November 5, 2002
Libertarian Candidate Reaches Out
to Pot Smokers and Gun Lovers
By Joshua Kors
With one day remaining in his far-fetched campaign for governor of New York, Scott Jeffrey stood outside an East Village Starbucks, shuffling his business cards and figuring out just whom he should pass them to.
The goal, the Libertarian candidate said, was to get the right card to the right voter — slip the one supporting gay marriage to the homosexuals, the one opposing the cigarette tax to the smokers.
Call it selective political marketing. Jeffrey seemed to have a knack for the job.
To Renee Carcamo, a 19-year-old with a lacy flower blouse, he passed a card demanding marijuana be legalized. Even as a drizzle began to fall, Carcamo stood and listened, mesmerized by Jeffrey's message. Before she left, she assured him he had secured her vote.
The Libertarian's hold on that vote didn't last long. When informed minutes later that Jeffrey was also pushing to reduce the minimum age of gun ownership from 21 to 18, Carcamo looked betrayed.
“You tell him he just lost a vote,” she said.
The sense of betrayal felt by Carcamo is just the latest result of a self-destructive political strategy employed by the Jeffrey campaign, which has sought the support of pro-marijuana liberals and pro-gun conservatives, pro-gay rights Democrats and anti-taxation Republicans. In the process, Jeffrey has become a living example of how the Libertarian Party fails: wooing both sides, earning the votes of neither.
The party's embrace of both liberal and conservative issues will guarantee its failure in today's election, said Robert Lieberman, assistant professor of political science at Columbia University. The professor added that if the party's platform isn't altered, it will prevent a base of support from forming before next election as well.
“It's clearly not a serious platform, one aimed at attracting real voters on the planet Earth,” Lieberman said. “Each individual policy position may attract a segment of the population. But very few will buy the whole package.”
And it's not just city liberals like Carcamo who aren't buying. Upstate conservatives, including members of the pro-gun lobby, have responded with repulsion to the Libertarian package's liberal elements.
Count Ken Mathison in that group.
Mathison heads SCOPE, or the Shooters' Committee on Political Education, a Second Amendment-protection group whose slogan is “What part of ‘shall not be infringed' don't you understand?” Their website, www.scopeny.org, shows “bad gun laws” being blown to smithereens.
In late September, Mathison invited Scott Jeffrey to come speak at the group's annual pig roast in Rochester, New York. Jeffrey accepted and addressed 200 members of Mathison's SCOPE chapter.
“We also gave him a gun rights questionnaire, and he answered all our questions in the terms we were looking for. He was fully 100 percent pro-gun,” said Mathison, a touch of glee in his voice.
But the SCOPE president said whatever goodwill Jeffrey culled during the pig roast could never sway the mass of SCOPE members, who couldn't swallow the liberal strains of the Libertarian platform.
“Gun owners tend to be very conservative, and legalizing drugs and prostitution? With the exception of guns, there's not much Libertarians and I see eye to eye on,” Mathison said. The gun-rights president said the Libertarian party was alienating both liberals and conservatives, and if they wanted to bring him into their camp, “well, they'd have to change too much — change to where they'd lose their identity.”
Mathison voted today for Independent Tom Golisano. He suspects most members of his organization did as well.
Still, Jeffrey's inability to secure the pro-gun vote doesn't bother the national Libertarian Party, which promoted him in its June newsletter. A spokesman for the party admitted that Jeffrey's problems solidifying a liberal or conservative constituency is common for Libertarian candidates. Yet spokesman Jonathan Trager dismissed those troubles, saying more important than voters on the left or the right are those disaffected by politics.
Trager said disaffected voters will become the core constituency of the Libertarian Party in the coming years. He quoted a Rasmussen Research Poll from August 2000 that found 16 percent of Americans hold Libertarian views, a larger percentage than those holding a conservative or liberal viewpoint. In that light, Trager said, the party's failure to attract left- or right-leaning voters is of no consequence.
Jeffrey insisted that he too held that view. But the months of sidewalk rejection, from Harlem to Park Slope, seemed to have worn the gubernatorial candidate down.
“I still might win,” he said wearily, “but I don't think it'd be the best thing in the world for the state. I got to be really ready take the reigns of power.”
He isn't, he said, and neither is his party.
Update: On Election Day, Jeffrey received 5,013 votes, far short of the votes received by Democratic candidate Carl McCall and the race's winner, Republican George Pataki.