It’s election time in Virginia and voters are being offered a host of goodies. Lt. Gov. Donald S. Beyer Jr. and former state Attorney General James S. Gilmore III, the Democratic and Republican nominees for governor of Virginia, are involved in an educational bidding war in their attempt to win election this fall. Both candidates recently promised that, if elected, they would give students who maintain a B average an annual college scholarship of $2,000. Last November, Gilmore said that he intended to pass out $240 million during his four-year term. But Beyer recently beat that with his own promise of $280 million. Beyer also promised teacher pay raises. Gilmore counteroffered with a promise to hire more teachers.
But the best was yet to come. Both candidates said that the educational goodies would be free to the voters. Taxes would not have to be increased because economic “growth” would raise the necessary revenues to pay for all the school candy needed to get elected. Fortunately for Beyer and Gilmore, there is no Libertarian running against them. Through Virginia’s strict ballot-access laws, Democrats and Republicans have been able to prevent the people of Virginia from voting for Libertarian candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general.
The Libertarian Party is the third-largest political party in America. It was founded 25 years ago and has had a presidential and vice presidential candidate on the ballot every election cycle since then. The LP was on the ballot in all 50 states in the last two presidential elections. There are almost 200 Libertarian Party members holding public office across the country. Libertarians have been elected to the state legislatures of Alaska and New Hampshire. The 1988 LP candidate for president, Ron Paul, is now a member of Congress as a Republican.
Unfortunately for the people of Virginia, who might benefit from having Libertarians participate in the democratic process, none of this has caused the Virginia legislature to dismantle its ballot-access barricades. There are two methods by which Libertarians can get on the ballot in Virginia for the three statewide offices. One is by gathering 16,000 signatures for each office (one-half of one percent of the number of registered voters on December 31 of the year preceding the election), a heavy burden that Virginia Libertarians have been unable to meet. The other is by receiving 10 percent of the votes in the previous statewide election, another difficult obstacle to overcome since in order to do that, Libertarians must first get on the ballot.
The reason that Beyer and Gilmore are fortunate that a Libertarian will not be on the ballot is that a Libertarian opponent would expose their electoral conduct for what it is: a blatant, shameless effort to buy the favor and votes of the electorate with their own money. If a Libertarian were permitted to be in the gubernatorial race, he also would ask some uncomfortable moral questions of his two opponents. Why shouldn’t people be free to keep everything they earn? After all, it is their money, isn’t it? What right do others have to use the political process to take money from Paul in order to feather the nest of Peter? Why shouldn’t parents bear the responsibility for educating their own children, as they do with clothing them and feeding them? Why should colleges and universities be entitled to feed at a public trough?
Beyer and Gilmore would likely have responded, “Colleges and universities can’t survive if people aren’t forced to support them with tax monies.” They would have a difficult time convincing Hillsdale College in Michigan of that. Hillsdale takes no government funds and will not permit its students to take government grants or loans. The funding for the school, including scholarships for the poorer students, comes entirely from voluntary sources. Hillsdale is one of the most successful, financially stable, independent colleges in the country.
Moreover, if a college or university is not able to survive through voluntary means, doesn’t that mean that it has failed to satisfy consumers? What moral justification is there for forcing people, through the tax system, to maintain a school that they have chosen not to support voluntarily?
Unfortunately for the voters of Virginia, however, none of this will be discussed or debated in the coming gubernatorial election. If a Libertarian had been permitted to run for governor, he would have offered a renewed faith in freedom, in free markets, and in the people of Virginia themselves. One can only wonder how many Virginians would have found that package more attractive than the customary Democratic and Republican grab bag of electoral handouts.
Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va.