The Libertarians are Coming
Though long shots in just about every race, Libertarians are getting on ballots across Northern Michigan in unprecedented numbers.
By Patrick Sullivan | Aug. 8, 2020
Something in the ether, maybe, brought together a bunch of people who over the last year or so declared themselves Libertarians and got nominated to run for local, statewide, and federal office.
They’re not an easily organized group of individuals, but they are united in their conviction that something is not working in this country under a government that is controlled by two parties.
(Quick brush-up for those unfamiliar: Like Democrats and Republicans, Libertarians don’t share a singular opinion on all societal and economic issues, but if you had to distill their guiding philosophy to a singular commonality, you might say they believe first and foremost in the liberty of the individual and that government should take a smaller role in the activities of the state. Some believe it should limit its reach to providing only police, courts, and military, while others believe that more — or less — is necessary.)
Donna Gundle-Krieg, a real estate agent, candidate for Mancelona Township trustee, and a Northern Express guest columnist, helped organize the Northwest Michigan Libertarian Party affiliate to help get candidates on the ballot across nine counties in northwestern Lower Michigan this year. She said that there were plenty of folks who wanted to sign up; they just needed a little organization to help them along.
“In the past, people have inquired, and they get sent to the head of the state party,” Gundle-Krieg said. “They never get to meet that person or have that comradery. … You need likeminded people to get excited about this. It’s hard to be excited when you’re all alone.”
At the statewide convention in Gaylord July 18, the Libertarian Party nominated 61 candidates for the 2020 general election, including nine candidates for U.S. Congress, 10 candidates for the Michigan State House, eight candidates for statewide offices, and 32 for county and township races. Many of the local candidates are running for office in Northern Michigan, thanks primarily to the local Libertarian organizations that have formed in the last couple of years.
Northern Express reached out to some of the candidates to find out what drove them to throw their hat into the ring.
FACEMASKS AND A BID FOR CONGRESS
At the statewide Libertarian convention in Gaylord, almost everyone wore facemasks, said Benjamin Boren, who is running to represent Michigan in its 1st Congressional District. Wearing masks is something Boren said he supports. But, like other Libertarians interviewed for this article, there’s a caveat: Boren said he thinks people should wear them as a matter of personal responsibility, not because the government tells them to.
Boren was born and raised in Nevada, near Lake Tahoe, to parents who worked in real estate. The 35-year-old has moved around a lot, but for the last few years he’s lived just south of Charlevoix, where he moved to be closer to his parents for a time. He thought it would be a short-term move, but it hasn’t turned out that way, and as he’s settled in, he’s found a political home of sorts in the Libertarian cause in Northern Michigan.
Boren, who works part-time at a tobacco store in Traverse City and part-time as a heavy-equipment operator, said he’s voted for candidates from both major parties throughout his life but became increasingly drawn to the principles of libertarianism. A couple of years ago, he decided to join the Libertarian Party, then discovered he’d have to help create one in the region first.
The prospect was daunting. “This is such a scary time,” Boren said. “I would love to live a normal life and not have anything to do with the political realm.”
But it just so happened that there were others clamoring for just the same thing at the time, so he found help and support from people like Gundle-Krieg, who was already gaining momentum in the effort.
Boren said that he believes people are more drawn to libertarianism today because of a combination of the executive order requirements in Michigan spurred by the coronavirus pandemic and because of the authoritarianism of the Trump Republican Party.
“First off, I think a lot of people feel — not everyone, but a lot — that the two-party system seems to be broken,” Boren said. “Everyone’s freaking out. This pandemic is hard to get used to, but it was a huge eye-opener for a lot of people.”
The people drawn to libertarianism pretty much just want to get the government to do a lot less, even amid a pandemic, he said.
“It’s not like [Libertarians] think they know what other people need in their life. They just want to live their life and don’t want to be told how to live it,” Boren said.
Another factor that Boren said he believes increased the number of people who identify as Libertarian is what he calls the “Amash effect,” after Justin Amash, the GOP Congressman from Grand Rapids who left his party in protest over Trump’s policies and later became a Libertarian. Amash made the party switch during the state’s stay-in-place order, when a lot of people in Michigan had extra time on their hands to do things like look up libertarianism online, he said.
Boren said if he had to choose between Republican and Democrat, he wouldn’t, because both want too much control over people’s lives. He said he likes aspects of each — he is pro-Second Amendment, like most Republicans; and pro-LGBTQ-rights, like most Democrats, for instance.
Despite his enthusiasm for libertarianism, he is still a reluctant candidate for Congress.
“I would prefer to do something else, honestly, but no one else would step up,” he said.
Boren said he, his campaign manager, and most of his campaign volunteers are Millennials who lack experience but who have passion, though he said he doesn’t look at his campaign as a symbolic one. He said he wouldn’t run unless he thought he had an outside chance to overcome two well-funded candidates from the major parties.
“There’s a lot to navigate; there’s a lot of hurdles. But it’s important regardless,” he said. “I think I have a chance. I would never ever just do something and accept defeat. I’m going to give it a good go. … Hopefully, we can have a lot of fun — we’re going to learn a lot.”
RACIN’ JASON JOINS THE RACE
Of all the Libertarian Party candidates in Northern Michigan, none has the kind of name recognition of Jason Crum, who has spent decades working as a deejay at stations from Petoskey to Gaylord to Traverse City. He was also a winning contestant on the reality television game show Forged in Fire that aired last September on the History Channel. Now, he’s running to replace state Rep. Larry Inman in the Michigan House.
Crum said he started out as a “rebellious youth” who didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of his father, an attorney, or his mother, an academic, and instead launched himself into a career on the airwaves, moving from Rochester, Michigan, where he grew up, to Petoskey, where he got his first radio gig almost three decades ago.
Crum’s last radio job was the morning slot at WKLT in Traverse City, where he was known as Racin’ Jason until a shakeup late last year put him out of work. Since March, he’s been driving a bus for BATA.
The outset of a global pandemic was not the easiest time to take a new job that involved close contact with the public in tight quarters, but he managed to get through it and has stayed healthy.
“It was right at the start of the whole COVID,” Crum said about starting the new job. “It was nerve-wracking, you know. I’ve got young kids at home and a wife, and I didn’t want to do anything to put their lives in jeopardy. The whole COVID thing was so new and everybody was so scared of it.”
Crum, who lives in Kingsley and has six kids, ages 8 to 24, continues to wear a mask whenever he’s driving his bus or in a store. He also frequently washes his hands and said he instructs his children to do the same.
“I support science, and I support smart conclusions,” he said. “If the science says to wear the mask, then I’m going to wear it.”
The 50-year-old is not against following protocols that are backed up by science in order to stay safe, but he said he is against the government telling him what to do.
“I never had much of a political bone in my body. I mean, I definitely have opinions on things,” he said. “It was actually Gov. Whitmer’s executive orders that made me really start to question what was going on in Lansing. The legislature should be involved in a situation like this. I just don’t like ruling by executive order.”
He was also frustrated that his own state rep, Inman, the troubled Republican, was missing in action following a partial acquittal/hung-jury verdict on federal bribery charges last year.
“I couldn’t find one single phone number or a web page,” Crum said. “He’s a lame duck at this point. He’s not our representative. We are representative-less.”
So, since Crum didn’t ever really identify with either of the major political parties, when the nascent Northern Michigan Libertarian Party approached him about running on their platform, Crum hopped on board. It made sense, he said, because he said he is fiscally conservative and socially liberal, and after he checked out the party’s website, he said he found very little in the platform that he disagreed with.
Crum said he has no political aspiration and that if he is elected, he would only serve one term.
He knows he faces an uphill battle; he sees plenty of yard signs as he drives his bus and recognizes that his opponents from the major parties will be much better funded.
THE LIBERTARIAN BUREAUCRAT
Andy Evans knows that his job would be in jeopardy if, someday, the Libertarians took over state government and dismantled the bureaucracy. The Cheboygan resident works at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ customer service center in Gaylord. But if he had his way, that job wouldn’t exist. The only reason it does, he said, is because of how complicated the state’s hunting and fishing code has become over the decades.
“I spend a great amount of time demystifying the hunting and fishing regulations for people,” Evans said. “You reach a breaking point with regulations. You confuse the public; you confuse business owners.”
He insists that he would eliminate his own job if he had the chance.
“My particular job could be eliminated, absolutely,” Evans said. “Let’s just say, seeing how I’m only four years from retirement, it’s easy for me to say that.”
Evans is running for county commissioner for District 3 in Cheboygan County.
“I’ve always been a real student of history and politics, throughout my lifetime, and I tended to vote Republican,” Evans said.
He said that though he always leaned Republican, the strong positions Democrats have traditionally taken on civil liberties have lured him in the past. Nevertheless, Evans eventually grew dissatisfied with both parties and concluded that there have been a lot of empty promises they’d made in the past 20 years. A couple ago, he was listening to a local call-in radio political radio show that featured a state Libertarian Party official as a guest. Evans said he liked what he heard, and, after some investigation, he was converted.
Evans helped start a Mackinac Straits region Libertarian affiliate, which covers four counties in the Straits region.
“The federal and state governments, I feel, have become far too intrusive into our lives,” Evans said. “I feel like government is becoming pretty unrestrained of late.”
Evans said the Libertarian Party is a good alternative for folks interested in getting into local government in a place like Cheboygan, where Democrats rarely run for local office, and Republicans often run unopposed.
Still, like the other northern Michigan Libertarians, Evans is realistic about his chances. He ran for the same county commission seat in 2018, in a three-way race, and he got just six percent of the vote.
This time around he will be going head-to-head with an incumbent Republican. He said the situation improves his chances, but he still considers himself a longshot.
“My opponent — he’s a well-established incumbent, very well-known in the community, a former undersheriff,” he said. “I have an uphill battle.”
REPUBLICAN TURNED LIBERTARIAN
Cory Dean, a 51-year-old who has lived for decades in Blair Township and raised four kids there, is running as a Libertarian for township trustee.
He’s run before as a Republican and narrowly lost — by three votes in 2012, and by three percent of the vote in 2018, when he ran amid a larger field of candidates.
This year he will be among five candidates who are vying for four spots on the board, and since the others are all Republican, Dean thinks he might have an advantage because there are no Democrats running.
“This time I’m running as a Libertarian,” Dean said. “I feel at home. It’s like I finally found a party that feels right.”
Dean, who works for a truck-rental company, said that he believes Libertarians need to start small in order to grow their power.
“Maybe we can win at the lowest levels of government and work our way up,” he said.
Dean said he has been a “political junkie” since he was a teenager. He grew up in a Democratic family and became a Republican as a teenager because of Ronald Reagan.
Dean said he gradually switched from Republican to Libertarian as he gradually became disillusioned and felt a growing sense that government is run like a dictatorship.
“The conservatives just seem to want to use the government to get you to do what they want,” Dean said. “[Libertarians] don’t want our government forcing its views on anyone.”
Dean said part of the reason there are so many Libertarian candidates in Northern Michigan this year is because of the recent creation of the regional affiliates, which enable people to get on the ballot as Libertarians. Four years ago, Dean said he wanted to run as a Libertarian, but he only had the state office to call, and it didn’t work out.
“I tried to investigate running before, in ’16, and I had a hard time having anybody get back to me,” Dean said. “[Having a regional Libertarian organization to assist] helps. You need to feel like you have some support.”