Should We Organize a Regional LP Affiliate That Covers Several Counties/Cities, or a Single-Jurisdiction Group?
By Marc Montoni
Over many years of organizing Libertarian Party affiliates in Virginia, it has become crystal clear to me that certain styles of organization are conducive to growing the Libertarian Party and recruiting candidates who actually get elected -- and other styles are not.
There are many deleterious problems with organizing a regional group that covers more than one jurisdiction. Here are some brief descriptions of a few of these issues:
1) I have heard many Libertarians claim that their intent is to split up into single jurisdiction groups later on, after there has been some growth. However, in my experience, once a regional affiliate has been set up the members *never* bother to start up individual affiliates, regardless of how large the group becomes.
2) Regional groups are the Kiss of Death as far as real local activity is concerned. The members generally come to viewing the group's purpose as continuing to meet -- rather than participating in local electoral politics. In other words, the group's purpose becomes perpetuating the group itself.
3) The entire purpose of having a Libertarian Party is to organize for elections. If Libertarians are never going to act like they mean to challenge offices at the local level, there's utterly no point in having any local committees at all.
4) There is the issue of personalities. If a large, multijurisdictional group claims to have exclusive control over Libertarian events over the entire area, and some fraction of their constituency doesn't get along with them, those people have no option other than to a) wrest control of the group away from those they disagree with, b) stay inactive, or c) travel to some other area far beyond their local city or county to be active with others. To me, this invites only two real outcomes: a) infighting; or b) inactivity by the group on the "outside".
Frankly, we do not have the time to waste.
A larger group that controls a large area limits the ability of people who may not like the larger group to become active in an alternative the next city over. For example, consider Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Chesapeake. These three cities are the first, second, and third-largest cities in Virginia; each > a quarter of a million people. Each city is plenty large enough to where it could support a local affiliate that draws 25 to 50 people to each meeting.
So why we do not have a local affiliate in Chesapeake, for example?
Because we have one regional affiliate that claims to control all three of those cities, plus Portsmouth. Because of this, people in Chesapeake think they have to have something to say in the TLP, or they will have no other outlet for their energy and enthusiasm. Ergo, they focus their efforts at TLP instead.
Another problem we run into with Regionals is their membership begins to believe the group can annex neighboring communities at will. And indeed, this happened with the TLP many years ago. The TLP was originally chartered as the Virginia Beach LP back in 2001. However, without seeking approval from the LPVA, the TLP now claims jurisdiction over an enormous geopolitical area -- all without following any of the procedures listed in the LPVA Bylaws for such affiliation; without any poll of the LP members within the areas they were annexing as to whether they wanted the TLP to cover them, and without circulating a new petition to that effect.
It has become clear to me that having recognized regional affiliates is not just inefficient. It's also injurious.
Now, there *is* a place for regional libertarian groups. They just should act as social groups that don't need to be officially affiliated with the Libertarian Party. Essentially, that's how the TLP behaves. The Rocktown Libertarians, the Richmond Metro Libertarians, and other regional groups all operate this way. None of these groups really need any officers, bylaws, or official recongnition.
In addition, we already have eleven regional affiliates established by the LPVA Constitution: the congressional district committees. Do we really need any more?
Single-jurisdiction local parties do many things better than regionals:
1) They tend to recruit more candidates for local office -- the level at which LP candidates can actually win.
2) They tend to commit political acts, such as attending local Board of Supervisors or City Council meetings as a group.
3) They allow members to have a choice of local events to participate in.
4) Personalities are less of an issue, if you can ride ten minutes down the road and see other libertarians who get along with you better.
5) Even though locals are kept as separate entities, there is ample opportunity for cross-pollination. When I started the Chesterfield County Libertarian Committee in 2007, I didn't live there. I still supported them with my time and money. I just didn't ask them to make me a voting member; their choices belonged to those who lived in the county.
So there are things to think carefully about when it comes to the regional vs single-jurisdiction local question. I have started both kinds of affiliates over the past twenty years -- about 15 of them. And my experience tells me that once you try to cover more than one city or county, the group will rapidly lose focus on committing real political acts.
After twenty years of seeing that in action, I hope I can persuade you to take the other road.
Thank you for reading!