yet in the end every single one of us could be proud of the package we had put together. And it contained some amazingly radical stuff. I got them to take a cleaver to the budget and weild it with a passion.

Here's what we came up with:

Obviously, I didn't vote for every one of these items. But considering everything we could have done -- heck, everything that govt is doing all the damn time -- I'm thrilled to death with what we accomplished. Lesson two: those who do, get -- even in politics.

My hard work and debating skills earned my appointment to the House-Senate Conference Committee. This part of the exercise was cut short, due to lack of time, yet it was also quite enlightening.

The House proposal had some similarities to our plan, but in my view was far weaker. They cut far less in spending and taxes, and basically balanced the budget on the backs of cigarette manufacturers and smokers. We thought our Democrat-dominated committee's radical new penny-a-pack Cigarette Manufacturing Tax was radical? The Republicans did us 5 better and made it a nickel.

But this merely reflects a truth already clear to Libertarians. Republicans can talk all they want about downsizing govt, but they in reality are the most eager to continue expanding a govt that's already beyond all limits. It was the Progressive Democrat-Libertarian coalition that showed the greatest zeal for cutting taxes and spending, and the political will to get the job done.

I can't tell you how much fun I had learning lesson #3: yes, a Libertarian in a legislative body, even just one, can make a hell of a difference.

run to win --

"Senator" Sean Haugh (L-Durham)

With thanks to "Douglas S. Adams" for calling this article to my attention.

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