SKOWHEGAN — It’s a Tuesday night at Tim Hortons. Carol Piasecki and Donn Chamberlain are sharing a cup of coffee and getting ready for a meeting of the Somerset County Libertarians.
About once a month, a small group of grassroots organizers led by the two co-organizers meets at the Tim Hortons on U.S. Route 201 to talk about their hopes for the libertarian party in the upcoming presidential election.
“Hopefully after the election we can have a recognized county group,” said Chamberlain, 41, a mustached man in a blue T-shirt. “We’re meeting at Tim Hortons now because we don’t have any money.”
The libertarian party isn’t officially recognized in Maine. Its candidate for U.S. Senate, Andrew Ian Dodge, is running on the independent ticket, along with presidential candidate Gary Johnson. If Johnson gets 5 percent of the vote statewide, the party could earn state recognition. That would mean that county organizations such as this one would have a better chance to get their platform public, including appearing on future ballots at the state and local level.
“If we get that 5 percent we can run people as libertarians,” said Piasecki, 33. “When you see that word ‘Libertarian’ on the ballot next to a name, it makes a difference.”
Both Chamberlain and Piasecki are ex-Republicans and former Ron Paul supporters who left the party after last spring’s state Republican convention, when party Chairman Charlie Webster said that libertarians are not members of the Republican Party, they said. Together they are the co-organizers of the Somerset County Libertarians, a grassroots movement to get the libertarian party established in the state. Around 30 people have joined the group’s Facebook page. Chamberlain said about 10 to 15 people come to the monthly meetings.
Dodge, who is also a former Republican, said he thinks the number of libertarians in Maine is growing for a few reasons.
“A lot of people who aren’t libertarian, when you explain the issues and viewpoints to them realize that it is a party they can identify with,” he said.
He said that, for instance, libertarians’ support same-sex marriage and because it is a particularly talked about issue this year, it has helped draw attention to their platform.
He also said he thinks many people in Maine are liberal-minded and are not afraid to join a third party, even if the chance of a candidate winning is less.
Dodge is optimistic about Johnson and the libertarians’ chances.
“I would be very surprised if Johnson didn’t get the 5 percent,” he said.
Dodge said he thinks the libertarian party could take votes away from Republican candidates, but Webster disagrees.
“I would be surprised if Johnson got 3,000 or 4,000 votes statewide,” he said.
According to the Maine’s Secretary of State, independent Ralph Nader got 10,636 votes statewide in 2008, but Webster said the stakes are higher in this year’s race.
“This is a critical election and people aren’t willing to take a chance letting Obama stay in office,” he said.
He said that most people, even if they don’t agree 100 percent with a major party, will join either Democrats or Republicans based on whose views most closely align with their own. He also said that most people he knows who were Ron Paul supporters are now campaigning for Romney.
Webster said that one of the major things that has separated libertarians from Republicans is their different view on government restrictions.
“Most Republicans believe in some restrictions on things like legalizing drugs,” he said. “They tend to believe that some regulation is necessary.”
Piasecki, who works in advertising and has done a lot of the marketing for the Somerset County campaign in her after-work hours, said that in general libertarians favor more personal freedom, reduced government spending and less government involvement.
“To me, being a libertarian means that I understand we need some structure in government but I also understand there are some things government does that they don’t need to be doing and there are a lot of things that aren’t efficient. There’s a balance and we don’t have that balance right now,” she said.
Amy Fried, a professor of political science at the University of Maine, said that historically the party has drawn from a pool of Republicans who “agree on economic issues but have pulled away from the party because of social and foreign involvement issues.”
She said that as an example the libertarian party generally doesn’t support political engagement around the world such as Republican support for the war in Iraq led by then President George W. Bush.
Fried said that the party’s platforms seem to fit a lot of the population of Maine — where according to the Secretary of State, roughly one third of voters are unenrolled — but that nonetheless it can be difficult for a third party anywhere to organize.
“In a way, libertarianism fits a lot of the population of Maine. There is a tendency toward wanting government to be involved as little as possible,” she said.
Jorge Madeal, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Maine, which he says is recognized as a political action committee since it is not an official party, said that it is exciting just to see the party have a presidential candidate on the state ballot and with more supports than in past years.
He said Somerset County has one of the strongest organizations of libertarians and that he thinks the chances of getting the required 5 percent are good, but that it is just a step in the process of becoming an established party.
“It gets harder after that. We have to run candidates and get people enrolled as voters by the next presidential election cycle or it’s back to square one,” he said.
“They’re going to want to build on that and start electing people. They’ll want to win local races and state legislative races and develop a group of individuals who can get experience and then run for higher office,” said Fried. “It’s difficult.”
“For right now our goal is to be able to register as libertarians,” said Piasecki. “I want a party that embraces all ideas and kind of brings people together.”
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368