The Libertarian Party of Arkansas is a state affiliate of the national Libertarian Party. Consisting of a loosely bound and sparely organized group of activists who share a philosophy of limited government, the party nevertheless has had a major influence upon state and national politics.
Labeling themselves as members of “The Party of Principle,” Libertarians believe in individuals’ right to live their lives as they see fit, with government’s sole function being to protect those rights and arbitrate conflicts, thus giving equal weight to economic and personal freedoms. However, the party’s core belief in opposing the initiation of force limits its ability to achieve political objectives.
The state party has been active since the mid-1970s. In 1980, it placed Ed Clark on the ballot for president in Arkansas. The party continued to qualify presidential candidates for the ballot in subsequent elections, using the political group candidate procedure. The party, however, has been unable to meet the petition requirement to become a state recognized party, the requirement being at least three percent of the total number of votes cast for the office of governor or nominees for presidential electors, whichever is less, at the last preceding election. Early chairmen included Frank Gilbert, Matthew Richard, and Cliff Biedenharn. In 1996, an informal party structure was established. Through the efforts of Rodney Wimberly Sr. and Kerry Kerstetter, a state convention and organizational meeting was held in El Dorado (Union County) in August 1999. Officers were elected, and a party constitution was adopted.
Harry Browne, the party’s presidential nominee, toured the state in 2000 with appearances in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and Hot Springs (Garland County). Election results of less than half a percent were disappointing, and the party set its sights on state issues, drafting an amendment to eliminate the tax on groceries. The Arkansas Libertarian Party’s 2001 annual state convention served as the petition kickoff event. With Karl T. Kimball serving as chair and members of the party providing logistical support, the ballot question committee submitted over 100,000 signatures, thus qualifying the proposal. Even though the amendment was defeated in the 2002 general election, it garnered significant public support. In the next gubernatorial election, the idea of eliminating the tax on groceries was adopted by the other parties, and a proposal reducing the grocery tax easily became law in the 2007 legislative session.
Since Reconstruction, the Democratic Party has controlled Arkansas politics. Election laws originally designed to disenfranchise black citizens in the 1890s continue to be used to limit the viability of other parties in the state. In 2002, the Libertarian Party of Arkansas mustered enough resources to make a challenge to these laws. With slightly more than 10,000 raw signatures, their new party petition was rejected as insufficient. The party filed Langguth vs. Priest in federal court, based on Reform Party lawsuits adjudicated in 1996 and 1999. In those cases, U.S. District Court Judge George Howard found the disparity between new party and independent candidate petition requirements to be unconstitutional. Even though their case was dismissed, the opinion by U.S. District Court Judge William Wilson strongly supported the earlier rulings by Judge Howard and led to the successful Green Party of Arkansas vs. Daniels in 2006.*
In 2010, the Libertarian Party of Arkansas held their State Convention in Little Rock, with Wayne Allyn Root as the keynote speaker. They also started a blog, a Member’s Only site, and formed many committees to continue the work of spreading liberty in Arkansas.
In 2011, for the first time in party history, the LPAR submitted enough signatures to the Secretary of State to be a certified political party. In 2012, 15 Libertarian candidates appeared on ballots across Arkansas and received more than 100,000 votes. Frank Gilbert, former mayor of Tull, AR, became the state’s first elected Libertarian when he was elected Constable of Dekalb Township. Gary Johnson, the party’s presidential nominee, tripled the Libertarian vote totals from 2008. Johnson received 16,276 votes, or 1.52 percent. Falling short of the three percent needed to retain ballot access for 2014, the LPAR lost ballot access after the 2012 general election.
In the fall of 2013, the LPAR again circulated a petition in order to obtain ballot access for the 2014 election. The party collected 16,505 signatures and submitted those to the Secretary of State on October 15, 2013. The Secretary of State certified over 12,000 of these signatures, giving the LPAR access to the ballot again.