Last week, Nathan Lipschultz sealed a gutter, repaired a screen door, installed a garbage disposal, and then headed to a meeting with two members of the Sun-Sentinel's editorial board. He made the trek from his home in Boca Raton to the headquarters of a newspaper that he considers a citadel of run-amok liberalism for one reason: to try to persuade its kingmakers to endorse his candidacy for the state House of Representatives. Fat chance, but there he was. His wife, also a state-House wannabe, met with the board just before Nathan. Then she went home to bed with a touch of the flu.
The couple thinks Tallahassee needs their brand of politics. He's running in District 92, she in District 90. And they don't live in either one.
Their party: Libertarian. Their campaign war chest: zero dollars, zero cents. Their chance of victory: close to nil. Which is just fine with them. "Unless lightning strikes, we aren't expecting to win," Susan says. "Not that we wouldn't like to win or wouldn't do a good job."
The Lipschultzes are on the ballot because of a once-every-ten-year window of opportunity in election laws. They are part of a statewide effort tagged Operation Full Slate. Seventy-three Libertarians will be officially in the running for the House this November 5. That's a record number of candidates for a third party in Florida -- and more than the Democrats have to offer.
The party has been around since 1971. There are 11,435 Libertarians registered in the state, including 491 in Palm Beach County and 774 in Broward. They're the ones who want the government off our backs, its hands out of our pocketbooks, and its noses out of our business. Theirs is the party that would legalize drug use, gambling, and prostitution and would never try to take guns away from Americans. They want to rid us of the DOT, DOE, DCF -- "all those alphabet agencies" -- and turn over the public trust to private interests. "We basically want to be left alone," Nathan explains, "although we're not isolationists."
But there's no need to panic just yet. Operation Full Slate is more marketing ploy than serious electioneering. Like the Lipschultzes, most Libertarian candidates aren't really even campaigning. Nathan Lipschultz says he's too busy with his home repair business and trying to lay the tile in the construction zone he calls his living room to hit the campaign trail. He has attended several community forums, but that is about the extent of his effort.
Nor do most candidates feel the need to study up on local issues or even visit the communities they are bidding to serve. Take Mark Eckert. He lives in Orlando, serves on the Orange County Nuisance Abatement Board, and is running as a Libertarian candidate some 246 miles south of his home in District 119 in Miami. Eckert, who is the campaign coordinator for the Libertarians, says he chose Miami because the party needed someone to run there. He recently told Melbourne's Florida Today he's never even been to the Magic City. Asked about the chief concerns there, Eckert offered the twin obsessions of the poorest city in America -- "urban sprawl and the Everglades."
Actually, some Libertarians get testy when you suggest they might be more effective if they had some electoral capital. Brian Kuszmar, a dealer in rare coins, precious metals, and jewelry who lives in Lauderdale by the Sea, is running for office in District 91, which actually includes his home. He says he's running a serious campaign in his bid to unseat Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fort Lauderdale. Yet he has no budget to bring his message to the voters and doesn't think he should need one. "I'm not going to spend $10,000 for billboards and buses," he declaims. So how is he going to get the word out? "I have a personal view that it is the media's responsibility," he says. "American politics shouldn't be about the best candidate you can buy."
The bevy of Libertarians made the ballot this year because of looser qualifying rules occasioned by redistricting. In House races, candidates were allowed to gather signatures from anywhere in the state and needed only 445 of them rather than the usual 900. State law allows candidates to live outside district boundaries, but they must move there by Election Day.
This past summer, Libertarians sent out a mass e-mail soliciting candidates. Then the party marshaled a bank of about 700 people willing to sign petitions to qualify candidates. Voila! They wound up with hopefuls for a majority of the 120 House seats up for grabs. In more than 40 races, they provided opposition for Democratic or Republican candidates who might otherwise have been unopposed.
So why didn't any of the 16 other minor parties listed on the state elections Website think of that? "We're smarter than they are," Nathan speculates. Not quite. The Green Party of Florida considered a similar strategy but abandoned the idea.
"We actually discussed it," says Mark Kamleiter, Green Party co-chair. "And in the end, we felt it would be better to only run candidates where we felt we would have a possibility of winning. It is not to make some sort of theatrical statement. We mean to take seats."
But he does envy the Libertarians' press coverage. "It has been effective for them," he says. "If we have failed somewhere, it is that the press doesn't care what we think; they care about what we are doing. And the Libertarians have done something."
The party's publicity stunt has interested the media. One Libertarian might not merit much attention. But 73? That's news. There have been 15 stories about Operation Full Slate in Florida newspapers since June, including in the Florida Times-Union, the Orlando Sentinel, the Fort Myers News-Press, and the St. Petersburg Times. An interview Susan Lipschultz gave to the Palm Beach Post wound up on page 1A of the paper September 21. Can't do much better than that for placement.
Operation Full Slate has made for some strange geography, though. Britt Craig, a 53-year-old Army retiree, lives on a 41-foot Gulfstar sailboat in St. Augustine Harbor. He is running for office 177 miles to the south in District 105 in Vero Beach. Like Eckert, he's never visited the community. If elected, Craig says he'll head that way. "My pension follows me," he drawls. "I live on a boat, so I could be down there in two days, dragging my baggage with everything I own."
Craig says he's too focused on spreading the Libertarian message in his hometown to worry much about Vero. Every weekend, he sets up a table on St. George Street in St. Augustine and stretches a blue-and-white banner across it that reads, "Libertarian Party: Defenders of Freedom." That message touches a nerve, Craig says, because the city outlawed musicians and artists on the pedestrian thoroughfare in 2000. A lot of people think the prohibition went too far. "Some of them don't believe the Libertarian Party can make a difference," he says, "but most everybody wants a difference to be made."
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If Craig is the Libertarians' P.T. Barnum, the Lipschultzes are the party's Lockhorns. They live in a circa 1950 ranch home with an American flag flapping on a pole out front in the tidy neighborhood of Boca Square. Both are lifelong activists, believers first in the Great Society and then the Reagan Revolution. They became disenchanted with the Republicans after the election of George W. Bush.
Asked whether any of the Libertarians has a chance of winning, Nathan mentions a black candidate running in Orlando. John F. Kennedy might just garner a majority because the people of District 36 like the name, Nathan offers. "It's a black district," he says, "so they just might vote for him."
If Nathan scores an upset in District 92, he says he would give up his business, at least during the legislative session. And the ongoing remodeling project that has turned the Lipschultzes' house into a construction zone would be put on hold. Susan says she'd surrender her part-time catering business if she won too. With their combined incomes of $29,328 each as state legislators, they would about break even. "It would be fun," Nathan offers.
Susan is running against Democrat Irving Slosberg in District 90, which is located west of the couple's Boca Square home. Nathan is challenging Democratic incumbent John Seiler in District 92, which is in Broward County. They could rent in their districts if they won. "I chose a district that I felt was going to be close enough so if by some unforeseen reason lightning strikes and all of the Democratic Party votes are destroyed, I could rent an apartment there," Susan says.