By Joel Hall
Seeking a bigger say in local politics, the Libertarian Party of Georgia has set its sights on establishing a branch in Clayton County.
Libertarians expect to have a local affiliate in place by March 2009.
Tony Trauring, operations director of the party, said his group has played a much more significant role in Georgia politics this year, particularly in the U.S. Senate race between Republican Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin.
Allen Buckley, the Libertarian candidate for Georgia's open U.S. Senate seat, took 3.4 percent of the vote in the Nov. 4 general election, an accomplishment which forced Chambliss and Martin into a grueling, nearly month-long run-off campaign.
Trauring believes the Libertarians can use his momentum to gain more political footing at the local level.
"If we hadn't run, the election would have been decided on Nov. 4. Because Buckley ran, the Democrats and Republicans had to spend a few more millions of dollars to campaign for another month," said Trauring.
He said because Buckley refused to endorse either candidate, many Libertarians simply stayed home during the Dec. 2 runoff. He said the election was a sign that more Georgians are looking for alternatives to major party candidates.
Libertarian candidates have faced many uphill battles in their efforts to be involved in county and district politics, according to Trauring. He said current campaign laws require third-party candidates to garner signatures from at least five percent of registered voters in the county, or district, in which they are running, while third-party candidates running for statewide positions, such as the U.S. Senate, are required to have 1 percent of registered voters.
"[Locally], Democrats and Republicans face no challenge whatsoever," said Trauring. "We have earned statewide ballet access. If we want to put a person on the ballot for a Georgia House position, we have to petition.
"In modern Georgia history, there has never been a Libertarian in the House of Representatives, because getting five percent of registered voters in a district to sign for the Libertarians is pretty insurmountable," Trauring said. "We don't have any money left over for advertising like the Democrats and Republicans do, because we spend our money getting signatures."
The basic tenets of the Libertarian Party of Georgia, according to its web site, are "smaller government, lower taxes, more freedom." Trauring believes organizing a local Libertarian Party "will remind the citizens of Clayton of the freedom option."
Jason Falter, an information technology specialist from Conley, is leading the Libertarian Party of Georgia's organizational efforts in Clayton. He believes the fiscal restraint and government efficiency stressed by Libertarians may be able to have a positive impact on local governing boards, such as the Clayton County Board of Education (BOE), and the Board of Commissioners (BOC).
"We just hope that we can keep government smaller and clean up some of the issues going on, especially some of the problems in the school system," said Falter. "We need more people with integrity to sit on that board and actually get something done."
"There are always ways to cut spending and have more efficiency," Falter said, in regard to the BOC. "I think that lower taxes need to be pushed to the forefront. Getting behind things like the Fair Tax is the kind of thing that will capture people's imaginations."
Falter said several local Libertarians have expressed "great interest" in creating a local party and that he is working on scheduling meetings sometime later this month, or early next month. He said the Libertarian Party has affiliates in DeKalb, Cobb, and Gwinnett counties.
Meanwhile, former U.S. Senate-hopeful Buckley said he hopes more local Libertarian Party affiliates will shift the political landscape of Georgia from a grassroots level.
"Saxby Chambliss said that his re-election proves that voters support the Reagan mantras of smaller government, fiscal responsibility, more individual rights, and lower taxes," said Buckley. "That sounds good, but that's not him. I think the people are looking for a party that will not only say that, but do it."
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