WASHINGTON – The Libertarian Party will be holding its own primary March 5 in Maryland’s 8th District, where it is fielding two candidates for Republican Rep. Constance Morella’s seat.
“This is the first time ever that we’re holding a privately run primary for a congressional election,” said Jesse Markowitz, chairman of the Maryland Libertarian Party.
It is also the only third-party primary being held in the state, Markowitz said.
The state’s only legal third party hopes to get Terry Atwood, 45, of Bethesda, or Bob Creager, 46, of Burtonsville, on the general election ballot in November and is challenging ballot access rules.
“It’s a lot of work,” Markowitz said. “When you explain the law to most people in the state of Maryland, they’re flabbergasted, shocked … at the hurdles and the hoops through which the Democrats and the Republicans make everyone else jump to compete.”
The Libertarians believe in a small, limited government, “and that people should be able to eat, sleep, dream, make love, the way they want to, as long as they’re not raping, killing, stealing,” Markowitz said. They favor “private solutions to a lot of the problems the government is now trying to solve.”
The party was forced to pay for its own 8th District primary because it didn’t meet a state requirement. It says 10 percent of the state’s voters must be registered with that party before a candidate can appear on the regular primary ballot.
The requirement is a tough one, said Richard Winger, publisher of Ballot Access News, a newsletter that monitors states’ ballot access laws. “No third party in any state has gotten even 5 percent registration membership since the 1910s,” Winger said.
A spokeswoman for Morella said the congresswoman “really didn’t know anything about” the Libertarian primary. “She wasn’t aware that there was one,” said Mary Anne Leary.
The Libertarian Party became Maryland’s only legal third party when it submitted petitions containing the signatures of more than 10,000 registered voters last June.
But this is only the “first hurdle” for candidates, said Markowitz, who estimates that 4,500 hours of work went into collecting the signatures.
The signatures allow the party to get a presidential or vice-presidential candidate on the general election ballot.
But to field a candidate for any other office, the party must go through a second step and obtain the signatures of at least 3 percent of the voters eligible to vote for that particular office.
Neither Atwood, a systems engineer for I-NET, nor Creager, a systems integrator with BDM, intend to obtain the signatures, which must be submitted in August.
“I don’t have the resources to conduct that kind of petitioning in that short a time,” Atwood said.
Instead, the party plans to get a candidate on the general election ballot by filing a federal lawsuit, if necessary, Markowitz said.
Challenging the state law was Creager’s main reason for entering the race. “I thought this would be a good opportunity to test that law,” he said.
Unlike Creager, Atwood said his primary imperative for running was not to alter the legal situation, but to protect civil liberties.
Both seek to promote the Libertarian Party platform of smaller government, including the lowering of – or in Creager’s case the complete eradication of – federal taxes.
A bill pending in the state legislature could clear a path for the primary winner to the general election ballot. However, a similar measure failed last year.
Under the bill sponsored by State Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, D- Prince George’s, third-party candidates would no longer have to meet any petition requirements once the party itself qualified under the 10,000-signature rule.
Independent candidates not affiliated with any party would still need to collect signatures from 1 percent of the voters.
“The bill doesn’t change the law to make it a level playing field, it’s just not quite so slanted against us,” Markowitz said.
Tuesday’s Libertarian primary is being held at the Twinbrook Library in Rockville. Markowitz said he expects more than 50 percent of the roughly 200 Libertarian voters in the district to turn out. – 30 –