Mark Rutherford ’82 Uneditedby Steve Charles
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A transcript from WM’s interview with Indiana Libertarian Party State Chairman Mark Rutherford ’82
Also, I'm very easy going and accepting of other people. Live and let live and the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.) seemed like very good concepts. By 1996 I decided that the Republicans seemed to want to legislate morality more and more and tell me how to live my life because I might be living an immoral life in their opinion. It's none of their business.
In the summer of 2005, the Libertarian Party of Indiana (LPIN) and the Libertarian Party of Steuben County organized restaurant owners in Steuben County against a threatened proposal for a smoking ban in Steuben County. It never happened because of the organized effort and publicity.
In 2005, the LPIN and Libertarian Party of Marion County organized a tour bus that went from tavern to tavern organizing the efforts against the smoking ban. We joined forces with other groups and actively lobbied council members on the ban. The result was a less restrictive ordinance. While we weren’t pleased with the ordinance, at one time it was a lot worse.
In 2005 the LPIN and Libertarian Party of Hamilton County actively organized restaurant opposition to a proposed smoking ban in Fishers. The smoking ban died on the table and never was called for a vote by the city council.
In 2003, the Libertarian Party of Hamilton County ran a mayoral candidate and small business owner who gave a Mayor of Carmel opposition in the general election for the very first time ever! He ran on issues in which he showed how the current Mayor was hurting small business owners. While the Libertarian candidate did not win, he did very well. Anecdotally I hear from Carmel residents that the current Mayor has changed some of his habits against small business owners for the better. There seems to be a correlation between having opposition and a change in the Mayor’s actions.
As to individuals and small business owners, one example is that the Wayne County Libertarian Party chair is on the Hagerstown Board of Zoning Appeals with one other Libertarian. When they got on the board, they worked hard to make the board act within the law and apply zoning based on law, and not on personal whims of the board members. This has allowed individuals and small business owners to get more variances on their properties and do what they want to do with the property they own.
We’ve also done a lot of work regarding opposition to mandatory seat belt laws (we prefer resources be directed at improving the arrest and conviction rates of burglars, rather than government going after seat belt scofflaws).
I’ve got more examples. But in all of the above cases, without Libertarian involvement, small business owners and other property owners would have been disorganized and it is likely the results would have been much different and against the interests of small business owners and individuals.
As to why more voters aren’t picking up on this? It’s very hard work to fight two political parties that control government and don’t want to give up any control. For example, we have to expend a large amount of our resources on the Secretary of State’s race, which most people don’t care about. Why? Libertarians have to get 2% in the race to retain ballot access and 10% to get primary access. We’d rather spend that time and money on more local races where we can get our message out more thoroughly and build from the grass roots. But state law requires us to do otherwise in order to be on the ballot on more local races.
Campaign finance law, especially federal law, requires us to spend a lot of time on bureaucratic machinations and compliance, and severely limits what we can do as well as our potential supporter’s contributions. These are no accident. Like the Jim Crow laws of the South, they are designed to preserve incumbents and keep power out of the hands of others. This is a harsh analogy, but I stand by it. The incumbents already have the power and money, thus the limits and rules don’t affect them that much. These laws have a disproportionately harsh effect on up and coming political organizations. And incumbents love them for that very reason. Informally, we refer to campaign finance laws as "Incumbent Protection Acts".
The Libertarian Party of Indiana's position on eminent domain is that the use of it by government should be highly regulated and narrowly allowed as a tool by government, difficult to do except for the most obvious and necessary of public needs, and that the person losing their property should be compensated for their complete loss, including loss profits, the costs of building something comparable elsewhere, moving costs, etc. The fair market value of the property is rarely an adequate indication of one's actual loss with the property. (As an example, H.K Hurst's bean factory in Indianapolis probably has a much higher replacement value than its fair market value because of the unique set up of its gravity feed factory. If their factory is taken, they should be paid enough to rebuild it elsewhere with its unique features.).
The Libertarian solution is quite simple. Scale back government to essential items. Focus on those who use physical force against others instead of "feel good" seat belt laws. Focus on real problems, such as homelessness of the mentally ill, which in a large part was created by government.
The most pressing issue facing the nation is the IRS. It has become the primary instrument of choice for our current politicians to implement their social experiments on us. The Fair Tax promoted by libertarian radio show host Neal Boorst, is the best program I’ve seen out there for reform. It has flaws, but is a huge step in the right direction. It attempts to remove the social engineering and return the tax system to one of a more neutral system of raising revenue to support essential neutrally based government needs.
How do your own spiritual values mesh with, or drive, your Libertarian politics? Or, to come at it differently, how much do you believe one's religious beliefs should shape his political agenda?
I also believe government should not legislate morality. The power to take one’s beer is the same power to take one’s bible. It is the role of churches, clubs, civic organizations and even businesses to drive morality and to advocate how one should live their life. Government’s role should be to protect each of our right to live life as we see fit without others using lies or physical force against us.
The inherent flaw in legislating morality is illustrated by this: I personally think it is sinful to drink bad scotch. I like good scotches, and think people should be saved from drinking bad scotch. But should a law be passed by me to save people from bad scotch? But what is a bad scotch? I know what one is—but I know people who disagree with me on this. What makes me the person best suited to save people from bad scotch? Perhaps my judgment is clouded and what I prefer is bad scotch—and I will end up preventing people from being able to drink truly good scotch. The solution is to allow people to drink scotch freely and let them make their own choices. However, I will continue to tell people that they drink bad scotch.
One of the libertarian websites carries this teaser: "If some libertarian ideas surprise you, visit Libertarianism.com" What libertarian ideas do you think they are talking about? What’s your personal take on those ideas?
What’s the Libertarian stand on the War in Iraq?
As a member of the Libertarian National Committee, I’m more concerned about Libertarians nationally focusing on getting people elected at the grass roots level. Thus these issues, while interesting to debate, are not where Libertarians need to focus. Generally, Libertarians seemed split on the war – some see it as a legitimate effort towards self defense – others as an unwarranted intrusion on another country and area.
What’s the best way to handle the epidemic of meth and meth addiction in rural Indiana?
The second prong is to reduce government regulations and other requirement that have destroyed the middle class business owner in small towns, where the meth epidemic seems greatest. We have a saying among Libertarians that Wal-Mart is the creation of big government. It had to become big in order to economically deal with the cost of complying with the thousands of government regulations, the zoning battles all too commonly faced by business, and to attract tax abatements (which are rarely given to mom and pop stores). If it becomes economically feasible to fill the store fronts in small communities again, there will be more jobs, more stable communities, a larger pool of movers and shakers for a community and less reasons for people to succumb to meth because of the desperate economic condition of their community.
When all you can reasonably hope for in many races are percentages in the single digits, how do you define success? Secondly, you've got a full time law practice, as well as the state chairman's post and work on the party's national committees, and from the blog you seem to be on the road a lot—you've poured a lot into this. What keeps you coming back?
What keeps me coming back? My wife says I have infinite patience. I agree. It is a good trait to have when trying to fight oppressive use of power and a power structure. I focus on the small victories, which are numerous. But I also, when things are going roughly, think about British member of Parliament William Wilberforce. He presented his first bill to abolish the slave trade in 1791. It was easily defeated by 163 votes to 88. He was the voice for abolitionists in parliament for about 35 or so years. For over 30 years he fought in parliament to slowly abolish slavery. Small successes built on small successes. He retired from the House of Commons in 1825 and others came forward to finish the battle he had carried. But by then the path was most certain and one month after he died in 1833, slavery was abolished in Great Britain. I’m glad he was patient and kept coming back. I intend to do the same thing as him – and expect to at least see more positive results and good trends towards my desired results.