It must have been around October or November of 2008. My cell phone rang. It was Republican Indianapolis City Councilor (at-large) Ed Coleman. I had only met Ed a few times and never missed an opportunity to give him grief about introducing a Fireworks ban for Marion County (basically Indianapolis). Ed, a veteran employed in the medical industry, whom I shared a couple of mutual friends with is a boisterous and gregarious kind of fellow who can tend to wear on people a bit, but as near as I've ever been able to tell he has a well-meaning heart of gold.
I thought it was a little odd that I got the phone call as I wasn't an official with the Libertarian Party of Indiana, but I had just months earlier come off of a great third party campaign for Indiana's 7th Congressional District where the Honorable Julia Carson (D), beloved by Democrats and reviled by Republicans, had passed resulting in a Spring "special election". Julia was ultimately replaced by her grandson, now Congressman Andre Carson, after he had been swiftly moved up through the party while news of Ms. Carson's fading health was kept quiet from the media.
Flashback to the year 2000. My first Libertarian Party event was a visit to Indiana by then Presidential candidate (the late) Harry Browne. I had been prodded in years prior by a few co-workers that as a small government fiscal conservative who really didn't care what adults did in the privacy of their own homes that I was basically a libertarian. After listening to some news clips in 2000 of Gubernatorial candidate Andy Horning I decided to show up for a few Libertarian events and put a Horning for Governor sign in my yard. The result was that I got introduced to (then) State Party Chairperson Mark Rutherford, an Indianapolis attorney and a few other people, like current chairperson Sam Goldstein. Mark sat down with me, at the Rathskeller if memory serves, and we talked about possibly running for school board or town council or something.
This meeting was critical because without being pushy, Mark explained a lot of things to me and planted important seeds. I wouldn't volunteer for my first political campaign until 4 years later or run for office myself until another 4 years had passed. But, in late 2008 I had gotten my feet wet and actual voting records and philosophy had become more important than who said mostly the right things, sounded good and had nice hair and teeth. I had learned about Austrian economics, the philosophy of Liberty, read the work of Frederich Bastiat and spent hours listening to the wisdom of very smart people like Andy Horning, Mark Rutherford and Travis Cross.
But, back to 2008...
The conversation with Ed was, essentially this (paraphrased and condensed)... "Sean. This is very confidential and I need to trust you; but, I'm thinking about switching parties. I'm tired of being threatened, talked down to and told how to vote. Can you arrange a meeting?"
My first response was along the lines of, "Sure, Ed. I can set something up with the right people. How much have you thought about this? You do realize it could make re-election very, very difficult."
Ed acknowledged that he understood and so a meeting commenced several days later at a pub/eatery in Park 100 near 71st Street and I-465. Then exiting LPIN Director Todd Singer, new Executive Director Chris Spangle, former LPIN Chairman Mark Rutherford (affectionately referred to as "The Godfather"), Sam Goldstein, myself and one or two others attended and discussed things with Councilor Coleman. The fact that Ed was surrounded by a group of professional individuals who were not promoting their own self-interest was probably a relief to him. And, I swear, we darn near tried to talk him out of it. Why? Because, if somebody is going to make that kind of change you want to make darn sure they know what they are doing and that they REALLY want to do it. There wasn't going to be any talking him into it, it had to be his choice.
No decisions were made at that meeting, but on the evening of February 16, 2009 word started to leak out and on Tuesday, the 17th we held a press conference at the prestigious, private downtown Indianapolis Columbia Club to announce that Ed was joining the Libertarian Party of Indiana. Ed was the elected representative of somewhere around one million people and he was joining the Libertarian Party?!
Evaluating Ed's votes on the council over the following 3 years shows that he consistently opposed tax increases, opposed restrictions on people's rights, opposed corporatism, opposed government sponsored monopolies and was willing to ask sometimes unpopular questions. People who truly, honestly believe in small, cost-effective government that minds its business had a friend in Ed and those he surrounded himself with for advice and council. I was honored to be one of those people from time to time and wish life and circumstance had allowed me to participate more.
When it came time for Ed's re-election campaign in 2011 a wise decision was made to run him as a district candidate rather than try and cover the entire county of somewhere in the neighborhood of a million people. Knowing that resources would be limited it made a lot more sense to try and win one of the 25 district seats. It also helped that the sitting councilor for that district had been appointed to replace Republican Mike Speedy who had gotten himself elected to the State House.
The Coleman campaign was better funded and quite possibly better organized than any other council race, and although Ed garnered around 26% of the vote and didn't win, the Republican challenger was forced to send multiple mailers targeting ... the Libertarian. At least one of the mailers was blatantly dishonest and misleading and, rumor has it, they hired a private investigator to try and dig up dirt they could use. Hey, if you can't win on ideology and voting record, mudslinging will have to do, eh? The bottom line is that the money and organization moved the bar. This was a fruitful endeavor.
This campaign was coming off of a 2010 election year that saw Libertarian candidates state wide nearly double previous vote totals - threatening major party status in one race. And in 2008, a higher percentage of votes went for the LP's presidential candidate than in any other state.
Let me say, without question, that Ed's campaign was the absolute best organized Libertarian race I have seen to date, although to be fair, I haven't observed up close one of the great Rex Bell statehouse campaigns.
I showed up that morning to get my poll location and materials and was handed an organized packet including Google Map directions to my location, a snack bag with bottled water, yard signs to place at the polling location and instructions on how to conduct oneself and who to call if there is any trouble. Allison Maguire gets major credit for organizing things so well, and I hope I'm not slighting her husband, Tim, in any way. He was there that morning and I'm sure he helped.
At my poll location, the Democrat volunteers didn't even have handout materials for around 90 minutes after the poll opened and they were not especially enthusiastic or political. The Republican volunteer bragged about how she had been doing this for 20 years and was a Precinct Committeewoman, yadda, yadda ... but she was surprised to be educated, by a Libertarian supporter no doubt, that people could actually run, in an election, for the position she had been appointed to. I still don't think she believed me. And, best of all, the Libertarian Party of Indiana had EVERY poll location in Ed's district staffed. It's my understanding that has never happened before. And, resulting from that, there are now many more dozens of trained Libertarian poll workers for the next cycle.
So what is the point to all of this?
None of this was possible without Mark Rutherford's leadership of the Libertarian Party in Indiana over many years. Mark worked very hard to build up the Indiana organization and make it one of the top handful in the country. He did this by putting a smart, strategic, professional face to the party that attracted other, like minded individuals. He made it "okay" to be a Libertarian. And because it was okay, there continue to lots of new people joining great folks like Sam Goldstein, Chris Spangle, Jerry Titus, Dan Drexler or long-time (often unthanked) treasurer Dale Wedel who continue to grow the party and enhance its credibility. In fact, in a recent visit to the Marion County meeting I realized that half of the people there were new in just the past 2 or 3 years.
As I write this, Mark Rutherford is running to become the National Chairman of the Libertarian Party when they hold their elections in Nevada this week. Mark Rutherford would make an excellent choice and it might say something about the party's overall interest in being successful if it decides to ignore the great success that Mark, by way of the legitimacy he helped build in Indiana, isn't given a chance to do the same at the national level.
Given the success of ideological libertarian candidates like Republican Ron Paul; the increased level of interest in candidates like (former) Governor Gary Johnson who is seeking the LP's nod for President; businessman, celebrity and community activist Rupert Boneham who is seeking the Indiana Governorship; and the massive influx of young voters interested in liberty, honest money, free markets, Austrian economics and the philosophy of liberty I think it is fair to say it is time for the Libertarian Party to take things to the next level. I have to think Mark could help do that. He certainly did it in Indiana.