Libertarian Party of Oklahoma
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|National affiliation||Libertarian Party (United States)|
|Colors||a shade of blue; yellow|
The Oklahoma Libertarian Party is the branch of the Libertarian Party in Oklahoma. It has been active in state politics since the 1970s, but due to what critics characterize as Oklahoma's restrictive ballot access requirements the party has been an officially recognized party during only portions of the last twenty-five years.
State party organization
State party chapters and chairs
The party has two local chapters: one in both of Oklahoma's two largest cities (Oklahoma City and Tulsa). The state party's chairman is Chad Williams. Former state chairs include Erin Adams, Tina Kelly, Steve Long, Seth Wheeler, Clark Duffe, Angelia O'Dell, Jimmy Cook, Steve Galpin, Chris Powell, Richard Prawdzienski, Robert Murphy, D. Frank Robinson, Tom Laurent, Gordon Mobley and Porter Davis. Other state officers are Vice-Chairman Kevin Hobbie, Treasurer Christy Howard, and Secretary Cherise Norton.
The OKLP has engaged in numerous legal actions in its history, primarily in regard to ballot access. Attorney James C. Linger has represented the party in most of these cases.
Arutunoff v. Oklahoma State Election Board
The OKLP challenged revocation of their official recognition, and ability to run candidates under the party label, by the state after the 1980 elections. State law required a party's presidential candidate to receive at least 10% of the vote to maintain ballot access. The 10th Circuit upheld the ruling against the OKLP.
With just 90 days to gather over 44 thousand signatures and hampered by both bad weather and harassment over petitioning at public buildings, the OKLP went to court to try to gain ballot access for the 1984 elections. The party won by default when the Attorney General's office missed a deadline to file a response during the proceedings and was allowed to nominate candidates by convention. After obtaining ballot status, the party also unsuccessfully challenged state law that guaranteed the top line on the ballot to the Democrats. The ballot order law would be overturned ten years later in response to legal action by Republicans, resulting in the current system of determining ballot order by lottery.
Two petitioners were arrested and a third ticketed while gathering signatures at the State Fairgrounds. Ballot drive chairman D. Frank Robinson challenged the legality of the arrests, resulting in a ruling from Judge David Russell upholding the right to petition on public property.
Rainbow Coalition v. Oklahoma State Election Board
The Rainbow Coalition, OKLP, and the Populist Party sought to overturn the state's onerous[according to whom?] ballot access law, challenging both the petitioning deadline and the signature requirement. The 10th Circuit upheld Judge Stephanie Seymour's decision against the plaintiffs that upheld the ballot access law. No state has had fewer presidential candidates on the November ballot in any election since that ruling in 1988. Interestingly, Seymour had written a dissenting opinion in Arutunoff v. Oklahoma State Election Board, citing the difficult signature requirement for a party to obtain ballot access. Another aspect of the case was that Seymour ruled against requiring the state to allow voters to continue to register affiliation with previously recognized parties, the opposite of her ruling in the Colorado case Baer v. Meyer, citing that Oklahoma, unlike Colorado, did not have its voter database computerized.
Atherton v. Ward
After the OKLP lost official recognition following the 1996 election the state election board changed the affiliation of all registered Libertarian voters to Independent. During the time since the ruling in Rainbow Coalition v. Oklahoma State Election Board the state's voter rolls had been completely computerized. Oklahoma Libertarians sought to be able to continue to be registered with their party of choice. Judge Wayne Alley ruled in favor of the party. The resulting process was that once a party fails to retain ballot access all those registered with the party are changed to Independent but any voter would be allowed to register with the previously recognized party for up to four years after they lost official status. In 2003 Ed Henke sought to be a candidate in a special election for state Senate but was prohibited from filing because of his Libertarian registration.
Clingman v. Beaver
Oklahoma has a semi-closed primary system in which a political party may choose either to allow only voters registered as affiliated with the party to participate or to also allow Independents as well. The OKLP wanted the ability to more fully exercise their freedom of association by allowing voters registered with any other party to also participate in their primaries. The party won on appeal but the case then went to the Supreme Court where the decision of the 10th Circuit was overturned.
Former Libertarian Party national director Paul Jacob worked with Oklahomans in Action to gather signatures on an initiative to put a Taxpayer Bill of Rights measure on the ballot for a statewide vote. In 2007 Jacob and two others were indicted for out-of-state petitioners. A conviction would have carried a maximum fine of $25,000, and the maximum jail sentence of ten years in prison. The state statute criminalizing the hiring of out-of-state petitioners was overturned by the 10th Circuit followed by a denial of Attorney General Drew Edmondson's request for an en banc rehearing at which point the charges were dropped as the statute was unenforceable.
Barr v. Ziriax
LP presidential nominee Bob Barr, seeking to get on the ballot as an Independent, challenged Oklahoma's 3% petition requirement. Judge David Russell issued a short decision against Barr. Russell has a history of upholding ballot access restrictions.
Oklahoma Libertarian Party v. Ziriax
After gathering over 57 thousand signatures to meet the requirement of 51,739 to obtain ballot access for the 2012 elections, the OKLP sought a preliminary injunction due to the deadline to submit the petition being moved up to March 1 from May 1. Judge Timothy D. DeGiusti denied the injunction, resulting in the OKLP not being able to place candidates on the ballot in 2012. The March 1 petition deadline for political parties remains in place.
Lawhorn v. Ziriax
The only alternative party to have ballot access for the 2012 United States presidential election in Oklahoma was the Americans Elect party which was not fielding a candidate. Leadership of the state party organization for Americans Elect, including chair Rex Lawhorn, sought to have Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson placed on the Oklahoma ballot as the Americans Elect candidate. The national party organization opposed the effort and the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled against Lawhorn. This resulted in Oklahoma voters being allowed only two choices for president for the third election in a row.
McCraw v. Oklahoma City
The OKLP joined several other individuals and organizations in challenging an ordinance enacted by the City of Oklahoma City to restrict panhandling. OKLP Vice-chair Tina Kelly was involved in the case as it pertained to restricting the ability to engage in political petitioning. The city amended the ordinance to focus on pedestrian safety. In December 2018, Judge Joe L. Heaton upheld the ordinance but on appeal the 10th Circuit found in favor of the plaintiffs.
Presidential election performance
The party has had the national party's presidential candidate on the ballot in 1980 (1.2% of the statewide vote was received), 1984 (0.7% of the statewide vote was received), 1988 (0.5% of the statewide vote was received), 1992(as an Independent) (0.3% of the statewide vote was received), 1996 (0.5% of the statewide vote was received), 2000 (0.5% of the statewide vote was received), and 2016.
Oklahoma city restaurateur John Vernon finished second in the balloting for the vice-presidential nomination at the Libertarian National Convention. Running as an Independent, Porter Davis got 36% of the vote for State House in district 88. Davis would later be elected to one term as a state Representative as a Republican in 1982.
The party successfully petitioned for ballot access in the state for the first time and in addition to Ed Clark for president had four candidates for office including Jim Rushing and Frank Robinson who faced each other for the 5th Congressional District nomination as well as Anne Hill and Agnes Wampler, who both sought to become the Tulsa County Clerk in the first Libertarian Party primaries in Oklahoma. Rushing won with 54% of the vote while Hill took over 90%.
After failing to get the required number of signatures for ballot access, the party sued and was ordered on the ballot for 1984. There were no primaries as the court order stipulated that the party nominate by convention. In addition to David Bergland for president, 16 Libertarians ran for office in the state. Agnes Regier received 2.2% of the vote in a three-way race for a Corporation Commission seat while three state legislature candidates, Alice Cody, Paul Woodward, and Robert Chambers, and Tulsa County Clerk candidate Vickie Rhodes finished with vote percentages in double digits.
The Libertarian and Populist parties along with the Rainbow Coalition sought to have Oklahoma's restrictive ballot access law overturned, but the 10th Circuit ruled against them. Nevertheless, the LP was able to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot, with Ron Paul personally submitting the petition. Paul received 6,261 votes, more than twice the total of Lenora Fulani of the New Alliance Party who was the other alternative presidential candidate on the ballot in Oklahoma.
After getting Andre Marrou on the ballot in 1992 as an independent, the party again successfully petitioned to run candidates in 1996. Agnes Regier defeated Michael Clem in a primary for the US Senate nomination and earned 1.2% of the vote in the general election, finishing fourth in a five-person race.
Successfully petitioning for ballot access again, fourteen Libertarians ran for office in the state alongside presidential candidate Harry Browne. Richard Prawdzienksi, Roger Bloxham and Whitney Boutin faced off in a primary for a seat on the Corporation Commission, resulting in Bloxham and Boutin heading to a runoff. Despite finishing in first place with almost 42%, Boutin dropped out of the race allowing Bloxham to be nominated. This saved the state over $200,000 for the cost of the runoff election. Bloxham would finish with 1.8% of the vote in the general election. The party ran candidates in all six Congressional races, besting the Democrats who only contested five. State House candidates Steve Galpin and Chris Powell both received double-digit percentages in their races.
Municipal electoral performance
The party has also experienced a fair degree of high vote counts in municipal races in the cities of Bethany, Bartlesville, Norman, Tulsa, and Oklahoma City, as well as other races at the local, state, and national levels. Most recently, libertarian activist Traci Baker received 20.96% of the vote in Norman's 2017 Ward 7 City Council race against incumbent Stephen Tyler Holman.
In 2014 the signature requirement to get a party on the ballot was changed from 5% of the vote for president or governor was lowered from 5% to 3%. On March 21, 2016, the Oklahoma Election Board declared the Libertarian Party to have turned in enough petition signatures to attain ballot status. In another legislative victory, on May 5 Governor Mary Fallin signed legislation reducing the number of votes necessary for a party to retain ballot access from 10% of the presidential or gubernatorial vote to 2.5%. LP presidential candidate Gary Johnson polled as high as 13% in the state.
In addition to Johnson, there were seventeen Libertarian candidates for state or federal office in Oklahoma in 2016. Robert Murphy defeated Dax Ewbank for the U.S. Senate nomination in the only statewide primary for any party on June 28.
The Johnson/Weld ticket received 83,481 votes in Oklahoma, 5.8% of the total, far surpassing previous results for LP presidential candidates and maintaining ballot access for the party for 2018. Robert T. Murphy finished third in a field of five in the U.S. Senate race with 3%. Zachary Knight garnered 6.1% running for CD5 and in CD4 4.3% voted for Sevier White. Of the two Libertarian candidates for state Senate, Frank Grove got over 35% in District 35 while Richard Prawdzienski was favored by 4.5% in District 41. In the state House the OKLP fielded nine candidates, including Steve Long, Gene Bell, Christina Wright, Tamara Morton, Erin Adams, Zac Davis and Dr. Shannon Grimes as well as Elle Collins, who took over 7% of the vote in District 87 which was won by Collin Walke with a plurality of 48%, and Clarke Duffe, who was supported by 23.5% of the voters in district 39.
The sole LP candidate for a county office in the state was Chris Powell who sought to become the Oklahoma County Clerk. Facing GOP nominee David B. Hooten, Powell received 89,019 votes, 36.4% of the total.
On the ballot for a gubernatorial election for the first time, the OKLP had three individuals seek the nomination for the state's highest executive office. In the primary on June 26, former state chair Chris Powell received 49%, just 40 votes away from winning the nomination outright. Rex Lawhorn received 31%. The third candidate, zookeeper Joe Exotic, finished with 19%. With no candidate achieving a majority, the race went to a runoff between Lawhorn and Powell on August 28, which Powell won with 59%. This was the first Libertarian primary runoff election in the nation. Powell received 40,833 votes in the general election, 3.44% of the total. This was the highest percentage for any of the 23 Libertarian gubernatorial candidates on the ballot on Nov. 6th.
Other Libertarian candidates were Dr. John Yeutter for Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector, Richard Castaldo for US House Dist. 2, seven candidates for Oklahoma House of Representatives: Lee Miller (HD68), Kelli Krebs (HD75), Gene Bell (HD78), William Cagle (HD 84), Stephen Paulsen (HD85), and Paul Brewbaker (HD 95), as well as Marcus Hall who ran for the office of County Commissioner in Canadian County, Dist. #1 and Rachel L. Bussett who was in a non-partisan contest seeking to become an Associate District Judge for Canadian County.
Yeutter received over 270 thousand votes (24.82%) in his race, the highest total for any alternative party candidate ever in Oklahoma. With both Yeutter and Powell achieving greater than 2.5% the OKLP retains ballot access through at least 2022. Hall had the highest percentage in a partisan race with 27.49% and Bussett came very close to winning nonpartisan judicial office with 47.83%.
Two Libertarians, Todd Hagopian and Brandon Swearengin, sought election to school boards in the first part of the year. Hagopian finished third for seeking a spot on the Bixby school board on Feb. 11th. Swearengin's race against an oil executive was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic from April 7th to June 30th. Swearengin earned 45.4% of the vote.
For the state and federal elections in the fall, Hagopian stepped up to run for Corporation Commission to face an otherwise unopposed incumbent. Robert Murphy is a candidate for U S Senate. Sevier White and Richie Costaldo are on the ballot for Congress in districts 4 and 1, respectively. Greg Sadler is in a two-way contest for state Senate in district 17. A. J. Bailey is seeking election to the state House in district 101. And Bud Jeffrey is challenging the incumbent for Pottawatomie County Court Clerk. Voters in the portion of Pottawatomie County within state Senate District 17 will have three two-candidate races featuring a Libertarian versus a Republican.
In August 2018 David Greer was appointed to fill a vacancy on the City Council of Dougherty, Oklahoma, becoming the first Libertarian to hold elective office in the state. He was re-elected unopposed in May, 2020.
In a special election to fill an unexpired term, Chris Powell was elected on Nov. 12, 2019 to the Bethany City Council, defeating two other candidates by receiving 63% of the vote. Powell was named Vice-Mayor beginning July 1, 2020.
- Green Party of Oklahoma
- Oklahoma Democratic Party
- Oklahoma Republican Party
- Politics of Oklahoma
- Two-party system
- Third parties
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