Libertarians Need to Get Real About North Dakota’s Priorities


North Dakota’s Libertarians have a real opportunity this election cycle.

They’re still a long shot to win any of the races they’re running candidates in, but with the North Dakota Democratic party fading in relevancy, there is a chance for Libertarian Candidates to gain some traction in the minds of North Dakota voters with strong showings at the ballot box, something I’ve pointed out before.

As a North Dakotan, I’d like to see a lively debate that includes more viewpoints than just the traditional Republican versus Democrat competitions. As someone who prefers small government, I think a political divide that is primarily between Libertarians and Republicans would be better than the one between Democrats and Republicans.

Which is why I was so disappointed when I read this Patrick Springer profile of Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Marty Riske. Not because of anything personal about Riske – he’s a good man whose passion for politics and policy making is commendable – but because of the issues he’s chosen to highlight with his campaign.

What are those issues?

  • Legalizing marijuana
  • Stopping civil asset forfeiture
  • Performance audits for all state departments and agencies

I don’t necessarily disagree with these priorities. I, too, think marijuana should be legal. I, too, think civil asset forfeiture is a major problem. I, too, believe in a robust system of accountability for state government.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]…like it or not, government is the tool we have to address these problems. And you don’t get to govern unless you win elections.[/mks_pullquote]

But are these really the things that are going to turn on voters? Do we think the average voter is walking around Fargo or Bismarck or Williston thinking to themselves, “gosh we have to do something about civil asset forfeiture?”

Or, “gosh I wish we were doing more audits?”

Probably not. It’s more likely that they’re concerned about what the turnabout in North Dakota’s fiscal outlook will mean for their local tax bill. It’s more likely they’re concerned about moving North Dakota away from a commodity-driven economy for the sake of a more stable sort of prosperity.

I realize that it’s difficult for libertarians to talk about government solutions for problems when they have a fundamental dislike of government. I realize that campaigning can make libertarians feel uncomfortable. “I’m not crazy about running for office,” Riske told Springer.

But like it or not, government is the tool we have to address these problems. And you don’t get to govern unless you win elections.

While Doug Burgum and Marvin Nelson – the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates, respectively – are talking about issues that are on the minds of the state’s voters it’s not going to do Riske any good to be out in right field talking about issues that are low on the priority list for the state’s citizens. If they’re on the list at all.

I believe that libertarian candidates like Riske and others can articulate a platform of specific policies that are both libertarian in their philosophy but also pragmatic solutions to real problems North Dakota voters are thinking about. The question is whether or not they will.

If they don’t it seems unlikely they’ll be able to take advantage of the decline of our state’s Democrats.