By The Libertarian Curmudgeon | New York
Larry Sharpe, the Libertarian candidate for governor of New York, visited the Libertarian Party of Wisconsin Convention in Madison on Saturday, April 14, where he spoke to a real audience. But first, he granted a brief interview in the lobby.
It’s tough to stay curmudgeonly in the presence of Larry Sharpe, Libertarian Party candidate for governor of New York.
Sharpe is unremittingly optimistic, upbeat, positive – things that tend to irritate us curmudgeons, because they tend to be ill-fitting when a politician tries to wear them. You know, the twenty-minute stump speech about making America stronger together again, followed by backstage swearing at staff because the teleprompter was too dim or the podium too high, and then envelopes full of cash change hands to buy favors while bubbly young interns giggle and coo. The American people get left in the spin cycle of corruption and cronyism.
A ten-minute sit-down with candidate Sharpe at the Wisconsin Libertarian Party Convention in Madison soon turned to twenty, thirty and forty-five minutes. I witnessed no envelopes of cash or swearing at staff. No cooing interns. Sharpe is taking on Gov. Andrew Cuomo – a longshot by any calculation, considering Cuomo’s the incumbent, the Democrat in a state with a 2-1 Democratic majority and a $30 million campaign war chest.
Sharpe says his campaign has raised more money than all other candidates combined other than Cuomo, including two Republicans. The longshot isn’t as distant as it once was. Or maybe that’s just Mr. Sharpe’s optimism rubbing off.
How does a third-party candidate depose King Cuomo?
Plurality vote with multiple candidates
“Win more votes than anyone else,” Sharpe says. “New York is a plurality winner. I don’t need a majority. I only need about 25 percent to win this race.” Assuming the same 4-million- voter turnout as 2014, with four or five candidates on the ballot and an irrelevant New York Republican Party, a million votes could win this thing. Enter Cynthia Nixon of Sex and the City fame. Because celebrities as government leaders have been so
“Nixon getting in the race is great for us.” Sharpe was downright exuberant over the prospects. “She will damage Cuomo for us in the primary and split the liberal and progressive voters.” And Cuomo may have to waste some of the war chest to fend off Miranda’s attack from his left flank. Nixon was endorsed by the Working Families Party, a far-left party that often endorses the Democratic Party nominee, including Cuomo last time. Not this year. Nixon could be on the general election ballot even if Cuomo defeats her in the Democratic primary. That could peel a substantial number of votes away from Cuomo.
Another step higher on this uphill battle is the possibility of a fusion ticket. If Sharpe receives the endorsement of another party or two, his name could appear on the ballot multiple times, increasing visibility and the number of potential voters. Possible fusion tickets include the Reform Party and the Upstate Jobs Party.
Downsides to fusion tickets?
“It can water down the message,” Sharpe says, “but that’s not a problem for me because I never change my message. If I get another party’s endorsement, it’s because they like my message, not because I tailor my message to each party.”
From a Libertarian Party perspective, it gets trickier. “A fusion ticket can complicate ballot access. If the Libertarian Party candidate gets 50,000 votes on the Libertarian ballot line, that guarantees the party ballot access for the next four years. If people are voting for me on three different lines, that ballot access vote gets split up among the parties.”
A growing base plus niche voters
In 2014, the Libertarian candidate for governor, Michael McDermott, pulled down a whopping 17,000 votes, 0.4 percent of the total. Cuomo receive two million votes. Even if Nixon splits the Democratic vote, how does Sharpe gather a million-plus to make this a horse race?
“Gary Johnson received 175,000 votes in New York for president in 2016. That’s my base. That’s where I start.”
From there, Sharpe tackles the niche, one-issue voters no one else is pays attention to.
“Vaping. These businesses and users don’t want crushing regulation. They don’t care what else I stand for if I support the issue that’s important to them.” Okay, so there’s a couple thousand more voters. Sharpe then rattles off a few more niche voters that should support his candidacy. Single dads crushed by unfair family law. Drivers licenses revoked in perpetuity for a third DUI conviction, preventing people who have served their time and paid their dues from ever driving again in any state, which often means unemployment in perpetuity. And Utica, where abuse of eminent domain will destroy thirty businesses to make way for a hospital.
“I don’t have to change my message for any of these groups,” Sharpe says. “Break the state mandates. Return local control to local governments and away from Albany.”
The city versus upstate
Sure, some of Sharpe’s message will play well in Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, and the vast expanses of rural upstate. But no one wins statewide without the city.
“Education is a statewide issue.” Sharpe makes the point that New York spends more on education than any other state with the worst results. “People in Queens care about their children’s education as much as people in Rochester. And right now, we’re failing because of state mandates. That’s an issue that bridges the divide.”
“There’s no winning the city with that issue.” Sharpe opposes New York’s SAFE Act, the most stringent gun control regulations in the country. He obviously doesn’t change his message to win over different voting blocs. “The SAFE Act may sound great, but it actually does more harm than good. Overnight, law-abiding citizens became criminals with the stroke of a pen.”
Sharpe has pledged to repeal the SAFE Act and pardon those who became overnight criminals.
Three keys to electoral success
Even with all that optimism and a fresh approach to state government, can a third-party candidate knock off a sitting governor from the dominant political party? Won’t it take more than a celebrity activist syphoning off some lefties and picking up the support of the vaping industry?
Sharpe listed three key turning points:
- Corruption. “Scandals are swirling around Cuomo and many of his key people. If one of these scandals sticks to him… voters are fed up with the corruption.”
- Media. “It can take a while before the statewide mainstream media start to take notice, but it’s happening at the local media level now. I’ll stop at a restaurant with twenty people, and there will be representatives from four different media outlets there. As fundraising grows, local media builds, and the momentum increases, the big media will be there.”
- Debate. “The top four or five candidates will debate. Cuomo will participate, and that’s where I will stand out among the crowd.”
Are the odds long?
Absolutely. Nixon, a fusion ticket, a scandal on the incumbent, a million or so voters
fed up with the Status Cuomo, and some pissed-off vapers. Combine that perfect storm with a genuine, articulate believer in people, a Marine veteran, a successful business executive and leadership guru, and New York could lead the way to liberty.
Full disclosure: This interview was facilitated by Sharpe’s communications director, who happens to be my daughter.
The Libertarian Curmudgeon, aka Robb Grindstaff, is a fiction writer, editor, and newspaper executive.
He’s lived in Phoenix, small towns in North Carolina and Texas, Washington, D.C. (also known as Fresh Hell), and five years in Tokyo, Japan.
He now resides in Wisconsin on a few acres out in the country where the only things he ever yells at to get off his lawn are possums, deer, and wild turkeys.
His critically acclaimed and modestly selling novel, Hannah’s Voice, has been called the best libertarian novel since Atlas Shrugged. Full disclosure: That was also his daughter who said that.