Mark Rutherford ’82 Unedited
by Steve Charles
May 25, 2006
A transcript from WM’s interview with Indiana Libertarian Party State Chairman Mark Rutherford ’82
When did you "officially" become a libertarian, and what was the initial attraction?
Mark Rutherford: I officially joined the party in 1996, although I've voted for Libertarians since at least 1980. The initial attraction was that I had given up on the Republican Party after it made little viable effort with its "Contract for America". It was getting harder for me to distinguish the Republicans from the Democrats, except that the Republicans wanted to spend a lot of money on different things and expand government in ways different than the Democrats. I felt that at least the Democrats generally were honorable and generally admitted they thought government expansion and spending more money was the answer. Since I don't believe that, the Democrats were not an alternative for me.
Also, I'm very easy going and accepting of other people. Live and let live and the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.) seemed like very good concepts. By 1996 I decided that the Republicans seemed to want to legislate morality more and more and tell me how to live my life because I might be living an immoral life in their opinion. It's none of their business.
Did anything you learned at Wabash shape this decision?
Yes. [Professor] Bill Placher assigned Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia in one of the classes I took. This book introduced me in many ways to libertarian philosophy.
Also, Ben Rogge's reputation led me to read his "Can Capitalism Survive?" He published it while I was at Wabash. So I was already well-versed in libertarian ideas when I gave up on the Republicans.
Lastly, while at Wabash, a couple of my fraternity brothers volunteered for the 1980 Libertarian presidential campaign. I generally liked what they had to say about the views of the Libertarian candidate.
What do you see as the main "selling" points of the Party today?
The main selling point of the Libertarian Party of Indiana today is that we are the only political party that regularly advocates for and supports small business owners and individuals. The small business owner and individuals, as special interest groups, are being ignored. We're picking up the political slack for these interests.
Can you offer some specific examples of this?
Here’s a specific example of how we’ve helped small business owners regarding smoking bans. First of all, our position is that businesses should decide whether they want smoking or not. It’s their business. Secondly, as a state party, our position is that smoking bans in public building owned by government is a decision for the governing board—whether we like it or not—they’ve been elected to make such decisions and such decisions don’t necessarily disrupt fundamental concepts for freedom in the United States, such as private ownership rights. Thus our opposition to smoking bans is focused on private property.
In the summer of 2005, the Libertarian Party of Indiana (LPIN) and the Libertarian Party of Steuben County organized restaurant owners in Steuben County against a threatened proposal for a smoking ban in Steuben County. It never happened because of the organized effort and publicity.
In 2005, the LPIN and Libertarian Party of Marion County organized a tour bus that went from tavern to tavern organizing the efforts against the smoking ban. We joined forces with other groups and actively lobbied council members on the ban. The result was a less restrictive ordinance. While we weren’t pleased with the ordinance, at one time it was a lot worse.
In 2005 the LPIN and Libertarian Party of Hamilton County actively organized restaurant opposition to a proposed smoking ban in Fishers. The smoking ban died on the table and never was called for a vote by the city council.
In 2004 the LPIN gubernatorial candidate raised pro-small business issues in all three gubernatorial debates. He was the only one raising these issues.
In 2003, the Libertarian Party of Hamilton County ran a mayoral candidate and small business owner who gave a Mayor of Carmel opposition in the general election for the very first time ever! He ran on issues in which he showed how the current Mayor was hurting small business owners. While the Libertarian candidate did not win, he did very well. Anecdotally I hear from Carmel residents that the current Mayor has changed some of his habits against small business owners for the better. There seems to be a correlation between having opposition and a change in the Mayor’s actions.
As to individuals and small business owners, one example is that the Wayne County Libertarian Party chair is on the Hagerstown Board of Zoning Appeals with one other Libertarian. When they got on the board, they worked hard to make the board act within the law and apply zoning based on law, and not on personal whims of the board members. This has allowed individuals and small business owners to get more variances on their properties and do what they want to do with the property they own.
We’ve also done a lot of work regarding opposition to mandatory seat belt laws (we prefer resources be directed at improving the arrest and conviction rates of burglars, rather than government going after seat belt scofflaws).
I’ve got more examples. But in all of the above cases, without Libertarian involvement, small business owners and other property owners would have been disorganized and it is likely the results would have been much different and against the interests of small business owners and individuals.
As to why more voters aren’t picking up on this? It’s very hard work to fight two political parties that control government and don’t want to give up any control. For example, we have to expend a large amount of our resources on the Secretary of State’s race, which most people don’t care about. Why? Libertarians have to get 2% in the race to retain ballot access and 10% to get primary access. We’d rather spend that time and money on more local races where we can get our message out more thoroughly and build from the grass roots. But state law requires us to do otherwise in order to be on the ballot on more local races.
Campaign finance law, especially federal law, requires us to spend a lot of time on bureaucratic machinations and compliance, and severely limits what we can do as well as our potential supporter’s contributions. These are no accident. Like the Jim Crow laws of the South, they are designed to preserve incumbents and keep power out of the hands of others. This is a harsh analogy, but I stand by it. The incumbents already have the power and money, thus the limits and rules don’t affect them that much. These laws have a disproportionately harsh effect on up and coming political organizations. And incumbents love them for that very reason. Informally, we refer to campaign finance laws as "Incumbent Protection Acts".
What recent national or world events have been a catalyst for increased interest in the party, and what are your stands as a libertarian on those issues/events?
The United States Supreme Court Kelo decision has been a major catalyst for increased interest in the Libertarian Party. When the Supreme Court said it was constitutional for government to take one's home and then turn around and sell it to a private developer—a light bulb seemed to go off in people's head - and they felt what we've been saying for a long time - unfettered government effects everyone. Many small business owners already know how government was taking their small business in the name of redevelopment, only to give it to a big business, such as a major hotel chain or retail store chain. Now homeowners know it can happen easily to them too.
The Libertarian Party of Indiana's position on eminent domain is that the use of it by government should be highly regulated and narrowly allowed as a tool by government, difficult to do except for the most obvious and necessary of public needs, and that the person losing their property should be compensated for their complete loss, including loss profits, the costs of building something comparable elsewhere, moving costs, etc. The fair market value of the property is rarely an adequate indication of one's actual loss with the property. (As an example, H.K Hurst's bean factory in Indianapolis probably has a much higher replacement value than its fair market value because of the unique set up of its gravity feed factory. If their factory is taken, they should be paid enough to rebuild it elsewhere with its unique features.).
You write of your Wabash experience, "my most important training for life came from being involved with campus organizations." Any organizations and aspects of your work with them stand out amidst this training?
Lambda Chi Alpha and Sphinx Club. I was an officer in both, and to make a difference you had to learn to work with others, learn to deal with failures, and appropriately evaluate successes. You had to learn to maximize limited resources and you had to try to rally disparate interests towards a common goal. And at Wabash, as you know, you had freedom to make your own decisions, for better or for worse, with these organizations. The lessons learned by having that freedom were invaluable. Most importantly, you were surrounded by good advisors in the faculty and administration who gave good advice, let you ignore it if you wanted to do so, and then cut the rope right before you strangled yourself with your poor decision. It was great to be able to take risks, make mistakes, learn and have success, without the punishments meted out in the "real world".
What do you see as the most pressing issue faced by the state of Indiana today, and what's the libertarian solution? What's the most pressing issue faced by the nation?
Indiana’s priorities are wrong and it’s the most pressing issue for Indiana. A new football stadium for a private business downtown and putting the onus of its cost on local property owners (who lose their property by eminent domain) and the patrons of small businesses (restaurants) is wrong. These efforts should be put into efforts to remove terrorists from the streets (how many murders, rapes, robberies and burglaries happen in Indianapolis’ inner city everyday – compared to how many happen at Indianapolis International Airport – yet it looks like the security at the Airport is overkill and that in the inner city is practically nonexistent). Why are there all these seat belt enforcement zones yet burglaries are usually a low priority for most police departments? We have mentally disturbed people walking the streets of Indianapolis, but we do have a nice football stadium (perhaps we should open it up at night for them?).
The Libertarian solution is quite simple. Scale back government to essential items. Focus on those who use physical force against others instead of "feel good" seat belt laws. Focus on real problems, such as homelessness of the mentally ill, which in a large part was created by government.
The most pressing issue facing the nation is the IRS. It has become the primary instrument of choice for our current politicians to implement their social experiments on us. The Fair Tax promoted by libertarian radio show host Neal Boorst, is the best program I’ve seen out there for reform. It has flaws, but is a huge step in the right direction. It attempts to remove the social engineering and return the tax system to one of a more neutral system of raising revenue to support essential neutrally based government needs.
How do your own spiritual values mesh with, or drive, your Libertarian politics? Or, to come at it differently, how much do you believe one's religious beliefs should shape his political agenda?
My primary values are that I believe in the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you), that one should not use physical force against another except for self-defense and that one should not engage in fraud. These drive my Libertarian politics.
I also believe government should not legislate morality. The power to take one’s beer is the same power to take one’s bible. It is the role of churches, clubs, civic organizations and even businesses to drive morality and to advocate how one should live their life. Government’s role should be to protect each of our right to live life as we see fit without others using lies or physical force against us.
The inherent flaw in legislating morality is illustrated by this: I personally think it is sinful to drink bad scotch. I like good scotches, and think people should be saved from drinking bad scotch. But should a law be passed by me to save people from bad scotch? But what is a bad scotch? I know what one is—but I know people who disagree with me on this. What makes me the person best suited to save people from bad scotch? Perhaps my judgment is clouded and what I prefer is bad scotch—and I will end up preventing people from being able to drink truly good scotch. The solution is to allow people to drink scotch freely and let them make their own choices. However, I will continue to tell people that they drink bad scotch.
One of the libertarian websites carries this teaser: "If some libertarian ideas surprise you, visit Libertarianism.com" What libertarian ideas do you think they are talking about? What’s your personal take on those ideas?
I don’t know what ideas they are talking about. The web site is the project of the Advocates for Self Government. It is a libertarian sympathetic organization and I admire their efforts to educate people about the libertarian movement and the ideas surrounding it. I know a lot of talented people on their board of directors. They have excellent educational programs and literature. But their goal is to educate about libertarian ideas— they don’t care if the students are Democrats, Republicans or Libertarians by political affiliation. It’s different then my goal of electing Libertarians to office.
The key [to the success of our Party] is electing Libertarians to office. Ballot measures are nice, but they have to be enforced. All the ballot measures in the world don’t do any good if they aren’t enforced. For example, the Soviet Union’s constitution called for Freedom of Speech – but it certainly wasn’t enforced. Current politicians will react to ballot measures in the short term – but if they don’t like them, they’ll maneuver around them in the long term. Thus I prefer to work on changing policy by putting people in office with principles to enforce a limited number of only necessary and good laws and policies.
What’s the Libertarian stand on the War in Iraq?
As state chairman, I’m concentrating on creating a good and fair government in Indiana. The war in Iraq is not on my table (although the excessive use of the National Guard and its resulting declining numbers is an issue for the state).
As a member of the Libertarian National Committee, I’m more concerned about Libertarians nationally focusing on getting people elected at the grass roots level. Thus these issues, while interesting to debate, are not where Libertarians need to focus. Generally, Libertarians seemed split on the war – some see it as a legitimate effort towards self defense – others as an unwarranted intrusion on another country and area.
What’s the best way to handle the epidemic of meth and meth addiction in rural Indiana?
The best way is a two-pronged approach. First of all, the investigation and prosecution of burglaries should have the highest priority (which they don’t have now). People who burglarize to support their drug habit are some of the most despicable people out there. They need to be caught and dealt with appropriately.
The second prong is to reduce government regulations and other requirement that have destroyed the middle class business owner in small towns, where the meth epidemic seems greatest. We have a saying among Libertarians that Wal-Mart is the creation of big government. It had to become big in order to economically deal with the cost of complying with the thousands of government regulations, the zoning battles all too commonly faced by business, and to attract tax abatements (which are rarely given to mom and pop stores). If it becomes economically feasible to fill the store fronts in small communities again, there will be more jobs, more stable communities, a larger pool of movers and shakers for a community and less reasons for people to succumb to meth because of the desperate economic condition of their community.
When all you can reasonably hope for in many races are percentages in the single digits, how do you define success? Secondly, you've got a full time law practice, as well as the state chairman's post and work on the party's national committees, and from the blog you seem to be on the road a lot—you've poured a lot into this. What keeps you coming back?
Success is defined in many ways. Sometimes it’s by changing the issues debated by the candidates. The new ideas refocus the debate. Sometimes it’s requiring an incumbent to justify their existence. A lot of races in Indiana are two way, with the Libertarian the only opposition forcing the incumbent to justify themselves to the voters. Other times it is victory, we have several elected officials in Indiana. Other times it’s when one of our candidates is asked to be on various government and non-governmental boards, because they impressed people as a candidate even though they didn’t win. Success for each candidate is defined in a different way, depending on the circumstances. For our Secretary of State candidate, it is defined as 2% to retain permanent ballot access, and 10% to achieve primary access.
What keeps me coming back? My wife says I have infinite patience. I agree. It is a good trait to have when trying to fight oppressive use of power and a power structure. I focus on the small victories, which are numerous. But I also, when things are going roughly, think about British member of Parliament William Wilberforce. He presented his first bill to abolish the slave trade in 1791. It was easily defeated by 163 votes to 88. He was the voice for abolitionists in parliament for about 35 or so years. For over 30 years he fought in parliament to slowly abolish slavery. Small successes built on small successes. He retired from the House of Commons in 1825 and others came forward to finish the battle he had carried. But by then the path was most certain and one month after he died in 1833, slavery was abolished in Great Britain. I’m glad he was patient and kept coming back. I intend to do the same thing as him – and expect to at least see more positive results and good trends towards my desired results.