Running as a candidate in local elections (school board or city council) is the best avenue open to any objectivist-libertarian wishing to influence his neighbours as to the practical validity of laissez-faire. It is the only way to go if a promoter of freedom wants to get elected.
In provincial and federal elections, the candidate for freedom must compete against a media barrage on billboards, TV, radio, newspapers, etc., which is certain to drown out his message. His effort expanded in these areas will, let's face it, provide only a minor political impact in relation to the effort required --- that is --- compared to a local election campaign.
Results are important, because you will have invested time, money, and emotion into your campaign, and it's disheartening to feel that you should get 500 or 1,000 votes in a provincial election when you only receive less than 300. This usually overwhelms those 'rookie' candidates of any freedom movement and they simply disappear, concluding that it's 'hopeless'.
In a local election however, you are running to win!
You are competing for one (or two, in some municipal wards) seat(s) (council, school board), and it's a one-on-one situation. No national issues or personalities, no party labels to compete with (except in Toronto; I'll get to that next issue), no 'you can't form a majority so why should I vote for you' crap, no national media campaigns to compete with. You can also find many people who are members of other parties to support your campaign, since in a local election, the personality and reputation of the candidate are most important.
This election is literally on your home turf!
You can set the ground rules of the campaign, influence the issues, introduce yourself to your neighbours, and deal with immediate concerns that affect your immediate neighbourhood. At worst, if you lose, your effort will go very far in promoting your next political campaign.
Issues that concern voters at the local level in cities of 15,000 to 300,000 are usually very pedestrian things like street lighting, curbs, roads, sidewalks, drainage, park facilities, snow removal, etc.
Most people's concerns are very reasonable. Since virtually all of the electorate assumes that the function of the city is to provide basic services (i.e., they feel that they ought to be receiving the services they're being taxed for), this will be the main focus of your door to door campaign. Sounds exciting, eh? Well, municipal campaigning isn't often exciting. It's nitty gritty. People at their front door on a cold autumn night are not particularly concerned with talking about philosophy, the state of the universe, etc.
However, as we shall show, in Tactics (future issue), you will set the stage for each person you talk to, so that you address their 'needs' and 'views' in a distinctly objective way that will please them, and not compromise your objectives as a freedom promoting elected official. And you'll find that special interest requests are very rare, i.e., people asking for more grants, handouts to the theatres, art galleries, museums, day-care, bus service, etc. Don't let news coverage of these groups intimidate you.
The people who hold the greatest potential to you as supporters are the people who vote, and you will be campaigning only in the areas where voter turnout is highest. Except for Toronto, this means ignoring low-rental areas, apartments, student areas, transient neighbourhoods. These areas garner a less than 10% voter turnout in municipal elections. You will be aiming at the straight, middle-class neighbourhoods, the 'bed-rock' of your community. The returns from the last election (which you can get from city hall) will tell you where the heaviest turnouts are, and where which candidates were strongest and weakest.
It is important to point out here that if you run as a municipal candidate advocating 'abolition' of goverment services like street lighting, sidewalks, curbs, roads, bridges, etc., you are no friend to freedom, and certainly no friend to your neighbours. A libertarian-objectivist candidate concedes, at this point in time (since you are by no means going to form a libertarian majority in council), the existence ot these government services and the tax collection necessary to pay for them:
(1) sidewalk repair and maintenance,
(2) road repair and development,
(3) garbage, police, and fire services,
(4) street lighting,
(5) drainage, curb, and gutter work, etc.
By all means, you are encouraged to research and advocate ways of contracting out these services on the free market, but due to the nature of your municipality being organized under provincial auspices (the Municipal Act), you cannot make any sense if you advocate turning the whole ball of wax over to the market (roads, curbs, etc.) and abolishing taxes. Not only can't it be legally done at this point in time, but it makes no sense to advocate such a position on a person's front doorstep for the five minutes in which you can only sketch out the barest of issues, etc. Don't be an ass.
But you must be against all forms of special privilege, that is, taxpayer money being spent on areas where a minority of people are to receive benefits at everyone else's expense. Whether you explicitly say this in your campaign (we'll deal with this in Tactics), or otherwise, when elected, you must be against the following things and for their free market alternatives:
You can phrase these things to sound positive, i.e., 'I'm for keeping your tax money on the things everybody in our neighbourhood uses, like good drainage, street lights, sidewalk repair, etc.', but this will be covered in Tactics.
If running for a school board, you must be against:
You must be for:
Who should run for municipal or local politics?
Someone your neighbours trust. Someone who has an investment in that community. Someone who is already involved with the community. Someone who is going to stay in that community. Someone who, if they lose an election, will still be there battling in between elections, for the right things. Someone who looks presentable, respectable, and is respectful. Someone who believes he knows how to speak, both to audiences and to an individual on his front doorstep. Someone who works hard, never gives up, who won't crack.
Because this is a tough campaign coming up.
Specifically, if you're a student, don't run for office. If your employment is transient or insecure, don't run. If you live in an apartment, don't run for office. If you haven't established yourself in the neighbourhood yet, don't run. Build up your presence first.
Don't run for office if you don't like being involved with at least one of the following: area sports leagues, Optimist Club, area newspaper, area church group, area home and school associations, etc. Voters place more importance on your committment to the neighbourhood than on any pie-in-the-sky theories on laissez-faire. Sincerity and committment are worth more to them than issues, because in the long run, they all know it's a matter of trust anyway. A laissez-faire candidate could lie to them as much as any other candidate, so at the root of it, it's whether they believe in you, trust you, that counts. And you have to believe you can do the job for freedom. A libertarian philosophical revolution will not 'happen' even after you are elected.
Only a reputation and an excellent campaign can win you a local election. You must be building one up in your neighbourhood years in advance before you can expect to win public trust, support, endorsement, and votes, at election time. All successful municipal politicians, if you check, won their elections on perseverance in the community (i.e., home and school, area campaigns against developers, sports organizations, etc.), and the voters returned the favour. If you despise this kind of 'community membership', thinking that it is 'collectivist socializing' for the sake of what you may see as unrelated objectives, then consider yourself unsuitable to run for local office.
You may say, 'I want to get elected on issues and principle'. Well, that's just so much bull. You want to get elected. You don't have to compromise your principles, but you do have to understand why people vote and how they vote.
If a product sold by a merchant was the best available but he offered it by advertising the list of ingredients only, it would be unreasonable to expect that the market would buy his product in droves. Voters will not flock to you on issues alone. It is you that you are selling. You are the product. The ingredients inside that product are dependability, intelligence, trust, decency, and proof of performance. These are the qualities with which voters will measure you against other candidates.
Candidates running for local office should own their own home. This is your proof of 'middle-class' status, as well as your apparent commitment to the neighbourhood. (You aren't just going to 'pack up and leave after the election if your lose', is how the voter will see it.) Candidates should definitely be involved with area sports groups, clubs, etc. Of course, if you are married, have children, etc., these are assets, but not paramount.
A committment to run for local office should ideally be made one year before the upcoming election, but up to a month before is acceptable. Once you say 'yes, do it!', begin to organize on paper the following things:
For answers to these and other questions, stay tuned to our next issue.
last updated on June 2, 2002