A Realistic Libertarian Officeholder

This is an interesting article from The News & Advance of Lynchburg, Virginia. It profiles local Libertarian officeholder Jeff Bowles and his largely realistic view of the challenges that face third parties.

More and more, Jeff Bowles can smell discontent in the air. This fall, though, it’s been mixed with the more pleasant odors of barbecue, chili and cotton candy.

Bowles is the highest-ranking Libertarian elected to public office in Virginia - which sounds impressive, until you find out that he serves the public as a Soil and Water Conservation Board representative in Fincastle.

Still, he’s not only an optimist, but an outspoken member of a new breed. I encountered Bowles a couple of weeks ago at the annual Sedalia Chili Cookoff near Big Island, handing out samples of “The World’s Smallest Political Quiz” and chortling at the results.

“So many people are really Libertarians and don’t realize it,” he said.

“When they answer the questions on the quiz and see where they come down on this chart, they’re amazed. Looking at this, I’d say this is a very Libertarian area.”

Nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say that the general opinion toward Libertarians isn’t always good. They tend to be grouped in the public mind with Lyndon LaRouche and those people who build fortified bunkers around their rural cabins in Montana.

And it’s true that Libertarians don’t like government interference is most areas of their lives. They don’t like firearms laws, taxes, deficit spending or anti-drug laws. I heard a story once about a man who showed up at a VDOT session somewhere in Virginia and demanded that all government funding for road construction cease immediately.

That wasn’t Jeff Bowles: He’s also a realist.

“You can’t just eliminate everything the federal government and state governments do overnight,” he said. “That would be a disaster. Our goal is to chip away at the problem, and keep it from advancing any further. Government has its place, but we want it to stay in its place.”

The Botetourt County Libertarian Party, led by Bowles and his wife Liz,

has been highly visible this election season, even if they aren’t running for anything. The party sponsored a float in a Fincastle parade (including a young woman dressed as Miss Liberty), and they’ve brought the

“World’s Smallest Political quiz” to barbecues, wine tastings and even political events sponsored by the major parties.

“We want people to realize that we’re just like them,” Jeff Bowles said.

Indeed, he doesn’t seem to fit the rugged individualist mold, even though he does make his living by selling security systems.

He is currently an EMT and volunteers with his local rescue squad and fire department. He was elected to the Town Council in Fincastle and appointed to the Governor’s Board on Migrant and Seasonal Farm Workers. He has been president of the Botetourt County Chamber of Commerce. He coaches soccer and Odyssey of the Mind teams and does Little Theater. He’s a Mason.

Not exactly your survivalist bunker dweller, in other words.

Yet Bowles ran for the Soil and Water Conservation District seat in 2003 not from any deep-seated fascination with soil and water, but because a Libertartian has to start somewhere.

The job was wide open, and nobody else seemed to want it.

“At first it looked like very low-hanging fruit,” he explained. “I thought I could ask my family, a few friends, and the members of our new affiliate to write me in, and that would be sufficient.”

Except that a local Republican decided to run as a write-in candidate, as well, and suddenly this obscure office produced a hot race in Botetourt County. Jeff, Liz and their son Brad spent all Election Day working the polls, and wound up winning 233-202 - more collective write-in votes than many counties see in a decade.

“What I told people,” Bowles said, “was that I was running so I could find out just what a Soil & Water Conservation Board member did.”

Now he knows, and he’s found it’s not so bad.

“We do some good things,” he said, “but I still keep trying to give back a lot of the money we’ve been appropriated.”

What the Soil and Water Board really represents for Bowles is a toehold in the power structure, albeit a very narrow and precarious one.

“My hero is Ron Paul, a Congressman from Texas who’s been a Libertarian all his life,” Bowles said. “They call him ‘Dr. No,’ because one term he voted ‘no’ on more legislation than all the other members of the Texas Congressional District put together. But he keeps at it, and now he’s starting to get other people voting ‘no’ with him.”

And Bowles is convinced that there’s a little Ron Paul in all of us.

“I see a lot of people who are fed up with the two-party system,” he said. “These days, it’s hard to tell a Republican from a Democrat. Then you’ve got Supreme Court decisions like the one in the New London (Conn.) case, which basically said that the government can take your property any time a developer decides to put something there.

“If you look at it that way, there’s no such thing as private property.”

The negative tone taken by several of this year’s statewide campaigns is only a symptom of this malaise, he said.

“These people don’t have any plans of their own, so they just attack their opponent.”

In reality - and Bowles is, again, a realist - he sees the short-term future of the Libertarians as providing balance. Should some of their ideas begin to take hold (if not their candidates), perhaps it will start to rein in the overbearing and overspending tendencies of state and federal governments.

“Our state president, Jim Lark of Charlottesville, is running for governor as a write-in candidate,” he said, “and if you want to write me in for lieutenant governor, that would be great.”

5 Responses to “A Realistic Libertarian Officeholder”

  1. Lex Says:

    A good article, but in case anyone is wondering, Lyndon LaRouche ran as a Democrat in 2004. And he didn’t finish in last place in all the Democratic primaries, either….

  2. Scout Says:

    That was an error on the reporter’s part, not Jeff’s. He never mentioned LaRouche and knows he is a Democrat.

    There are some other reporter errors as well. Jim Lark is not the “state president” of the LP, and Ron Paul is a life member, but has not been a “Libertarian all his life.” (He is a bit older than the party!) These are mis-quotes, but not as serious as the LaRouche one.

    I am curious as to whether in general you think it’s best to try to have these types of errors corrected or whether to let them go when the article is basically very positive.

    Any thoughts?

  3. Josh Says:

    Nice blog. I just started a Libertarian blog for Cincinnati (my home) and am linking every libertarian blog I can find (well a lot of them).

    IMHO, you may want to send a letter thanking the reporter for the story. Rather than being mad at them for having those misquotes, you should show some kind of appriciation for the press. We don’t get much press, and if we yell at a reporter for giving us attention, you can be sure that you will not get any more in the future.

    In the letter I would point out the minor error with Lark. It is not a big deal that they got it wrong, but it may be something to point out. The Ron Paul quote is to minor to mention. I would make a seperate point to say that LaRouche is not a Libertarian. Never has been, and probably never will be.

    Over all, do not say anything that would make the reporter think that we are angry over this. And keep the letter short and to the point. Good job on the article.

  4. Jack Tanner Says:

    103,000 elected me to Lee Soil & Water Conservation District in 2004.
    Newspaper endorsment included my Libertarian affiliation.

    Before being a candidate, I requested appointment to an empty seat in 2004.
    after I read past year’s meeting minutes and financial reports.

    Read what we are doing to make government cost-effective.

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