By Kenneth Casey | United States
Laura Ebke is a State Senator from Nebraska’s 32nd District. Although always beforehand identifying as a libertarian Republican, Laura made headlines in 2016 when she announced that she changed her party registration from the Republican Party to the Libertarian Party, making her the only State Senator in the country under the Libertarian Party banner. She talked with 71 Republic’s Kenneth Casey recently regarding a number of things, including her party switch, re-election, her biggest influences, and more.
Casey: I’m sure you get this a lot, but what prompted you to switch parties from the Republican Party to the Libertarian Party?
Ebke: I always considered myself sort of a libertarian Republican. I’d been active in the Ron Paul movement in 2008 and 2012. I’d cast my first vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980. I grew up in a house of Goldwater Republicans. The Republican Party that I identified was a smaller government, constitutional protections party. It seemed like the GOP had moved away from that. In April of 2016, the Libertarian Party of Nebraska invited me—as (I guess) the closest thing to a Libertarian in the Legislature—to come and speak at their convention. During lunch, one of their officers came up to me and just sort of whispered in my ear, and said that if I ever decided to change parties, I’d be welcome with them. Then in May of 2016, I went to the Republican Party State Convention. The Governor called a bunch of Republican legislators (including myself) out—publicly—for not voting as he wished on a few bills. He bemoaned the fact that we didn’t have “platform Republicans” in the state legislature (meaning, I guess, a lock-step conformity to the party platform). I walked away having decided that a party whose titular head didn’t believe that people who agreed with you 90% of the times were your friends, was not a party that I belonged in anymore. I switched a few weeks after that.
Casey: Being the only Libertarian in Nebraska’s State Senate, how has the life as a legislator changed since you switched parties? Is it easier or harder to get legislation you introduce passed?
Ebke: I can’t say that my life as a legislator has changed all that much—of course, Nebraska has the one “weird” system—a one-house legislature where the members are elected on non-partisan ballots. We don’t show up on the ballot as an R, D or L—although the parties do sometimes get involved, and party affiliation isn’t usually a secret. We don’t organize by party—we don’t have majority or minority leadership, and although there are more registered Republicans in the legislature, both Democrats and (in my case) Libertarians oftentimes hold leadership positions. My colleagues elected me to serve as Judiciary Committee Chair in 2017. In some ways, making the switch has made it easier to pass legislation. My Republican friends (mostly) still trust and work with me, but since I’m not a Republican, I think my Democrat colleagues see me as someone who is willing to consider things other than the Republican party line on things. So I’ve often been able to put together decent coalitions of votes across party lines.
Casey: How did you become a libertarian in ideology? Is there anyone who has influenced your political beliefs the most?
Ebke: I think I’ve always been sort of libertarian in ideology. I grew up in a household with lots of books. My dad is probably philosophically more libertarian than I am, and I had lots of conversations with him growing up—and up to today. We had books by Hayek and Milton Friedman in the house. I suppose in many ways my libertarianism is more economically based than anything. But it’s important to remember that what we call libertarian today has a history in certainly the Republican Party (the non-interventionism of Robert Taft, for instance), and fiscal restraint/limited government conservatism of Calvin Coolidge a generation before. Barry Goldwater reclaimed some of that in the GOP (although less the non-interventionism), and Reagan understood the ideas of liberty and spent years talking about them.
Casey: While running for re-election this year, do you think it’ll be harder to get re-elected now that you have a capital L next to your name instead of a capital R?
Ebke: It will be harder—not because of what’s on the ballot, because there won’t be party ID on the ballot—but because I have been very open with my constituents about the party change, and because the Nebraska GOP decided that (even though I still vote with them most of the time), I’m public enemy #1. I’m not sure how many tens of thousands of dollars they spent against me in the primary campaign on mailings and radio ads. But as I’ve told people, if what they said was true, I probably wouldn’t vote for me either. So my challenge is to show my constituents my voting record (both before and after the switch), and to explain—where I can—how libertarian ideas are not really all that different from the way that most of us in southeast Nebraska live our lives most of the time; we’d prefer to be left alone, and prefer to be treated like adults capable of making decisions for our own lives without interference of the state.
Casey: What specific issues does Nebraska face right now that you’re looking to address or have addressed in the Senate?
Ebke: Property taxes have risen for much of rural Nebraska in the last 8-10 years—in large part because there is a finite supply of farmland, and people were buying the bits that came up for sale at high prices—changing the market-based valuation of everyone’s properties. While property taxes are local taxes (and largely fund the public schools), there is a desire for the state to do more to “fix” the system. I hear about that a lot—although I think it’s probably not a problem that is going to be easily fixed because fixing it would require a “tax shift”, in all likelihood—higher state income or state sales taxes to replace lost property taxes. That will be a tougher sell, I think, at a lot of levels. As Judiciary Committee Chair, I play a part in the oversight of our state corrections system, which is terribly overcrowded, and understaffed. I’d like to continue to look at ways that we can put fewer people in prison, and help those who are in prison, not to come back when they are released.
Casey: Recently, Young Americans for Liberty’s Win At The Door initiative, who have mainly endorsed libertarian Republicans, announced their support of you. Do you think the Libertarian Party or the Republican Party is best for libertarians in ideology to run under going forward?
Ebke: I think there are paths forward for the liberty movement in both parties. If the Republican Party continues down the path of sort of a nationalist/protectionist path, though, I think libertarian ideologues are going to be less and less comfortable in that party. If they are not able to have a meaningful voice in the GOP, the LP may be a place where they can leverage their relatively small numbers better. I would think that even in partisan legislative bodies, that if the margin is close, a Libertarian could leverage their votes to move legislation in a more libertarian direction.
Casey: If any readers are interested in getting involved or learning more about you and your campaign how would they do that?
Ebke: We welcome both volunteers and contributors from around the country. We’ll soon be lining up phone banking (which can be done from anywhere). We also have an aggressive door to door campaign that’s just getting launched, if there are people who would like to come and spend a few days in my district knocking on doors with us, we’d love to have you. And of course, contributions help us to fill the holes that can’t be filled with volunteers. People can find out more about me, and volunteer or donate online at my website: www.lauraebke.com
Casey: Do you have any final remarks for our readers?
Ebke: It’s terribly important that those who want more libertarian elected officials (no matter the party designation) help those folks. All of them need more people helping them knock on doors, making phone calls, and donating to their campaigns. I’ve run into a lot of Libertarian candidates for legislatures as I’ve been around the country speaking at state conventions the last year or so. There are some amazing people out there who would be wonderful legislators—if they could just get elected.
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