Las Vegas Sun

August 19, 2019

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Nevada Libertarians look to influence the conversation beyond size of their party

Gregg Luckner

Yvonne Gonzalez

Libertarians Gregg Luckner, left, and Robert Strawder talk during a Libertarian party event in downtown Las Vegas, on Aug. 30, 2018.

A Republican and two Democrats who mingled among a recent gathering of Libertarians are some of the candidates that Nevada’s littlest big party is finding common ground with.

With roughly 1 percent of the state’s total active registered voters and not enough candidates for all races in Nevada, Libertarians are working to raise awareness among voters and mainstream candidates of the party’s platform of efficient government and social liberty.

Economic issues prompted the group to invite Clark County Commission candidate Trish Marsh, a Republican, to a mixer in late August over her Democratic challenger Tick Segerblom, who aligns with Libertarians in supporting recreational marijuana, but not much else, said Steve Brown, the party’s Clark County chairman. Marsh, the only Republican at the event, said she and Libertarians agree on preventing tax increases, eliminating waste in government and opposing raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“I relate to them,” Marsh said of Libertarians. “They don’t want taxes, they’re small businessmen.”

Libertarians also invited a Democrat running for school board, where Brown said Libertarians want to see some change. The group included CPA Catherine Byrne, who is running as a Democrat to be the state’s controller, an official who works closely with the state treasurer.

Byrne, who supports making the controller position nonpartisan, said she filed as a Libertarian for a couple of years in California because she did not like the other two parties. She said she understands the Libertarian philosophy of limited, efficient government. Nevada is a state that doesn’t want to grow government, contrary to what some politicians may want, she said.

“We don’t have the tax base for that,” Byrne said.

Gubernatorial candidate Jared Lord said he was nominated by his party unanimously, which is not common, on a platform advocating for transparency, reducing administrative waste for the state and expanding on the current governor’s economic efforts, thereby reducing the need for social programs.

The party sends representatives to the Clark County School Board meetings to advocate for reduced administration and improved funding and services. Lord said this is an area where everyone can come together to develop ideas and find solutions to improve schools.

“(It’s rare) when teachers, who are union members and are traditionally not very supportive of Libertarian candidates, are applauding what we have to say,” he said. “We’re on the same page for the first time ever.”

Robert Strawder, 1st Congressional District candidate running in a crowded general election race against incumbent Democrat Dina Titus, was a Democrat before he decided to run for office as a Libertarian. Titus has the advantage in a heavily Democratic district, though Strawder said he hopes his campaign reaches young voters especially. Strawder said he used to be a Democrat and was driven to the Libertarian party because of its platform of equality addresses all people.

Strawder said he wants to reach young voters through hip-hop and his work with programs for kids and teens. He said Titus is the “OG” and all but a lock to win reelection, but he wants his campaign to “make a rumble.” Education and criminal justice reform are two of his priorities, he said.

“I’m a reformed gang member, I’d been in the streets a while and God changed my life,” he said, noting that he has since graduated from the College of Southern Nevada. “What better way to fight crime when you can relate to the people out there doing it, and you know what can help you to lower crime.”

Strawder not only faces Titus and Republican Joyce Bentley, but Independent American Party candidate Dan Garfield. The IAP opposes federal land and is the largest third party on the ballot with just under 4.4 percent of the state’s active registered voters.

Both third parties that will appear on the November ballot are dwarfed by the state’s unaffiliated and nonpartisan voters, which together make up nearly 22.4 percent of the state’s active registered voters.

Gregg Luckner, Libertarian candidate in the 4th Congressional District, is in one of the most competitive general election races with Republican Cresent Hardy, Democrat Steven Horsford, IAP member Warren Ross Markowitz and two unaffiliated candidates.

The high number of unaffiliated voters in Nevada could lean away from the two major parties, particularly this election, when the message from Republicans and Democrats is so negative, Luckner said. The 4th district is a rematch between Hardy and Horsford, exactly the type of “same old, same old” situation that is making Republicans and Democrats less attractive to voters, he said.

“They go by name recognition, primarily,” Luckner said of the GOP and Democrats. “They don’t go by platform or what they’re achieving or anything like that, and I feel like in this election especially, Democrats are just anti-Trump.”

Librarian Paolina Taglienti, who is married to Luckner and working on the campaign, said she’s planning outreach to brothels and dispensaries, which have become popular stops for candidates on the campaign trail in Nevada. She and Luckner said Libertarians are the only party with a pro-sex worker platform nationally.

While the business is legal in certain parts of Nevada, including Nye County in the 4th district, several mainstream Republicans have declined to support brothel owner Dennis Hof, a GOP candidate for the Nevada Legislature. Democrats and feminists alike have mixed stances on sex work.

“It is legal in Nye County,” Taglienti said. “There are people who make this life choice, and they need to be protected as well. This is a career.”