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Our Interview with Carl Milsted (Part 1)

As a part of our on-going series on efforts to reform the Libertarian Party, we had the great pleasure and opportunity to interview Dr. Carl Milsted, Jr.

Dr. Milsted is the chairman of the Libertarian Party of Buncombe County, N.C. and a founder of the Libertarian Reform Caucus. Presented below is part one of the interview, the second half will be published later today.

TPW: Why was the Libertarian Reform Caucus formed?

Milsted: It was initially formed because members of the Libertarian Party of Buncombe County, North Carolina came to the realization that the LP cannot win without moderating its message (at least for the near term). This decision was made after exhausting the other options. Buncombe County has a press that is open to new ideas; it is not necessary to go on a hunger strike to get published in the liberal media here (as it was for a certain “Great Communicator”). The Libertarian Party is the only third party on the ballot in North Carolina so we have a credibility advantage over other LP affiliates. The area is very friendly to marijuana users; I have seen people smoking joints in downtown Asheville in broad daylight. So the drug issue is not a killer issue. We had the activists to campaign hard and knock on doors. We got into local politics.

In other words, we did everything except distance ourselves from the platform and its radical message—and we lost.

Personally, I did my own “free county project” by moving down here a few years ago for the factors I just mentioned. I decided that if we cannot win here in Hippieland, we cannot win anywhere. Things got crystallized in my mind when I was working a marijuana legalization rally at City-County Plaza. Despite the fact that we are the Party of Pot, I couldn’t get any of the attendees to register as Libertarians. They were more concerned about the environment and corporate concentrations of power than pot legalization. After that, I went back to the drawing board and started writing the material which became www.holisticpolitics.org. Later, the activist core of LP-Buncombe decided to launch the Caucus.

TPW: How many people have signed up to join your effort?

Milsted: As of this morning, we are at 171 members from 38 states. So far we have spent a total of $12.50 on advertising. I hope to get a PAC or 527 set up within a month so we can really promote this thing.

TPW: How does the LRC feel about running a Presidential candidate? Secifically, is running a credible Presidential campaign more of a priority than running credible local candidates? Or should the LP even contest the Presidenti! al election at this stage?

Milsted: The LRC does not have an official position on this subject as yet. I have written an article, “A Realistic Vision of Victory” advocating that the LP shoot for having a controlling minority in one or more state legislatures as its next victory condition.

A half-dozen Libertarian legislators in a divided state house is about the minimum I see for having real lawmaking clout. The article is at: http://www.reformthelp.org/strategy/evils/realisticVision.php

At the bottom of the article you can see how members have rated the essay which gives a clue as to member sentiment on the local vs. national candidate debate.

Stay tuned for part two of this interview, later today!

To find out more about the Libertarian Reform Caucus, click here.

11 Responses to “Our Interview with Carl Milsted (Part 1)”

  1. Mark Cenci Says:

    As an alternate rep to the LNC, I was interested and encouraged to hear about this discussion. I can assure you, there are plenty of LNC reps who strive to accomplish the goals that are stated here.

    I was dismayed and disappointed by Mr. Milsted’s comments.

    It seems to me Mr. Milsted makes a gratuitous swipe at a fellow libertarian in his opening statement. Such behavior is as much the reason for the LP’s problems as anything else.

    If I am wrong about your intent, Mr. Milsted, please inform me.

    Mr. Milsted is making a veiled reference to Michael Cloud’s US Senate bid, where he was a non-entity by design in the Massachusetts Press, and in exasperation announced he was going on a hunger strike to be covered.

    I invite Mr. Milsted to to battle with the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald some time. Or at least learn the whole story of a campaign for US Senate in Massachusetts, against John Kerry, where there was no Republican, the Libertarian Party of Massachusetts held Major Party status, and the Globe actually wrote that Kerry was running unchallenged.

    Perhaps I am reading way too much into Mr. Milsted refering to Cloud as “a certain “Great Communicator” “. Perhaps this was his way of extending praise. I’ll be delighted to acknowledge that, if true.

    I recall Mr. Milsted’s scorn for Perry Willis when he sat on the LNC. Perhaps this scorn extends to Mr. Cloud. Perhaps Mr. Milsted needs to resolve his personal problems with other people before assuming the mantle of Oracle for the party.

    That being said, I encourage everyone to investigate the latest attempt to purge National Staff for their publication of the Iraq Exit Strategy.

    As for me, I’ve got Libertarian Purge Fatigue.

  2. Carl Milsted Says:

    Yes, to some degree that was a mild swipe. Those who hype themselves unduly should expect some giggles.

    However, the potshot was far less a swipe than you might be taking it. Michael Cloud is a powerful speaker and an active Libertarian. The fact that he had to go on a hunger strike was far more a reflection on Boston than on Mr. Cloud. My major point is that in Buncome County NC, you do not have to be a great communicator to get in the press, or in debates, etc. Thus, we were able to take that variable out of the equation.

    (As for my scorn for Perry Willis, it was far less than many on the LNC at the time, and three orders of magnitude less than some outside the LNC. I had and have more contempt for those who tried to pile on the charges with unsubstantiated allegations, and I made some serious potshots at those people at the time. My beef with Willis and Cloud is that of overhyping. In the near term this does bring in money, but it results in member churn in the longer run. I thought Willis should be denied the LP list for real, but for a finite amount of time. Some on the LNC wanted a much greater amount of time while some others tried a sneaky backdoor approach to make the time effectively zero.)

  3. Timothy West Says:

    I quit the LP for 2 years ( actually, just stopped being active ) becuase of the denials of Willis’ activities by people who knew better. Since a large portion of the LP left about the same time I did ( look at the fall in membership after 2000 ) I cant assume I was the only one.

    I quit becuase the whole thing smacked of unbelieveable arrogance on the part of Harry Browne and those around him. I’m not sure who I think was more unprincipled in the mess.

    To promise more than you ever deliver over the space of 25 years, and not be held responsible for your actions, is unbelievable to me. Thats there are libertarians that could keep a straight face defending the status quo is indefensable. Where is the success? If the LP has done so well doing what it has been doing, why are we in a less free country today?

    If the LNC was a stockholder owned company, it woiuld have been sued for fraud by its stockholders. What Carl says about the hype machine of that time period is VERY TRUE. NOTHING EVER BECAME OF ANY OF IT. IT WAS 100% BULLSHIT, and that’s the truth.

    The LP was in the control of professional fundraisers. That should never happen again. I think a good case can be made that the LNC itself is guilty of fraud, knowing that whatever money was raised was spent on pie in the sky schemes that never did a damn thing to advance liberty in this country. Or maybe they were just clueless.

    Mark, I want to know something. Point blank: Where is the success obtained from 25 years of “principled” activity on the LNC’s part? I’m still looking for it. I dont know how long you have been on the LNC, but their are people out here that are getting sick and tired of devoting large amounts of time money and energy into something that always comes up short. The reason it comes up short is simple: We dont have electable positions on issues. Period. We exist to convert people into libertarians, not elect people to office. This is gonna change.

    You’re getting tired of Libertarian Purge Syndrome? I’m getting tired of total irrelevance of the LP in any measure that matters. It’s not the Democrats and Republicans that are keeping me from liberty so much as people in my own Party! Thats a sad state of affairs. I want results from the money and effort I put into this party. Results I can see and measure.

    When the principled folk give me that, I’ll sit down and shut up. Until then, they have a 25 year record of failure to defend. Let them try.

  4. Mark Cenci Says:

    Thank you Mr. Milsted. Your reply was candid.

    Mr. West, I served as a full LNC regional rep for 2 years, from 2002 until 2004, and I’ve been an alternate since. I was also an alternate in 1999.

    To blame the LP’s lack of success on Willis and/or Cloud and/or Dasbach and/or Browne or any other staff member, including the current staff is not valid.

    A better cause of our problems is the LNC.

    But actually, it is the membership who selects the LNC. And here is why:

    The LNC is not the Congress of the LP. It is not a representative body of libertarian legislators. Nor is it supposed to be a Council of Philosopher Kings. It should be a Board of Directors.

    A Board of Directors establishes a budget, sets goals, hires an Executive Director (who then hires staff) and oversees the progress and performance of same. If the goals are not met, they must be either adjusted to be more realistic or the ED must be fired and replaced with someone who can perform.

    In that role, the LNC members should be people who have served on comparable Boards of Directors of nationwide, multi-million dollar organizations. Or, at least they should be people with business and/or non-profit management experience, including bugeting and evaluating Staff.

    We don’t have that. When did we ever? There are a few people on the current LNC who meet these minimal qualifications. Everyone else is a perfectly fine individual and a good libertarian. But not Board of Director timber. (I am a good example of this, as a state chair and past 3 time candidate, but not a management type).

    The convention delegates don’t understand this. I didn’t when I was a delegate voting for the LNC. Not until I was elected did it become clear.

    In fact, look at where the LNC elections are positioned in the agenda of our conventions. At the end, as an afterthought.

    Look at where the Platform and By Laws votes are positioned. At the beginning and relatively lavished with time.

    Not until we have better, more experienced candidates for the LNC will the LNC behave like a superb Board of Directors. Not until the delegates understand it is harmful to the organization to elect Philosopher Kings who give good chest thumping speeches at convention will the LNC become superb.

    Similarly, the LNC should only be hiring Executive Directors with management experience in similarly sized and funded organizations. For decades we promoted succesful libertarian leaders of local volunteer organizations. These were all fine people who did the best jobs they could, and in fact were excellent in many regards. But we need better. And I am of the opinion that their philosophical orientation is less important than their management skill (provided they are at least neutral politically).

    Mr. West writes that if the LP was a stockholder company, it would have been sued. That is interesting, because I wish we were more of a stockholder company. That way, the people who give the most to the LP would have more votes at convention.

    The assertions of Mr. West that the LP was “in control of professional fundraisers” and that “nothing ever came of it” and that fraud was committed by the LNC is hyperbole.

    Here is what really went on:

    Budgeting by the LNC and monthy spending reports from staff were either so inept or dysfunctional as to be worthless. (the LNC would not have known how to read them in any case)

    “Memberships” sold for $25 and shared with the states could not cover the cost of “servicing” the members with LP News and the core functions of staff.

    Fund raising was undertaken for various projects including Ballot Access, Congressional races, etc and donations poured in.

    Funds were diverted on an “as needed” basis whenever the bills could not be paid.

    This was not a fraudulent scheme. It was amateur hour.

    Since 2002 the LNC has been striving to correct these fundamental problems.

    A more rational budgeting process is now working. Only core functions of staff are budgeted. All else is treated as “accordion” items, whose budgets can expand and contract according to donor support. A small and predetermined per centage of every special project’s donations are paid to the staff to cover their involvement and costs to adminster.

    The recent dust up over the dues increase was an effort to address the discrepency there. And we are looking at ways to eliminate dues, per se, because of the high cost of repeated follow-up letters to lapsed members.

    With regard to frustrations over the LP, I certainly understand. I was the Maine state chair when memberships were increasing and when they dropped. I was a candidate in 3 different races. I’ve spent thousands from an average salary on donations to the party and candidate contributions. I’ve spent thousands more on travel and hotel costs to go to LNC meetings.

    I encourage Mr. West to work with the people in the LP (and on the LNC) to make our message more appealing to average voters. Seek out George Squyres and Mark Rutherford for more information. I agree with you that we do not have electable positions on issues. The Platform reformatting project championed by Mr. Squyres addresses that.

    One thing I disagree with Mr. West concerns the cause of the membership decline. Whereas no one knows why the decline occured, I believe it relates more to the cessation of all active prospecting from the National Office.

  5. Timothy West Says:

    Mark,

    I agree with some of your points. There is no magic answer, nor magic bullets that will solve everything thats wrong. But the one who are asking the questions and attempting to come up with answers are getting attacked by people who have no answers of their own, save that everything has to stay as it is or we become like the R’s and the D’s.

    I honestly dont believe that’s the case.

    Thanks for your input - the more I listen, the more I know. The more I know, the better informed I can be to chart my course in the LP whatever it may be.

  6. Mark Cenci Says:

    Mr. West:

    I didn’t understand your third sentence. email me or call me if you want. [email protected]

  7. Lenny Zimmermann Says:

    Mr. Cenci,

    I cannot speak to if Mr. West is referring to any specific individual within the organization, per se, but I think what he is generally referring to is fairly easily seen if you visit the LP Blog.

    I have long been a lover of the libertarian ideal, but the attitude shown by some on the blog is simply an extension of the attitude I had always attributed to the LP in the past and as their platform had always been presented to me by those few LP representatives that ever seemed to get any kind of coverage I was exposes to from the main stream media. That attitude is simply, what I have come to learn, a fairly simplified Rothbardian outlook of libertarianism that suggests that the only true libertarian way is to immediately move to the most libertarian outcome. To do any less is simply NOT libertarian, and thus if you don’t agree with that viewpoint you are not libertarian, so feel free to go play in some other sandbox, thank you very much. (Although usually not stated quite so nicely.)

    Interestingly it was only on a whim that I decided recently to look into the LP again, mostly from disgust with the current two party system with neither side representing my views to any real effect. And lo and behold I saw something rather interesting. I saw the glimmer of acceptance of a more reasonable methodology in the platform. One that advocated transitional considerations and a sell on the website advocating a party that is pro-victim, pro-small business, etc. All of a sudden a more positive message, I think to myself. And even more interestingly I ran across the Louisiana Libertarian Party Platform. Even more interesting to me was a platform that started to clearly define that individuals had rights not just personally, but as a family and a community. Where these words an echo of real change in the LP? That the LP was starting to gain individuals with a will to move in a more political direction so that FINALLY a REAL third party might start to blossom and actually gain some headway against the Duopoly?

    An already established third party, that by most measures (not all, but most) is the third largest political party in the US, already poised with an established base to actually start moving forward politically to get some freedom back for us? That might help to move legislation in a direction that will ensure freedoms in the future for my nieces and nephews? That’s what finally, after almost 20 years, made me switch my affiliation from Democrat to Libertarian. That is what got me to donating money to the LP. And then to dig further and find folks like Mr. West, Dr. Milsted and Mr. Squyres actively pushing for the moderate platform of truly accomplishable goals in 4 or 8 years… I think I’m starting to see something big here. I think I’ve been looking at only the tip of the iceberg and a momentum that has taken a very long time to have a real effect on the LP.

    THAT is what drew me to the party. (Yeah, it WAS what amounts, to me, to be platform reform.) And if that kind of change could grab my attention, what about all of those who are feeling their liberties just being pulled away from them at this time. Disgruntled with the duopoly looking for something different, but something that might possibly compete with the Ds & Rs. Could that be the LP? Right now I’m betting on that horse, and although it may be a long shot, I’m hoping I can do my part to help get that horse into shape.

    Dr. Milsted certainly has my support in his endeavors.

    At any rate, I think that the Rothbardian idealists, or whatever you want to call those hard-line folks who have seemed to have been the controlling faction of the LP for lo these many years, are the folks who seem to be pushing hardest to prevent these kinds of changes and I believe that is likely the kinds of folks Mr. West is mentioning in that third sentence.

    (You know, maybe someday I’ll actually learn how to express my thoughts more succinctly! ;) )

  8. Mark Cenci Says:

    Mr. Zimmerman, what you write is a great encouragement to me. I do hope you will make an effort to be a delegate from your state to the 2006 LP convention, to be held in Portland Oregon. There will be continued Platform reformatting voted upon, plus significant By Laws considerations…and, of course, a new LNC!

  9. Tim West Says:

    Mark,

    my dyslexia got the better fo me again. Lenny pretty much laid it out on the line as to what I meant.

    I have concerns that there will be a challenge to my being seated as a delegate from West Virginia, though I have every intention of being so. I will be there regardless either in delegate mode or in reporter/blogger mode, hopefully both.

  10. Tony Torres Says:

    As will I. I look forward to representing Virginia if I can.

  11. Lenny Zimmermann Says:

    I make no promises at being able to make the convention, but we are having a platform discussion for the Louisiana LP on Saturday and I do plan to be there. I mostly like the Louisiana LPs platform, but I would hope to suggest either maintaining it as a standard upon which to base a 4-8 year plan for a platform, or to add transitional planks like the National LP platform has. I’ve also made a bunch of tiny notes on just changing some wording from things like “The Louisiana LP demands this or that” to “The Louisiana LP supports this or that”. I think replacing the strong activators like “must” and “demands” with an orientation that would seem to offer positive suggestions nd constructive criticism will sit a bit better.

    Unfortunately I have no hopes whatsoever of any real Libertarian candidates really getting anywhere in the state of Louisiana. Politics around here are just nutty. I’ve heard some local pundits espouse that there if there is not other political constant in the state of Louisiana the one thing you can be sure of is that when we get tired of a boring governor (and it only takes 4 to 8 years for that to happen) we WILL elect a colorful clown of a fool to step into the spot. What do you expect from a state where due to the way our primaries work out give us a run-off between a guy who had been Governor before and who we KNOW, beyond any shadow of a doubt, is a crook and a guy who is racist enough to have been the Grand Dragon of the KKK. We had bumper stickers saying “Vote for the Crook”. And we did. It was probably the right choice for the lesser of those two evils, but Edwards still abused his office like we knew he would… at least this time he’s serving jail time for it.

    But the two party system is pretty firmly entrenched here, from what I’ve seen.

    Ah, Louisiana politics. Never a dull moment. :/

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