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Libertarian Party of Oklahoma to decide on open or closed primaries

Jason Doyle Oden / Red Dirt Report
Chad Alexander, James Davenport, Joe Maldnado, Tracy Baker, Rex Lawhorn, and Moderator Gene Bell during the panel discussion.
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OKLAHOMA CITY- The Oklahoma Libertarian Party is navigating its future as an officially recognized political party in Oklahoma. There are three declared gubernatorial candidates who are vying for the party’s nomination in 2018.

Leaders within the party are deciding whether Libertarian primaries should be open to all voters or closed to party members only. The emergent party held a forum at Rose State College to discuss how to move forward with its primary. A handful of diehard Libertarians and curious onlookers attended the forum which featured two of the party’s gubernatorial candidates, a party candidate liaison, a political science professor and a political consultant.

It was in 2016 when the Libertarians were recognized in Oklahoma as an official party. The party maintained ballot access when Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson received nearly six percent of the vote in Oklahoma during the 2016 election.

The party has grown to between four and five thousand members. While not every county in Oklahoma is home to a Libertarian, it is the fastest growing party in the Sooner State. Party leaders are facing the question what is going to be best for the long-term health of the Libertarian Party in Oklahoma.

Just as you would expect with any political party, there are differing opinions as to whether the Libertarian primaries should be kept open to all voters, or if they should be closed to only registered Libertarian voters.

“I think a closed system empowers Libertarian candidates to craft a better message, to focus on their primary race in a Libertarian sense rather than in a grandstanding sense,” said Traci Baker, who is the head candidate liaison for the Libertarian Party of Oklahoma.

Baker also noted that an open primary could lead to a populist candidate winning the nomination and damaging the message of the Libertarian Party, which focuses on liberty and property rights issues.

The opinions were split between the two gubernatorial candidates on the panel. Joe Maldnado, who is also known as Joe Exotic, the flamboyant owner of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, is against closing the primary. Rex Lawhorn sees a closed primary as a way for the Libertarian Party to make sure its message stays focused.

“I think it would be a detrimental thing to the Libertarian Party by shutting the door on 316,000 people in the state of Oklahoma. If I was a voter in the state of Oklahoma on the outside of this, and I saw ‘we are just going to stick to our 3,900 people and to the hell with the rest of ya’, why would I vote you to be my governor?” said Maldnado.

“The idea that we are eliminating 316,000 people, that we are in some manner excluding these guys and not being welcoming, is not entirely accurate because what we are asking them to do is come register as Libertarian. Why are you going to register as Libertarian if you are going to get to vote in the elections regardless?” said Lawhorn, who later made the point that those who want to vote for Libertarian candidates but remain in their political party can do so during a general election.

Political science professor James Davenport is well versed in party politics. He worked for several Republican candidates and elected officials over the years before becoming a Libertarian when the state began recognizing the party and allowing for ballot access to their candidates. He believes no matter the structure of the primary election, Libertarians should find the best qualified candidates for the job.

“If Libertarians are concerned that Independents are going to take over their primaries and vote for candidates they don’t find as Libertarian as others, my suggestion to the party is recruit and support better candidates. Candidates who know how to reach people and have the resources to do so. The answer to me is not shutting out thousands of voters who might be inclined to vote for your party if they find the right opportunity to do so,” Davenport said.

Political consultant and talk show host Chad Alexander told the forum that ultimately the decision on whether to have an open or closed primary is up to the party.

“It’s about numbers. If you are going to attract people to your party, and even though Libertarianism isn’t in its infancy as an ideal, as a party in Oklahoma it is. So, it is up to them to decide how they want to build the party, but you can’t win with others,” said Alexander. (Full Disclosure: Jason Doyle Oden appears regularly on The Chad Alexander Show.)

“These are exciting times of growth for our party.  Decisions like this one and others offer opportunities for Oklahoma Libertarians to weigh in and help build the instrument of change this state so desperately needs.  I urge everyone to get informed and get involved” said Oklahoma Libertarian Party Chair, Tina Kelly.

The decision on whether the Libertarian Party will keep its primary open or close it will come from the party’s executive committee during a final vote on the issue during a special meeting to be held in Guthrie on October 7, 2017.

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Jason Doyle Oden

Jason Doyle Oden is a proud Oklahoman. He's an experienced broadcaster and award-winning...

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