The tides are turning, two lawmakers in New Hampshire change to the Libertarian Party




Brian Doherty

Since the 2016 election, the Libertarian Party (L.P.) has gained two sitting state legislators in New Hampshire. Not by having L.P. candidates win in that election, but by having two legislators who won as a Republican and a Democrat switch allegiance to the L.P.

The first was former Republican Caleb Dyer (Hillsborough 37, the cities of Hudson and Pelham) in February. This month, a new two-person Libertarian Caucus in the New Hampshire House of Representatives was formed when Democrat Joseph Stallcop (from Cheshire House District 4, representing the city of Keene’s Ward 1) also went L.P.

Both renegades are 21 years old.

Dyer found the Republican House leadership basically trying to scuttle nearly every bill he sponsored or co-sponsored, and began to suspect it wasn’t the Party for him. (The bills included one mandating police body cameras and one allowing for easier annulment of arrest records when no conviction followed.) He was told more or less that anything that wasn’t a pre-set part of the state Party’s platform, he’d be obstructed on. This didn’t sit well with Dyer. (The Republicans currently have a strong majority in the House.)

In a February Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session, Dyer explained that when he runs for re-election as a Libertarian, he has the chance of appealing to normally Democratic voters: “I am a firm opponent of Republicans on a great many social issues. I support the decriminalization of sex work with Rep. Elizabeth Edwards (D-Manchester). I am a co-sponsor on HB656, the primary bill for the legalization of recreational cannabis. I am also fervently against the death penalty.” In that same AMA he complained that the state GOP “do not seem very focused on reducing expenditures but rather focused on finding ways spend a surplus that we realistically don’t have. Apart from this I also question the Republican party’s commitment to the accountability of executive agents including police.”

Dyer ran and won last year as a Republican with a reasonably libertarian message: for school choice and constitutional carry of weapons, against income and sales taxes and the drug war, and wanting to reduce business taxes and spending. His handout to voters didn’t even mention party affiliation and called him a “young voice of liberty.”

In his official statement announcing his party switch in February, Dyer warned Republicans that the Libertarian Party in New Hampshire last year winning ballot access for 2018 (with its gubernatorial candidate Max Abramson passing the 4 percent barrier), shows “that [the GOP’s] constituency is slowly but surely growing discontent with their increasingly partisan representation. For elected Republicans like myself who have libertarian leanings this is a truly golden opportunity to establish ourselves as a viable alternative to this representation and become advocates for principled, classically liberal policy….We hope that in two years’ time our perseverance will inspire hundreds of People across the state to submit themselves to their peers as Libertarian candidates.”

Stallcop, elected in November running unopposed as a Democrat and as a junior studying political science at Keene State, was inspired into politics from a more left-learning direction; in his press release announcing his defection to the L.P. he credited “Personally witnessing the situation at Standing Rock” as a major impetus to his political awakening, as it “showed me the danger of relinquishing power and authority into an institution.” (Stallcop did no fundraising for his unopposed race.)

In a phone interview this week, Stallcop says the Standing Rock situation initially disturbed him because of “shocking” scenes of protesters and media being mistreated “for the sake of protecting a subsidized industry,” and at one point felt that a policeman was likely to have shot and killed him for walking across a line.

Stallcop noted that when he took a version of the libertarian “Nolan test” (which maps your political beliefs regarding economic and other freedoms in quadrants rather than just a straight line on which one can only be toward the right and left), he was firmly in the “left libertarian” quadrant. (He was passionate when elected as a Democrat at extending anti-discrimination laws in the state to cover the transgendered.)

When he ran as a Democrat Stallcop also advocated a higher state minimum wage, but says he now thinks differently.

He credits Libertarian Party member Mary Ruwart’s book Healing Our World with helping shift his political attitude in a more libertarian direction. That book helped him see that “as long as you are for achieving goals without aggression, than you are essentially libertarian, and that me being more left-leaning in my classical liberalism doesn’t mean I can’t be a Libertarian.”

A talk with Dyer helped Stallcop realize the L.P. was a reasonable option for him, though Stallcop says Dyer was “rather surprised about the speed of my decision” to switch; it took him just a couple of weeks of awareness of the L.P. option to make the jump.

Libertarian Party of New Hampshire (LPNH) Chair Darryl Perry, who sought the Party’s presidential nomination in 2016 on a platform of hardcore no-state libertarianism, admits that Stallcop is “not the most libertarian guy” but is impressed by his obvious willingness to “learn more about what [Libertarian] beliefs actually are.”

Stallcop, who says he felt no particular partisan attachment before running for office and even contemplated being an independent until he learned of the petition requirements, quickly found his the Democratic Party’s leadership in the New Hampshire House stifling and annoying.

He felt like he was being basically ordered to vote party line without adequate factual backing for the positions the Democrats insisted he take. Stallcop particularly found their insistence on voting against “constitutional carry” (permitless concealed weapon carry) grating. “I find it funny that many people who raise issues of police brutality” never ask “if we had less of these laws that enable police to come directly up” to citizens, might that not be better? “People want to lock down police yet create all these laws that push police to be more aggressive with us.”

As he said in a press release announcing his switch, “it seems there is no longer a place for me here [in the Democratic Party]. With a high regard for individuals personally working in their communities to implement positive change, I hereby transfer to the Libertarian Party.”

The Power of a Two-Man Caucus

Can the new Libertarian Caucus in the New Hampshire state house grow? Stallcop isn’t sure if he’ll run again; it depends on where he ends up going to law school, since that choice may take him out of state.

Dyer is already committed to another run in 2018 with the L.P. banner. (His voting record, for your personal judgments on his libertarian bona fides.) It is a common complaint of state and local L.P. candidates that the Party apparatus is almost always unable to do anything to help them gain office. Perry, the state L.P. chair, says that “I know that we will be able to provide [Dyer] with volunteers for going door to door campaigning. The election is 18 months away” so hopefully more resources might be available from the LPNH by then, though “at this point we are not necessarily able to throw a bunch of money at any legislative seat.”

That said, Perry is encouraged that unlike many states, New Hampshire House seats are often winnable with spending of less, sometimes even far less, than a thousand dollars. Neither Dyer or Stallcap felt they had any meaningful help from their former major parties either, beyond whatever benefit the mere label has for party-line voters.

Because of the multi-member district that Dyer represents, in which each voter gets to pick 11 different representatives (meaning the top 11 vote getters all get a seat) he could potentially end up in the House again as a Libertarian with only around 5 percent of the vote. (Back in the 1990s, when the L.P. had four sitting members in New Hampshire’s House, Andy Borsa won re-election with the L.P. label in Dyer’s district.)

Dyer feels good about how well known he already is around Pelham and Hudson, and feels well equipped to do the necessary door knocking to put him over. But he does hope the state L.P. will be able to help with door-knocking, setting up events, and otherwise start “building a base of voters” but even “one or two people” from the Party to help him door-knock, “I’d consider that a success. I don’t expect them to provide crazy phone banks or anything that like” right away “though I hope they will get there.” (He won last time spending only around $400, Dyer says.) Having activists knocking on doors will be “infinitely more helpful” than giving him another dollar.

New Hampshire’s House is unusually large, with 400 members. Any individual legislator in a committee system controlled by a Party not the legislators’ own will likely find actually getting bills out of committee very difficult. One of the issues Dyer hopes to legislate successfully on is easier ballot access for third parties.

Dyer, who works as a Christmas tree farmer with his dad, for that reason is on the Environment and Agriculture Committee. And even though every House member is supposed to be on a committee, the Democrats stripped Stallcop of his and he’s currently committeeless.

Stallcop expects that their colorful rarity as a two-man Party caucus could make their media bully pulpit more powerful, and Dyer says the ethos of the way the House works might make it important for the Democrats or Republicans to work on making bills satisfying to them to make them technically “bipartisan.”

Perry is quite sure that the New Hampshire state House has more than a few libertarian members who are so far reluctant to abandon the two-party system. Stallcop and Dyer agree, though neither will out anyone publicly. Dyer thinks as many as 10 percent of the legislature might have a natural home in the L.P.

While running a candidate for every House slot is a herculean task even the two majors generally don’t manage, says LPNH head Perry, they do hope to field many more than usual next year and also hope to provide more clear “statewide branding, we are Libertarians and this is what we stand for” though he knows they won’t be able to provide concrete support to everyone who runs. He expects them to try to figure out “more viable ones” and help them.

Dyer believes “If I won re-election in 2018 as a Libertarian the whole game changes. If I win in Hudson and Pelham, in the Speaker of the House’s district, a warning shot will have been fired. People will really take notice. The Republican Party will be very dismayed.”