Strategy & Tactics for the California Libertarian Party
Purpose & General Strategy
Purpose - What do you see as the primary purpose(s) of the LPCA? [cf. Bylaw 2]
The purpose of the LPCA should be to use electoral politics to move public policy in California in a libertarian direction. It should do this by uniting voters who want more liberty behind the electoral choices that will yield the most liberty. The LP should maximize the size of the pro-liberty voting bloc and then seek to use it as a carrot or stick as circumstances dictate or allow.
Biggest strategic or tactical opportunity - What is ours?
Strategically, we need to work within coalitions that will help tear down any and all institutional barriers to third-party influence: rules against fusion candidacies, single-representative plurality-wins districts, gerrymandering, mandatory primaries, debate lockout, etc. This is too undifferentiating to be our lead issue-set with the general public, but there are many potential allies and sympathizers on these issues, and our long-run success is so heavily constrained by current barriers that we cannot let this be a second-tier priority.
Tactically, we need to systematically identify and exploit all the institutional portals that are wide open to us: ballot arguments, Voter Information Guide candidate statements, SmartVoter, uncontested races, free TV time, email addresses in voter registration rolls, candidate forums, candidate web sites, etc.
Tactical overreach - How can we ensure our goals are reachable and measurable?
We should design our efforts so that incremental effort yields incremental progress. We should institutionalize the use of careful worst-case planning to immunize ourselves from excess optimism and overreach and the burnout they engender. We should not be afraid to try tactics where failure causes limited setback and can be recognized early. We should be cautious about plans whose failure would cause non-trivial setback but would not be recognizable early.
Operation Breakthrough - Should we try it again? [cf. ExCom minutes item 7]
OB 2006 cost something like $42K, and is projected to finance at most $30K of that in redeemed pledges. We should investigate if a continuous but lower-cost and less-ambitious version of OB is possible, whereby on an ongoing basis we track the electronic contact info of possible candidates. The savings could perhaps be applied to support (e.g. voter guide statements) for candidates specifically recruited by OB.
Ballot status - What if anything needs to be done to maintain it?
Without Smithson and Ogden matching their occupations to their respective races for Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner, the LPCA in 2006 would have flirted with loss of ballot status. As a backup plan for increasing our 0.86% registration mark to the 1% threshold, we should have Ted Brown repeat this occupation-matching in his usual stellar candidate recruitment efforts.
Federal races & BCRA - What are the risks, and how should we manage them?
As I understand it, the only "federal election activity" we really need to do that's constrained by BCRA is identifying and promoting our federal candidates in our non-Internet-based communication efforts -- i.e. California Freedom. If we can get our election issue of CF out for less than $1000, we shouldn't even need to file with the FEC -- but the money would still have to be raised into and spent from a "federal" account. Or maybe we should use this as the final justification for taking (at least the election issue of) CF completely into cyberspace, beyond the reach of BCRA and the expense of the government monopoly on distributing dead trees.
Candidate support - What specifically should the LPCA provide?
The LPCA should coordinate candidate recruitment with the county LP. Ideally the LPCA should acquire complete voter registration tables for all of California, but if this is too much work then county LPs should be given an incentive to get the tables for the LPCA. In exchange for exploiting a mandatory subset of the institutional portals mentioned above (SmartVoter, web site, candidate forums, etc.) determined by the LPCA (perhaps in conjunction with the county LP if it provided voter tables), the candidate should be provided with contact info for his district's (or counties') LPCA members, registered Libertarians, and voter contact info (especially email addresses). LPCA should also provide candidates infrastructure for mass emailings that meet certain strict guidelines, including opt-out management and LPCA-funded self-sanction invocable by annoyed recipients. The LPCA should maintain a best-practices guide for candidates, with practical advice about free campaign site hosting, free business cards, SmartVoter, web site templates, example speeches, debate-ready 60-second sound bites on specific issues, etc.
(Un)winnable races - Should the LPCA focus its resources on the bottom of the ticket or the top?
It's primarily up to the candidates to decide what offices to seek. The baseline of candidate support should be uniform up and down the ticket, and it may be very rare for the LPCA to pick a candidate to get extra resources. It might be less rare for the LPCA to apply resources to controlled experiments at different levels of the ticket, to measure using fine-grained election returns the results of various tactical uses of campaign resources.
Ballot measures - How do they fit into our strategy?
Ballot measures are incredibly important in California. We should help form coalitions to support or oppose important initiatives, and especially work to make sure that ballot argument opportunities are not missed.
Coalitions - How (if at all) should we work with other groups and other parties?
The most important Coalition policy is discussed in "biggest strategic opportunity" above. Regarding "carrot and stick" in the Purpose discussion above, we should push the envelope of the self-defeating national LP Bylaw (6.4) against endorsing candidates of other parties. When it makes sense, we should persuade potential LP candidates not to run in some races, while in other races we should recruit the candidate most likely to hurt the greater enemy of freedom among the leading candidates.
Legislative Program - What should be our primary issues, and how should we promote them? [cf. LPCA Program]
We should pick as our primary issues the ones that a) are popular, b) can differentiate us from competing parties, c) are long-term issues, d) are balanced in Left-Right appeal, and e) are heavily or exclusively non-federal concerns.
- School choice. This is a no-brainer. Education is a perennial top-of-mind state issue, and it sharply distinguishes us from all competing parties with the possible exception of GOP.
- Market-smart environmentalism. The only challenge is to differentiate from Leftist parties' command-and-control environmentalism, but otherwise another nearly-ideal issue.
- Tax revolt. In the home of Prop 13, the next phase of the tax revolt should be something like the Colorado Taxpayer Bill Of Rights, which limits government revenue growth to population plus inflation.
- Medical marijuana and 5) Civil unions. These are good wedge issues against the GOP that would align us with younger voters without alienating too many mainstream voters.
Left-leaning Libs need to realize that interventionism is a federal issue that will not long survive the Bush presidency, and is a me-too issue with California's other three minor parties. Right-leaning Libs need to realize that immigration is a mostly federal issue, has demographics that work against us, and is a me-too issue with the Republican and American Independent parties. It's not sufficient to pick issues that voters are passionate about. They have to be issues whose passionate voters can be induced to choose us over the competition, and there aren't enough single-issue voters who would do so. (Raise your hand if you came to the LP over a single issue.) Addiction to single-issue votes is a prescription for continued failure.
Litigation Strategy - What lawsuits should we join, file, or worry about being filed? [cf. Prop 60]
We should consider challenging Prop 60 in court, and to oppose whenever possible the strategic institutional barriers mentioned above.
- We should lean toward counting registered Libertarians as members for the purposes of internal communications -- perhaps counting them as "associate" or "non-sustaining" members if there is a Bylaws problem here.
- The dues relationship between state and counties should be as simple and easy to administer as is practical.
- Dues should be as close to zero as is practical, to maximize our membership as the top tier of an outreach network, rather than the bottom tier of a donor base.
- LPCA activities should in general be self-financing, so that dues can be scaled down to the minimum needed to maintain healthy relationships with our county affiliates and close electronic contact with even our non-dues-paying members.
- The current extra charge of $30 for a paper newsletter subscription is a good idea that doesn't go far enough. We should consider a membership discount for any member who maintains with us a working email address for 1) himself and 2) two unique never-before-member prospects willing to accept outreach contacts from us.
Database - How should the problems with the database be fixed? [cf. ExCom minutes p. 6]
Information from ExCom on this topic has been scarce, but DonorPerfect sounds like it might finally be an adequate solution. The database needs to help -- or at least not obstruct -- our use of the membership as an electronic outreach network and not just an old-fashioned direct-mail donor base.
County support - What specifically should the LPCA provide?
Aside from the question of revenue sharing, the absolute minimum is sharing of up-to-date data on dues-paying membership. It's vital that the LPCA coordinates with the counties on acquiring, integrating, and sharing voter-registration tables and the RegLib contact info therein. The LPCA should leverage its economies of scale in the area of candidate support (see above), and coordinate in candidate recruitment. Regional vice-chairs are charged with nurturing less-than-fully-active counties, but I don't have any good advice for them on that task.
Fundraising - What should be the fundraising expectations for LPCA officers?
We shouldn't need to be to be doing heavy generic LPCA fundraising if we have the right dues model and engage in projects that are either self-financing (from incremental project-specific fundraising) or are cheap (e.g. due to use of information technology). Aside from money for specific projects, we should more often being asking our members for their time (e.g. in outreach efforts) than their money. See Communication, below.
Bylaws - Which of the proposed changes do you support, and why? What other changes are needed?
The ones I care most about are these:
10. Support county autonomy in dues and membership. (How does LP life membership relate here?)
12. Oppose, unless every other state LP is also similarly fleeing in the face of BCRA.
16. Oppose. See above for the purpose of the LPCA.
23. Support removing the Pledge, in order to include RegLibs as members.
24. Support ignoring exclusively federal issues, but I do so not for BCRA fears, as the way we traditionally communicate our Platform (by posting it on our web site) is outside the scope of BCRA.
Conventions - What should be the model for granting convention rights?
I have no problems with how Conventions have been handled during my seven years with the LPCA.
Executive Director - What are your thoughts about this job? [cf. ExCom minutes p. 6-7]
I want to run the LPCA on the cheap, so the more transparent and communicative the ED is about work performed, the better I feel about paying for the work.
Transparency - How will you keep members involved and informed?
If I have my way, members will be hounded into being more involved and informed, right up to their individual ability to tolerate it.
Divisiveness - How will you help to minimize it?
By continuing to be a big-tent Libertarian, and by promoting a party culture in which even party reformers seek to balance their inreach with their outreach.
Members - How should we recruit and retain them?
Recruitment and retention should be a by-product of successfully using our membership as the top tier of an outreach network.
Reglibs - How should we recruit and retain them? How important are they compared to members?
Our RegLib count is more important than our membership count or budget size. RegLib count and votes received are the two best proxies for our most important metric: how many people are receptive to our message of increasing liberty.
Youth - How should we appeal to them?
This is a hugely important question, and I don't have any easy answers. It's naive of me to hope it will be answered by our choice of issues (viz., personal freedoms and entitlements) and an increased emphasis on Internet-based outreach. Speaking in front of students needs to be encouraged and rewarded systematically. Building student clubs sounds great, but I don't know anybody who knows how to do it. If anybody can do a better job of promoting the idea to teachers than I was able to, I'm still willing to donate $2000 to an essay contest.
Newsletter - What should be its role, schedule, and distribution? How can it be improved?
The content and production values have continued to be excellent, even if schedule consistency has been impacted by the over-extension of volunteers. Every paper copy of California Freedom that we mail is a miniature indictment of our efforts to modernize our communication technology.
Communication - How much can we replace paper/mail/phone with Internet technology?
Intensify Bruce Cohen's excellent efforts to build an email distribution channel. Minimize fundraising as a goal of communication. Share contact info across liberty-oriented organizations. Try to collect email contact info from every paper contact. Create and promote a simple web-base infrastructure for self-service contact of your local media and government officials. Systematically encourage letters to the editor, speaking at government meetings, contacting government officials, gathering prospects from among acquaintances, monitoring the actions of the government and other enemies of liberty, speaking in front of local groups, posting to non-liberty-oriented electronic forums, Wiki contributions, etc. We should have incentives (e.g. scoring like the LNC Candidate Tracker) for such forms of activism.
Website - In what ways could it be improved?
Lean heavily toward simplicity and maintainability. Every hour invested in gee-whiz visuals and behavior is an hour diverted from crucial database-based viral electronic outreach.
Traditional Media - In what ways could our current strategy be improved? [cf. Libertarian Perspective, Press Releases]
Richard Newell is a hero for his management of the Libertarian Perspective.
New Media - How should we use it?
Blogging. Wikis (like LPedia and Paul Studier's LibertarianWiki). Video sharing. etc. Study and copy the best tactics of groups like MoveOn.org. Keep things simple and scalable, so that the payoff comes not from how much Herculean effort you put in, but rather from the sum of all the small efforts you elicit.