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Showdown: Libertarian and GOP Battle for Control of Right Wing

Thursday, October 30, 2014


Photo Credit: iStock

Years of fighting in the Libertarian Party of Oregon are now erupting amid a costly legal battle and allegations of a Republican takeover.

“It’s reached its peak in the last few years,” said Bruce Knight, who joined the Oregon Libertarian Party in 1980 and spent most of the last 30 years as a party official. Knight believes the Republican Party is trying to take over the Libertarian Party, the largest third party in America. “As we’ve gained more interest we’ve worried the major parties more and more, especially the Republicans,” he said.

Earlier this month the Oregon Republican party filed an Amicus Curiae brief (Latin for friend of the court) appealing the Clackamas County Circuit Court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit brought against Libertarian Party Chairman Wes Wagner and other members of the LPO. The suit was filed against Wagner by fellow Libertarian and Washington County Libertarian Party Chairman Richard Burke.

The lawsuit, dismissed last May, claimed that Wagner and others broke the party’s bylaws when selecting recent party leaders and candidates. 

But Wagner and others say the Republican’s appeal in the case is proof that the GOP is trying to strong-arm its way into the Libertarian Party.

“The recent Amicus brief really represents them stepping out of the shadows and turning rumor and innuendo into something less deniable,” he said. “It is just absolutely clear at this point, beyond any doubt, that they are attempting vassalage.”

But Burke, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the claim is baseless.

“This is a black helicopter, ridiculous conspiracy theory,” Burke said. He argued the real problem is the inability of some Libertarians to follow the party’s own guidelines.

“If we cannot do that it’s going to be very hard to get people to invest,” he said. “Why would you invest large sums of money or time if you don’t know how it’s going to be organized from year to year. It’s like building on sand.”

Political Lines

Republicans argue that they are not taking a side in the case but believe the lower court, which ruled the Libertarians, should figure it out amongst themselves and make a determination over who should be in control.

“The Republican Party is not taking a position as to which side is right,” said James Buchal, who is listed as legal counsel for the Oregon Republican Party in the brief. “The Republican Party believes in the rule of law and we think that the courts should provide a forum for a resolution of the disputes.”

Buchal rebuffed the assertion that Republicans are trying to take over the Libertarian Party.

“This is sort of the nature of politics, is that people are trying to push the party to be more aligned to their views,” he said.  “A lot of people are trying to make the Republican Party more Libertarian," he said. "You could just as easily say the Libertarians are trying to take over the Republican Party.”

Wagner’s group argues that in addition to the brief filed by the Republican Party, Burke’s support of a Republican candidate in Hillsboro, is telling.

Burke sent a letter to Libertarians in House District 30 stating his support for Republican candidate Dan Mason. That would be so bad if the Libertarians weren't running their own candidation, Kyle Markley.

Burke said that because of the way in which Markley was nominated, his position could be subject to a legal challenge.

"I have nothing bad to say about Mr. Markley. Through no fault of his own, he was not nominated according to processes approved by party members," Burke states in the letter. "That process is designed to make sure that those who vote are actually Libertarians, not just protest voters who know little or nothing about our party. Because he was not nominated in accordance with these processes, Mr. Markley's election could be subject to legal challenge."

Knight said the two major parties, Republicans especially, are losing their footing

“The Libertarian Party wants to pick up the marbles that they’ve dropped we’d love to replace them as a major party in the state and don’t see that as impossible," Knight said. "They’ve been shooting themselves in the foot repeatedly and unless they run out of bullets they’re likely to keep doing it." 

Burke, however, said the Libertarians are not on Republicans' radar.

“The Republicans have much bigger fish to fry than us,” he said. 


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