The Rise of the LPVA

Robert Sarvis at the 2014 LPVA convention
Robert Sarvis at the 2014 LPVA convention

The Libertarian Party of Virginia stands on the brink of political history as they look to certify a candidate for U.S. Senate and all eleven congressional districts in the state.

In order to understand the significance of this event, I think it useful to reflect back on my experiences with the LPVA.

In 2004, I found myself living in Charlottesville.  As most political activists in Virginia know, Charlottesville is one of the more liberal cities in the Commonwealth.  Being a Republican, I attended many of the meetings of the Charlottesville Republican Party while living there.  However, I found the group so demoralized and so fragmented that after a few gatherings I began to seriously question why I should offer my time and energy to them.

About this time, I heard of another organization, the Jefferson Area Libertarians.  They met at a place called the Mellow Mushroom.  For several months I simply sat and listened to their discussions.  Although I didn’t agree with everything they stood for (and who agrees with anyone 100%?) I thought the group was far more spirited than the local GOP.  As such, at one point I asked them about the candidates they were running for office.  The response was unexpected.  They seemed to think I was crazy for asking such a question.  To me, although philosophical discussion is great, without a plan to turn your vision into reality, it is of little tangible value.  I found that many of Libertarians around the state weren’t particularly interested in getting involved in campaigns and elections and thus I became critical of the LPVA.  To me, if a party doesn’t recruit candidates and work to help them, they aren’t really a political party, but rather little more than a debating society.

Although the LPVA did run candidates, such as for governor and senator, they were a rarity, especially in my corner of the state.  That began to change in 2010 with Stuart Bain who challenged Representative Bob Goodlatte in the 6th district.  Then, in 2013, the party not only ran Robert Sarvis, a candidate for governor, but also over half a dozen candidates in House of Delegates races.  This year, as mentioned at the beginning of the piece, the Libertarian Party has a candidate in every congressional district as well as for Senate.  Now, will all of the Libertarians make the ballot?  We’ll find out soon, but I would be surprised if they did.  Nevertheless, it is certainly amazing to watch what is happening.

Taking the entire picture of Virginia politics, although in control of the state legislature, the Republican Party is fractured between the grassroots and establishment, still reeling from a successive string of statewide losses.  At the same time, the Democratic Party has fared well in statewide contests, but is not challenging every Republican Representative in the November election and recently lost control of the Virginia State Senate in unusual circumstances which has left many of their supporters crying foul.

One shouldn’t expect some sort of radical outcome in the November elections, although yes, as Dave Brat showed us recently, anything is possible.  After all, the smart money in American politics is maintaining the status quo.  The more exciting questions revolve around the future.   With this multitude of Libertarian candidates this year, what will 2015 look like?  Bolstered by their activity, will dozens seek positions in Richmond next November?  Will a Libertarian claim office in the near future?  Could more than one emerge victorious?

Like them or hate them, it is hard to refute the claim that the Libertarian Party of Virginia is making waves.  Will 2014 herald the beginnings of a new era in Virginia politics?  Or will it merely be a high-water mark for the Libertarian Party, a footnote in history?   Right now it is too early to tell.

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