|By Jo Mannies, Beacon political reporter|
Posted 6:45 p.m. Sun., 05.30.10 - Glenn Nielsen, chairman of the Missouri Libertarian Party, had been all over the map politically -- voting for Democrats, then Republicans -- until he was stopped by police twice in one night in 1996 while driving from Texas to his home in Columbia, Mo.
A computer programmer and systems administrator, Nielsen says he apparently had been flagged as fitting the profile for drug traffickers. With no such cache in his car, Nielsen was let go each time after answering a barrage of police questions.
"I was issued no citations," Nielsen recalled.
That episode was "the final straw for me,'' he said, and "finally convinced me that the drug prohibition had gone too far and was treading on our civil liberties."
Nielsen soon become active in the Libertarian Party, which is fiscally conservative and socially liberal. The party opposes the Democratic health-care changes and advocates privatizing Social Security. But it resists restraints on recreational drugs, abortion and gay marriage.
Many Libertarians also object to the U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This weekend, Nielsen heads the state's Libertarian delegation at the party's national convention at the Renaissance Grand hotel in downtown St. Louis.
VETERAN ACTIVIST BEATS OUT MEDIA DARLING
Sunday afternoon, more than 500 delegates from around the country selected a new party chairman in a battle that exemplified the tug between two party factions: one camp favors reaching out to the socially conservative Tea Party movement, and the other side preaches standing firm on longstanding libertarian principles.
Personifying the big-tent approach was Wayne Allyn Root -- an effusive, unapologetic self-promoter who's a dead-ringer for Bill Clinton ("I get stopped in airports all the time," Root said) -- and a human hurricane.
Accompanied by an ever-present film crew (it's shooting a reality show that Root said would air "only if I'm elected"), he admitted upsetting some by preaching a more-inclusive message that he said will move the Libertarian Party into the nation's political mainstream.
"If I move this country toward Libertarians, I'm the most radical person here,'' Root said in an interview, as he and his entourage traveled between events -- accosting delegates for potential votes along the way.
Although leading in the early rounds of balloting, Root -- the Libertarian Party's 2008 vice presidential nominee and now a cable TV regular -- ended up as the runnerup to Mark Hinkle, a veteran Libertarian from California.
In a telephone interview afterward, Hinkle quipped that he won because "I was everybody's second choice." During the three rounds of ballots, the lowest vote-getter was forced out. Most of those losing candidates' supporters then defected to Hinkle.
Hinkle, 59 and a small businessman, said he campaigned as a uniter. But he emphasized that, as chairman, he won't shy away from the Libertarian Party's longstanding platform.
Hinkle cites recent statistics showing that the Libertarian Party is the only political party to gain members since late 2008. "People are thirsting for a different alternative to Republicans and Democrats," he said.
This fall, Hinkle is competing for a state Senate seat in northern California. He's optimistic that he'll do better than in 2008, when he got 10 percent of the vote in a bid for a lower-level legislative post.
He added that he agreed with Root that the party needs to elevate its profile. And the new chairman expects the runnerup to continue such efforts. "Root is generating all sorts of media attention for himself and the party," Hinkle said.
Root -- who had campaigned to be the party's "chief enthusiast, cheerleader, rainmaker, man-about-town" -- declared in his concession speech, "Ladies and gentlemen, you can’t get rid of me."
In fact, Root's running mate -- former Indiana Libertarian Party chairman Mark Rutherford -- was elected as the national vice chairman during only one round of balloting.
And several delegates told Root that they hoped he'd be their presidential nominee in 2012.
MISSOURI LIBERTARIANS LAUNCH PR EFFORTAmong the Missouri delegates, the bulk backed Hinkle -- but share Root's quest for a higher party profile.
By design, the Missouri Libertarian Party has also encouraged competition within its ranks so that several candidates are competing for various posts in the state's Aug. 3 primary. The aim is to persuade more people to take a Libertarian ballot, in part out of protest.
"We want to turn the Aug. 3 primary into a referendum now that Republicans and Democrats are leading this country to financial ruin," Nielsen said. "We want to show how fed up people are with how the Democrats and Republicans have led this country."
Sunday's luncheon speaker at the convention -- veteran Libertarian Sharon Harris, president of an allied group called Advocates for Self Government -- asserted that more than politics is at stake.
Harris told conventioneers, "The future of Western civilization rests on your shoulders."
Those who won and lost on Sunday echoed that view.