Albany County Libertarian Committee forms

ALBANY COUNTY — For Veronica Diver, it was the 2016 presidential election that sent her looking for an alternative to the nation’s two main political parties. The Democratic Party, she said, was leaning too far left and the Republican Party was too far to the right for her to consider joining that party.

“I would describe myself as a Republican on the inside, an independent thinker, and a registered Democrat. And then, with all the craziness in 2016, I just couldn’t affiliate with either the Democrats or the Republicans,” Diver said. “So, I [joined] the Libertarian Party because that is where I feel aligned at this point in my life.”

Formed in 1971 in opposition to the Vietnam War and President Richard Nixon’s 90-day freeze on wages and prices as well as his decision to take the United States off the gold standard, the Libertarian Party’s heterodox ideology is a mixture of conservative and liberal positions, which, according to one description, “emphasize[s] a commitment to free-market principles, civil rights, personal freedom, non-interventionism, peace, and free trade.”

On the presidential ballot in just two states in 1972, the party earned one electoral vote from a “faithless elector” in Virginia. 

Now that the party has earned ballot access in New York State, Diver said that it has begun to organize at the local level. In June, Diver was elected chairwoman of the Albany County Libertarian Committee. Locally, she said, in addition to Albany County, both Rensselaer and Saratoga counties recently organized county-level Libertarian committees. 

In 2016, the Libertarian Party became the first nationally-organized party — which is to say, the party appears on the ballot in all 50 states — other than the Republican and Democratic parties, to have half-a-million enrolled voters; it’s the country’s third-largest political party based on voter registration.

“The Libertarians are rising up; we are organizing,” Diver said. The local party plans to run candidates in the fall. So far, as a candidate for Cohoes Common Council, Diver is the only Libertarian running for office in Albany County in November. 

Speaking about the Libertarian Party ethos, Diver said, “We’re about: You do your thing, I do my thing. You don’t step on my toes, I don’t step on your toes. And as long as you don’t hurt me, I don’t hurt you. I don’t force my will on you and you don’t force your will on me, then we’re cool — and I like that.”

About two dozen people showed up for the committee’s June 15 convention, she said. Voter rolls show that there are about 200 enrolled Libertarians in Albany County. However, after sending out a mailer to the 200 party members, Diver said that about 160 are still active. Statewide, the party has about 10,000 enrolled voters. 

But Diver is optimistic. “That number is going up every day,” she said, adding that she carries voter-registration forms on her wherever she goes. 

In the short term, the goal is to enroll more Libertarians in the party, she said. This month, armed with voter rolls, members of the Albany County Libertarian Committee plan to knock on the doors of the county’s unenrolled voters and pitch them on the Libertarian Party, she said. 

The pitch? 

To start, when Diver talks to people about enrolling in the party, she makes sure to tell them she was a Democrat until 2016, which became a flashpoint for her, because she could no longer stand for “politics as it was.”

“Many people are kind of disgusted with politics, the way [politics] are right now with the Democrats and the Republicans, and thinking that they have no other choice,” Diver said. “We want to present them with another choice.”

If people are not happy with the way government is currently run by either party, she said, and Libertarians offer an alternative. 

Then there is the issue of avoiding becoming just another party line that Democrats and Republicans fight over for ballot supremacy, also known as the “opportunity to ballot.

In New York State, if a party doesn’t run a candidate for, say, November’s election, then any candidate regardless of party can collect signatures from any registered Green, Independent, or, now, Libertarian, which would trigger “an opportunity to write in the name of an undesignated candidate or candidates for nomination to the public office,” according to state law. That means, come November, any name can be written on the ballot line of the minor party. 

That’s a real concern for Diver; she pointed to Carmella Mantello, a Republican councilwoman from Troy, as an example. On June 25, Mantello garnered 39 votes to win the Green Party’s line on the November ballot, beating the actual Green Party candidate and a Democrat who was seeking the ballot line for the fall election.  

“She’s a Republican, and she’s picked up the Green Party line by going out and petitioning — that’s problematic,” Diver said.

Avoiding that fate, she said, comes down to party organization, enrolling voters, and fielding viable candidates. As the party’s enrollment grows and more people become familiar with the Libertarian point of view and know there is another choice outside of the two main parties, Diver said, “I think that’s how we’ll begin to change things.” 

 

Ideology versus governing

In the past, Libertarians have had party platforms that have included opposition to any form of government censorship or attempt to abridge the freedom of speech; strong privacy and due-process rights; opposition to a military draft; and the repeal of minimum wage laws, the National Labor Relations Act, the Interstate Commerce Act, and all antitrust laws. The party also favored abolishing the federal Department of Agriculture.

As a Libertarian running for common council, a job that focuses on the nuts and bolts of governing, where “there is no Democratic or Republican way to fill a pothole,” how does Diver square an ideology that espouses government out of everything?

On a platform of safety and less government, while making what government remains more efficient. 

Diver has lived and rented in Cohoes for five years, and, as a Libertarian and a renter, she said, she is concerned about residents’ safety. In that time, there have been a number of fires in the Capital Region, she said, especially in Cohoes. 

For three months of those five years, Diver lived in a duplex and it wasn’t until after she moved into the apartment, she said, that she realized there weren’t any working fire alarms or carbon-monoxide detectors. 

“And I’m like: ‘I thought code enforcement inspected this apartment before I moved in?’” Diver said. According to the city’s code, she is correct. 

As a landlord herself in Otsego County, in the city of Oneonta, where Diver owns property and had lived for 24 years, she said, “That would never fly.” 

Although Diver does not own a home in Cohoes, she said she’s spoken with plenty of homeowners and says that the city is “nickel and diming” them. 

For example, she said, if homeowners want to replace their furnace, they have to pay the city for a permit to have the furnace replaced. “That ridiculous,” she said. “What we do inside our houses, that’s our business. Why do [I] need to pay the city if I need to replace my furnace?”

There are places where government oversteps its boundaries, she said, and it’s not necessary. 

Diver’s two examples appear to contradict each other. 

Why doesn’t the landlord in the first example have the right to maintain his house however he sees fit? Because, she said, in this instance, she is talking about the safety of others. 

“If I want to be unsafe in my house, and I die because my furnace backs and I have no [carbon monoxide] monitor, that’s on me, that’s my decision,” she said.

But if that’s her home and she’s renting it out, and the same thing happens, that’s on her, if someone, in this example, is going to rent out their home, they have the personal responsibility to make sure things are in working order, she said.

As it happens, the city of Cohoes also shares Diver’s concerns about protecting others. 

The reason Cohoes requires a homeowner to obtain a permit when replacing a furnace, Joseph Fah, fire chief and director of code for the city, told The Enterprise is to ensure that the plumbing and electrical work is done properly. “So we’re not burning down these [homes] because somebody went in and didn’t know what they were doing,” Fah said. 

 

Old white men

One often-cited but slightly out-of-date study from 2013 found that 94 percent of Libertarians were non-Hispanic white, 68 percent were men, and 62 percent were under the age of 50. Around the same time, the Democratic Party was about 60-percent non-Hispanic white while the Republican Party was about 89-percent non-Hispanic white.

“The party’s move into the political mainstream,” the Washington Post reported in 1980, “has been funded largely by Charles Koch,” whose brother, David, was the Libertarian Party’s candidate for vice president in 1980, “largely in order to take advantage of a campaign law loophole that allows candidates to pour large sums of their own cash into their national campaigns.

In the decades since, the Koch brothers have spent tens-of-millions-of-dollars to reshape the American political landscape.

Asked about that criticism, that Libertarian Party is primarily “white, male, and financially secure,” Diver laughed, and said, “I’m trying to change that. Several Libertarian women are.” 

And, yes, she has noticed the party is primarily white men; however, having been in politics before, she said, “The political arena has been largely old white men.” Diver said that she is proud that there are women stepping up and running for office, and, like herself, there are women stepping up and become party chairs at the county level. 

In New York City, for example, she said, Debra Altman was elected to the New York City Education Council’s Citywide Council for District 75, “an advisory body concerned with the education of students” who receive “highly specialized instructional support for students with significant challenges.”

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