INTERVIEWInterview: Michael Badnarik, Libertarian Candidate for Texas House District 10 - Part 1
September 18, 2006
You may have heard of Michael Badnarik. In 2004 he ran for President on the Libertarian ticket and although he only got the usual few hundred thousand votes nationwide, he ran a strong campaign, made an effective presentation for the Libertarian party, travelled all over the country, and did a good job speaking out for individual liberty and personal responsibility.

After that campaign ended he came back home to Austin and almost immediately set to work on a new campaign, challenging Rep. Michael McCaul for Texas House District 10.

McCaul is a good target, because he's only served one term and it hasn't been terribly distinguished. He's been a pretty serious disappointment to voters in his diverse district, voting the straight GOP party line and coming down on the wrong side of almost every swing issue. He voted for the USA PATRIOT Act renewal, against funding stem cell research, against medical marijuana, for the Real ID and for banning same sex marriage. He's not exactly a friend of liberty or a political visionary. He just does what he's told.

House District 10 runs from Northeast Austin to Northeast Houston and includes a lot of rural territory and small towns. There are lots and lots of small businesses and a lot of people who've moved into exurban communities like Katy, Elgin, Pflugerville and Manor which is where I live. It's Republican territory, but it's not exactly the Bible belt. It actually has a rather high concentration of Libertarians and liberty-oriented Republicans, not unlike House District 14 which is just south of it and has been sending notorious Libertarian Republican Ron Paul to Washington for a decade now.

It's not that crazy an idea for Badnarik to set his sights on a Republican seat. In 2004 the only Democrat was a write-in candidate, and though they've managed to find a candidate this time in the form of 'Fighting Dem' Ted Ankrum, he's not terribly appealing. McCaul is running his campaign as if he's unopposed, and Ankrum's campaign has been dumped by the DCCC - like most of the other 'Fighting Dems' - and he's getting no financial support from the party.

Badnarik's campaign is more impressive and professional than any Libertarian effort I've seen since I worked on the Ed Clark campaign back in 1980. Badnarik has actually managed to raise over $300,000 in donations, which is comparable with what major party candidates are spending in many races, and way more than Ankrum who can barely rub two coins together. He's got rented offices and a paid staff of four plus lots of volunteers. He's even got three billboards and I hear there may even be TV ads in the offing. As Third Party Watch points off, this effort might be better directed at an easier target, but it's a hard campaign to just dismiss.

I'll admit I still think he's a longshot, but it's nice to see a Libertarian running a real campaign, and it is an excellent platform from which he can make his voice heard. If nothing else, he's helping to make Texas politics interesting. With all of this in mind, I was happy to get an opportunity last week to sit down and ask Michael some questions. We talked for quite a while, so I've broken the interview into two parts.

DN: You're running as a Libertarian and you have one of the few really well funded Libertarian campaigns nationwide. There have been some successful Libertarians but not running at the level where you're running or with the kind of money you've got to run. The same is true for other third parties like the green party which is in the same situation where they have candidates who have been successful on the local level but haven't been able to break into national office. Now within the major political parties there's a lot of factionalism and strife, with the Lieberman situation for example. Do you see that this means there's more potential for a third party candidate or for a third party to emerge on a national level?

MB: I do think that this is the year for a third party to really make a difference. If we're going to have a chance at all I think we need to do it fairly soon. I ran for state rep in 2000 and 20002. During those campaigns I'd print out my flyers, stand on a street corner and I'd be handing flyers to people. They'd look at the flyer and they'd look at me and make an early assessment and then they would ask "are you a Republican or a Democrat" and I'd say "well, I'm a Libertarian" and they would hand me the flyer and act like I was trying to sell them snake oil. The reaction was incredibly, obviously negative. Now, having had the Supreme Court decision on eminent domain, the FEMA debacle after hurricane Katrina, the President of the United States admitting on television that we are spying on Americans without warrants, the attitude of the average voter is 180 degrees out. I still stand in a busy place handing out flyers. People will look at the flyer and look at me and they still ask the Republican/Democrat question, but now when I tell them I'm a Libertarian they are thrilled. They are ecstatic that they don't have to vote for one of the two major parties. They frequently ask me for additional flyers so they can hand them out to their friends and co-workers and they invariably ask me for bumperstickers and promise to vote for me. Where being a Libertarian was a negative in 2000 now it in 2006 it is distinctly postive. People are looking for a change. We experienced 8 years of Bill Clinton and people were so glad to get rid of the Democrat and have a clean, upstanding Republican, and there are so many people now who are really surprised that they would look back on a Bill Clinton administration with some fondness. Their memory is fairly short, but they do remember that the Democrats were not much better. Public opinion polls show that 60% of the people polled are looking for a third party candidate that looks viable. So as long as the third party candidate isn't wearing dreadlocks and a marijuana leaf t-shirt I think that if they can present a legitimate type of a campaign that the voters will go for it and that's exactly what I'm trying to do here in District 10.

DN. If you get elected as a Libertarian you're going to be in a situation where you'll face some hostility in the House of Representatives from the other two parties. That will impact committee appointments, how you can do your job effectively and your ability to even get legislation on the floor to be considered. Ron Paul dealt with this problem by joining the Republican party and trying to form a little enclave there of people who have similar ideas and getting enough acceptance that way to be taken seriously. He still hasn't gotten the best committee appointments and he still doesn't have as much power as some of the others in congress. How would you deal with that two party domination in congress?

MB: One of Ron Paul's problems is that he is marginalized by his own party. The Republican Party of Texas has been trying to get him out of Congress by gerrymandering his large Republican district into a small Democratic district. I'm sure the Republicans assumed that the Democrats would take care of him in 2004, but apparently the Democrats didn't get the memo and they didn't run a candidate against him, fortunately. I love Ron Paul. He is clearly my hero in Washington as he is for millions of Americans across the United States, but he's like a man with one foot on the dock and one foot in the boat and he has to be very, very careful how he straddles that stuff, because he does have to tiptoe on eggshells around the Republican Party. I wouldn't have that limitation. You mentioned that I might get some hostility from the other members of Congress - Bring it on! I wouldn't have to worry about following the Democrats or Republicans. I could vote the Constitution. The wonderful thing about my being elected is that it would, first of all, shatter the myth that Libertarians could not get elected, and in the 2008 election I'm sure that there would be lots of electoral politics going on as Libertarians nationwide were seen with more credibility. I believe that the Libertarian presidential candidate in 2008 would finally make it to the debates having a sitting member of Congress to endorse them and insist that all voices be heard in something as important as a presidential campaign. On a day to day basis one of Ron Paul's problems is that he cannot get legislation to the floor of the House because he can't find someone to cosponsor the bill. Parliamentary procedure demands that he at least have a second. And with me in Washington, Ron Paul would never have to worry about a second. Ron Paul and I together are far more powerful either of us could be individually.

DN: Well, would you caucus with one of the parties?

MB: No, I probably would not caucus...

DN: You might not get any committee appointments at all if you didn't do that.

MB: I understand that, but my job is not to pass legislation. My job is to go and eliminate a lot of the legislation which is unconstitutional. I frequently tell people that most of what the government does is unconstitutional. Sometimes that's considered an outrageous statement. But I point to the preamble - "We the people ordain and establish the Constitution." In 1789 we invented Congress. So who works for whom? Do they work for us or do we work for them? And the answer I get 90% of the time is "well, they're supposed to work for us." Why do people qualify their answer. Well, because they're supposed to work for us and everybody knows that they don't. I think that is directly related to Congress's very low approval rating and the fact that so many people are considering a third party, because the Democrats and Republicans are not doing the job. They're not following their oath of office. I like to use the metaphor of a high school party. You know, there's all the smoking and drinking and loud music. What happens when one adult walks into the room? The music stops, the beer cans roll under the sofa and everybody's waving the smoke out of the way and acting like nothing happened. Well all it takes is supervision. Nobody in Washington right now is supervising Congress. When I point out that the bill they're attempting to pass is unconstitutional for this list of reasons, it's going to be really difficult for Congress to continue and pursue that legislation. So am I worried about not being on committees, no not terribly. Do I think I would be effective in restoring constitutional limitations on Congress. Yes, I am eager to do that.

DN: What you're proposing would be effective with future legislation, but it wouldn't be effective in dealing with existing legislation without that ability to introduce bills to rescind previous bills.

MB: Well, before you can get a car to turn around and go the other direction you've got to get it stopped. So right now preventing further unconstitutional legislation is the first step. When Ron Paul is unable to present legislation to the floor because he doesn't have a second, it doesn't even get talked about. With Ron and I as members of Congress, we're going to sponsor the Liberty Amendment, which much to my surprise started back in 1933. I mean, this is something that people have been concerned about for decades and we still haven't gotten the support. Another bill that we would like to do would basically be a 'read the act' bill that you couldn't vote on something unless you'd had at least three days to go over it and read it. People need to recognize that government works for us, not the other way around. Sending another Democrat or another Republican to Washington is not news. The local volunteers may be either happy or sad depending on which team they were volunteering for. But if you elect a Libertarian to Washington that will be earthshattering, because that will upset the Democratic and Republican applecart. They can no longer accuse us of being a useless third party that can't get elected. And now it's not really a question of how am I going to deal with the Democrats and Republicans, but the real question is how are the Democrats and Republicans going to deal with me when I'm standing there holding up the Constitution everytime they try to do something.

DN: That kind of leads into my next question. A lot of ideological libertarians just reject the idea of making the kind of pragmatic compromises that have to be made to get bills passed or to find a middle ground where legislation can be effective within the structure that exists. I know that from your background you're more of a constitutionalist in a lot of ways than the kind of pure philosophical libertarian that you find a lot of in the party, and that may make you more electable than traditional libertarians many of whom are so dogmatic that they can't interface with real politics in any way. Everyone claims that they want to support the Constitution, so right there you've got a foot in the door. Do you think that you're going to be able to make those kind of compromises at all? Are you willing to do that?

MB: It depends on what we're compromising on. If we've decided that a certain action requires money and we're compromising on how much money we're going to invest, those are compromises that I'm willing to make. I am not willing to make compromises on principle. How much rape is okay? What percentage of rape would you allow into a particular bill? Oh, we're going to allow 10% because that way we can get the votes and get it passed? There are just some issues that you just cannot compromise. I use the issue of rape because it's an emotional issue, but I feel the same way about the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is not a Chinese menu where you get to pick and choose the ones you like. Oh, we're going to enforce this one but we're going to let that one slide. The Bill of Rights is there to put further limitations on Congress. We the people have rights. We give government privileges and we can take those away any time we want. As I said earlier, everybody understands that Congress is supposed to work for us, but they don't know what to do to fix it. The thing that we need to do to fix it is to take the Constitution and be uncompromising when it comes to anything that is unconstitutional.

DN: What if there are problems with the Constitution? I hadn't planned to ask this question, but it's very relevant to what you're saying. The Constitution as originally written did not permit for taxation of personal property or personal wealth. The 16th Amendment changed that and is now part of the Constitution. How would you deal with the tax issue given that the 16th Amendment is now law and it would be difficult to repeal it.

MB: I teach an 8 hour class on the Constitution and one of the questions that I pose to my students is "what's the definition of 'constitutional'" and they tend to look at me really funny and say "well, if it's in the constitution then it's constitutional." They act like "duh, if you're teaching the class you ought to know that." Well, I point them to Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1 which allowed slavery until 1808. Is anybody here pleased or happy with that? And so the point is that there are things in the Constitution which are clearly wrong. It is possible to add amendments to the Constitution which are wrong. So the question is, how would you know if there are parts of the Constitution which are bad and needed to be ignored or taken out, how would you be able to differentiate that from the other parts which are good? The answer is basically in the Declaration of Independence. The purpose for forming a government is to protect our lives, our liberty and our private property. So that is the rule of thumb that I use. If it is doing that, protecting our lives and liberty then it's good thing. If it's violating our lives and liberty or if the government is taking your property using an excuse called 'eminent domain', I don't care how many idiots in black robes are telling me that yes we're going to be able to do that yes we're going to be able to do that - Kelo vs. New London - I will stand there with firearms and tell you "no, you cannot take my private property." This is antithetical to the purpose of our government. So understanding why the Constitution was written in the first place, having that philosophical underpinning, allows you to read the Constitution and understand explicitly what it was intended for. And again the primary purpose of the Constitution is to put limitations on the government. The Constitution doesn't apply to me. It doesn't apply to you. Article 1 creates the legislature. I'm not in Congress yet so it doesn't apply to me. Article 2 establishes the executive branch. Well, neither one of us is working out of the Whitehouse so it doesn't apply. And the third article establishes the Supreme Court and inferior courts. Neither of us goes to work in black pajamas, so it doesn't apply to us. The metaphor that I use is imagine parents putting a list of rules on the refrigerator: you've got to eat your vegetables, no television until after you finish your homework, you've got to be in bed by 9 o'clock. Does that mean that Mom and Dad have to be in bed by 9 o'clock? No. Those rules were made for the children. Mom and Dad are basically exempt. They can change the rules. We the people ordain and establish the Constitution. We created rules to limit government power. The Constitution applies to people in government. They take an oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution. This does not mean that they go down to the National Archive and stand in front of a piece of parchment to make sure nobody gets a smudge on it. You're not protecting the physical Constitution, you're protecting the ideals and the principles embodied in the Constitution. And namely life, liberty and private property. So basically any changes to the Constitution or any subsequent statutes that are supposed to be based on the Constitution had better be protecting life, liberty and property and when they exceed the government power as listed in Article 1, Section 8, they are by definition unconstitutional and I will do everything I can to stop it.

DN: In the Constitution there is a process by which the Constitution itself can be changed, and because of the way that process works by going through the Congress it would be difficult to get rid of an amendment if you wanted to.

MB: The 18th Amendment was ratified in 1919 and it made alcohol not only illegal, but unconstitutional. And so suddenly nobody was drinking alcohol in the United States? The roaring twenties, speakeasies, are you kidding?

DN: Well sure, there are plenty of ridiculous laws...

MB: Well, not just the ridiculous law. The point is that people were ignoring the Constitution. The 18th Amendment was completely ignored because it was a stupid law. Congress had no authority whatsoever to tell people what they could and could not eat, what they could or could not smoke or what they could or could not drink. And so eventually, in 1933, they passed the 21st Amendment which said 'gosh we were really stupid' and it repealed the 18th Amendment.

DN: You bring up a very good point there which goes right into one of my other questions. One of the biggest issues right now is the issue of illegal immigration. We have a lot of people coming over the borders to take jobs here in America. It's going to be one of the big policy issues of the next decade or two. Illegal immigration is a case very much like what you talk about with prohibition. There's a great demand for the workers here in the United States and there's a demand in Mexico for workers to come here to the United States. The law and the laws which are being proposed for the most part, supported by a big popular groundswell, do not want to recognize that natural dynamic of people going where the work is, which exists across borders in this case. As a matter of policy, if you got into office, how would you deal with immigration.

MB: First of all, let me point out that illegal immigration is an oxymoron. Immigration is a legal process by which people come to the United States, learn the language, learn the Constitution, promise to protect everybody else's private property and you become an American. That process is immigration and it is by definition legal. If you are here illegally you have just demonstrated that you have no respect for law and it is not immigration. First we need to get the definitions straight. If you want to come to the United States and become and American I don't care what color you are or what religion you believe, then welcome. I'm happy to have someone to help me protect the Bill of Rights. However, if you want to come to the United States with your flag, demanding free education and free healthcare and free housing and basically trying to convert my free republic into a third world, socialist dictatorship, I'm not in favor of that. The United States is to the best of my knowledge the only country in the world that identifies its citizens based on ideology. Again, you come here, support the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and you're one of us. We cannot change those ideas. The Constitution and communism are mutually exclusive. You cannot protect private property and declare that private property doesn't exist. And so, illegal immigration, as it's called, isn't good for anybody, because the people who come here are working at incredibly low wages, they're illegal, they're under the wire and they're paid cash in most cases. The usual explanation is that Americans aren't willing to do those jobs. Well, the answer is that Americans are not willing to do those jobs for those wages. In fact, Mexicans would not be willing to those jobs for those wages without the free housing, free welfare, free education and all those things. American taxpayers really don't have a problem with people coming to this country. In fact, I meet people every day whose ancestors have come from someplace else. But, what we are upset about is people coming here and basically sponging off the system without paying the taxes. And again, it's not an advantageous situation for the people who are coming here, because if you decide to work for me and I promise you five dollars an hour and you work slave labor most of the day and then I give you three dollars an hour, what's your recourse? Are you going to go call the police? You're an illegal immigrant. So you are basically at the whims of the system and again it's not good for everybody. So what we need to do is regulate the borders. Completely open or completely closed borders are not only impossible, they're also undesirable. We do want people to come here. We just want to know who's coming so we an filter out those who are contagious or who are criminals. A lot of the problem along our borders, especially in Texas which is one of our border states, is damage to private property, rape and murder. I don't care what country you come from, those things are crimes and we need to address them. So the whole situation, is difficult as it is, but it is complicated by using the oxymoron of 'illegal immigration' and kind of lumping both groups together. We need to be able to identify the people who want to come here, work hard and become Americans and keep out the riffraff that just wants to cause problems.

DN: What about those who just want to come here to work and go back to Mexico which studies have estimated to be 80% of the illegal population?

MB: I don't have that kind of information. I don't know what the figures are. We are already outsourcing jobs. Now what I would do would be to - we say that it is because these people are willing to work so cheap is what's causing jobs to go overseas. Well, all of us want things of better quality at a cheaper price with more convenience. That's why everybody goes to WalMart. Just about everybody complains about WalMart, but they all go and shop at WalMart, because it's a huge building and you can get your food, your prescriptions and your photos finished. You can get everything in one stop and you can get it at a cheap price. That's what everybody wants. You can't have cheap prices and demand raises every time you turn around. What we need to do is ignore 'free trade' which is an oxymoron for government managed trade and go to a free market. The only way we can do that is get rid of rid of GATT, get rid of NAFTA, get rid of CAFTA and all these international treaties that basically give special advantages to other countries. It sets up an environment where just to stay in business a company has to move their offices or move their work to India and other countries like that because it's economical. They're not doing it because they're unamerican, they're doing it because that's the business environment they find themselves in. IF we can get rid of most of these government regulations which create the problem - do you think it's advantageous for most of these countries to move their employment overseas? You don't think it would be easier to keep them here if they could? NAFTA, GATT and government regulations like that are the source of the problem and if we get rid of those problems our economy will stabilize and jobs will return.

DN: So let's say as you mentioned earlier, we have relatively open but regulated borders. Most people believe that the way that would work if you implemented it is to have some sort of ID system for the people who come across the border. For that idea to work you'd almost certainly need to have some sort of biometric identification system for the entire nation. How would you handle this without that kind of solution?

MB: As you come across the border we need to be able to identify you. You need to have some sort of proof or have someone in the United States sponsor you. If we have people in the United States saying 'yes I know that person is here. I want to kind of cosponsor their existence here in the United States", we can do that. I want to really avoid at all cost having a national ID system. I mean, it's not that many decades ago that we were horrified that Adolph Hitler was using IBM cards to keep track of the Jews. The Jewish people had tattoos stenciled on their arms to keep track of them. Oh my gosh, this is terrible! So now we're going to have drivers licenses and passports that have far more information than just one little tattoo. I mean they can scan you from ten feet away. That just does not seem like the proper way to go. I believe in individual rights. I think that individuals can work back and forth. You and I can establish a contract and I can decide whether you're a reputable person. If we let individuals do that and let the free market and not a government controlled market work, I think that things will return to normal. Wages will be attributable to whatever the work is worth. We have to get a commodity based currency. Having the Federal Reserve printing money like it's going out of style, we would literally be better off using Monopoly money because Parker Brothers prints less money than the Federal Reserve does. So when you have that much fiat money being printed you can't trust the economy. The money is losing value. Which is exactly why the Constitution was written in the first place. We signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and between then and when the Constitution was ratified in 1789 we had the Articles of Confederation. Everything was working except for the fact that each of the thirteen colonies was printing money like it was going out of style. It was almost like a contest to see who could print money faster. So the paper money was inflating overnight. You wouldn't accept paper money because a week from now it would be worth less. It was that economic problem - people said 'you know, I like this independence thing, it's good to make my own decisions and have control over our own government, but the economy sucks.' So they sent representatives to Philadelphia explicitly to fix this problem. So one of the first powers Congress was given was the power to coin money and regulate the value thereof. It doesn't say anything about printing money because that was what caused the problem in the first place. So we need to stabilize our economy by getting some sort of commodity based currency. Now personally I like gold and silver. I've been told by other people that that's not the best choice. I'm not supposed to be an economist I'm just supposed to be able to understand their knowledge. But I do know that printing money out of thin air is a bad thing for the economy.

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Dave Nalle has worked as a magazine editor, a freelance writer, a capitol hill staffer, a game designer and a history professor. He now designs fonts for a living and lives with his family on a modest country estate just outside Austin. You can find his writings on politics and culture at The Elitist Pig and his writings about fonts, art and graphic design at The Scriptorium.
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Interview: Michael Badnarik, Libertarian Candidate for Texas House District 10 - Part 1
» Published on September 18, 2006
» Type: Interview
» Filed under: Politics, Politics: Elections and Candidates, Politics: Law and Rights, Politics: U.S..
» This is part of a regular feature, On The Road To 2008.
Author: Dave Nalle
» Dave Nalle's BC writer page