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Libertarian Party gaining foothold in Llano County and elsewhere

Libertarian Party of Texas

The Libertarian Party of Texas is holding precinct conventions Tuesday, March 8, including the Llano County Precinct Convention at 7 p.m. at Mr. Gatti’s Pizza, 3501 RR 1431 in Kingsland, and the county convention Saturday, March 12, at the same location and time. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Joe Burnes knows he and his political party are underdogs, but he also relishes a good fight. Burnes is a Libertarian and seeking the party’s nomination for Llano County treasurer. 

But you would not have seen his name or that of any other Libertarian candidate on the March 1 primary ballot. 

“In Texas, you can be a primary party or a convention party,” Burnes explained. “We are a convention party.”

Unlike the two major parties, the Democrats and Republicans, which hold primary elections to nominate candidates, the Libertarian Party of Texas holds conventions. 

Burnes explained that the Libertarian Party begins the conventions at the precinct level, nominating those candidates for applicable positions, before holding county and state conventions.

The Llano County Libertarians will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 8, at Mr. Gatti’s Pizza, 3501 RR 1431 in Kingsland, for a precinct convention. On Saturday, March 12, party members will convene the county convention at 7 p.m. at the same location.

The state convention is April 8-10 in Irving.

Everyone is welcome to attend the conventions, but if you voted in either the Democratic or Republican primary, you can’t participate in the Libertarian nomination process. 

Currently, Llano, Blanco, Williamson, and Travis counties have active Libertarian parties. Burnet County does not. 

Burnes is quick to admit the Libertarian Party faces major challenges in gaining a foothold in Texas and the United States with the two major parties grabbing the lion’s share of money, attention, and power. One of those challenges is that Democrats and Republicans make the laws, which can seem stacked against third parties.

“The biggest thing we face is they get to set the rules by which we have to operate,” Burnes said. 

Consider the Texas Legislature’s recent redistricting efforts. It was all about Republicans and Democrats fighting for their share with no mention of any other party. 

Filing fees are another issue. Texas law requires candidates submit a filing fee to help offset primary elections. Those fees go into the state’s general fund. However, since the Libertarian Party does not hold a primary, it doesn’t benefit from the fund.

“Something most people don’t realize is that the primaries are really party business; it’s not a general election,” Burnes said. “The parties are picking their nominees for offices.”

Still, Burnes believes the effort is worth it. 

Before joining the Libertarian Party, he was a Republican because of the party’s more conservative fiscal practices. He attended a Tea Party rally in Washington, D.C., in 2010 to support less government spending. But for all of the fiscally conservative talk from the GOP, he didn’t see it taking shape. Instead, he said, the federal government kept growing and getting further into debt.

In 2012, a friend of Burnes asked him if he had heard about New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson’s presidential campaign. Johnson initially ran for the Republican nomination but withdrew and announced his candidacy on the Libertarian ticket. Burnes was familiar with Johnson and his conservative fiscal views, and that campaign was his introduction to the Libertarian Party.

“We don’t see it as left versus right,” Burnes said about Libertarians. “We believe it’s authority versus liberty. If we protect individual rights, actually protect them, then everything falls into place.”

The Libertarian Party advocates for criminal justice reform, fiscal responsibility, the Second Amendment, legalization of marijuana, and individual freedoms, he added. It’s also a big supporter of the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which designates any powers not given to the federal government under the Constitution belong to the state. 

Libertarians believe those powers should go even lower.

“We feel like power ought to be down to the lowest level possible,” Burnes said. “I think, as more people learn about the Libertarian Party and what it is, I think it will grow. It is growing now. We have probably more than 300 elected officials across the United States.

“One of our other challenges is awareness,” he added. “People just aren’t aware of us, but that’s starting to change.”

For more information on the Libertarian Party of Texas, visit its website or check out the Llano County precinct and/or county conventions.