Arkansas received a visit Friday from a presidential candidate named Jo.
That’s not a typo. It wasn’t the Democratic former vice president, but instead it was Dr. Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian candidate, who spoke in Little Rock at the First Security Amphitheater alongside the Arkansas River.
Her visit attracted what the campaign said was just under 200 people, which is pretty good for a third party candidate. The event looked professional with signs, paid staff members and an appeal for campaign donations. Her next stop was to be Alaska.
If you’re looking for something different than the major parties’ two old guys – well, she’d be different. The 63-year-old Clemson University professor doesn’t merely advocate cutting government spending, but getting rid of most of the government completely over time.
She told the crowd that she would eliminate the IRS, work with Congress to end the income tax, “audit and then end the Federal Reserve,” and tell state governments to “get rid of every gun law in the last 100 years.” She would end the drug war and decriminalize drugs at the federal level. She said her first act as president would be to “bring the troops home” and “turn America into one giant Switzerland – armed and neutral.”
“Basically, I’d get rid of every alphabet soup agency in the last 200 years, and just go back to the original ones,” she said.
Also speaking at the event was Ricky Harrington, the Libertarians’ candidate for U.S. Senate and Sen. Tom Cotton’s only current opponent. An independent, Daniel Whitfield, needs a favorable court ruling to join them.
Harrington is vying to become Arkansas’ first African American member of Congress. He’s taking leave from his job as a program supervisor at the Cummins prison to care for his three young children while his wife serves in the Navy.
Criminal justice reform is one of his big issues. He said in an interview that inmates come into the system on a drug possession charge, and because of what they experience in prison leave as gang members and serious criminals.
“I want people to understand that we have to consider how we treat the less fortunate in our society, including those who’ve done terrible things, because it reflects on who we are as a moral people,” he said. “If we treat them like dirt, then we actually become what we hate.”
His candidacy is, of course, a major long shot, as is Jorgensen’s. The electoral process almost guarantees elections are won by Republicans or Democrats. He said he’s raised about $20,000 so far, compared to Cotton’s unlimited millions.
Still, Harrington gives Libertarians an opportunity to achieve meaningful numbers in a major race, which is one reason the party’s recent national chairman also made the trip to Arkansas. Cotton is a polarizing figure who’s spending a lot of time on the national stage and in other states. In fact, he recently released digital ads that are running in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Theoretically, Harrington can scoop up every Democratic vote that would have gone to that party’s candidate if it had one. By adding Libertarians, independents and maybe a few Republicans to his total, he can reach 40 percent and maybe more.
A 40 percent total would be a win for the state’s distant third party. An even bigger win would be if Jorgensen reaches 3 percent. That would enable Libertarians to qualify for the next election without having to spend precious resources collecting signatures.
Actually winning major elections? That’s something that’s probably still in the future. There is a Libertarian congressman, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, but he was elected as a Republican and then switched parties this year after voting for impeachment. He’s leaving Congress after this year.
Jorgensen is realistic. In an interview, she quoted her former campaign manager, now working in another position, saying this would be the year the country elects its first Libertarian president – but to a lower office first that will lead to that person winning the presidential election later.
However, she told me her degree in industrial organizational psychology has taught her that “very difficult and even impossible goals work, so my goal is to win.”
At least she and Harrington will give voters an alternative – Harrington to Cotton, and Jorgensen to the incumbent Republican president and the Democrat whose first name sounds like hers.