Libertarian Candidate Charlie Earl: Voters Are Listening

In the Buckeye State, Republican Governor John Kasich looks ahead to re-election in 2014 as his name gets circulated as a potential presidential candidate in 2016. Democrats are lining up behind First County Executive of Cuyahoga County, Ed FitzGerald, while Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune has also entered the primary.

Previously, the Ohio Legislature passed and Governor Kasich signed a law that would have required minor party candidates to accumulate more than 20,000 signatures by February 5 to become eligible for the November ballot. A federal judge issued a temporary injunction against the law and an appeals court denied the state’s appeal, opening a pathway for other candidates.

For Charlie Earl, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the state and a Libertarian Party candidate for governor, this means everything. A former Republican member of the Ohio General Assembly, Earl is also a former radio broadcaster and college instructor, and the affability needed in both jobs is readily apparent as he talks about his career and hopes for Ohio.

After term-limiting himself in 1984, he is making a final attempt to influence the political world. In an interview, Earl said he is unlike the other participants in the gubernatorial race because he does not see the office as a stepping stone to the next political office. Part of his appeal, Earl says, is that this is his last election.

“I’m not running for the next office, not for president like Kasich or Senate like FitzGerald,” he said. “I don’t need to please the party for the next election.”

When asked why he left the Republican Party, Earl said it’s because he is a small government constitutionalist, while the GOP is afflicted with “Me-Tooism.” For Earl, the last straw came in 2004. He was helping campaign on behalf of then-U.S. Representative Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania against then-Republican U.S. Senator Arlen Specter. President George W. Bush endorsed Specter in that intraparty fight, but it was the other Senator from Pennsylvania that stuck in Earl’s craw:

“[Rick] Santorum claimed to be Mr. Conservative and then he endorsed one of the more liberal members of the Senate just to maintain control when there was a more fiscally credible candidate running.”

“It informed me that party meant more than principle,” he added

Another opportunity for Earl comes through Kasich’s own political maneuvering. Despite signing a budget bill that included some of the country’s most restrictive abortion limits, he angered his base by accepting a Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). After the US Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the ACA, some Republicans looked to the states as a bulwark against the upcoming law and Kasich was seen as collaborating. A tea party challenge seemed imminent.

One tea party activist, Ted Stevenot, entered the fray, but withdrew his name within days. There is currently no Republican alternative to the governor.

For Earl, the problem with Kasich’s acceptance of the Medicaid expansion was not simply that he took it, but that it was a brazenly political action:

“The fiscal bite for Ohio will come after John leaves office. He looks like the good guy and sets it up for the feds putting in the most money and when the federal share goes down, he’ll be long gone.”

Earl admits it will still be an uphill battle, but hopes he will be able to attract enough dissatisfied Republicans and independents to “cobble together a winning coalition.”

Fundraising still presents a problem for Earl, but as he says with the injunction against Ohio’s ballot access law, it is a better situation. While he says his coffers only have about as much as would be needed for a state representative campaign, his campaign can raise funds now and identify potential supporters. The alternative would have meant waiting and hoping, a possibly futile course.

“It’s hard to ask people to support your candidacy if you don’t know if it’ll exist,” he said

All the usual obstacles for independents and minor parties exist for Charlie Earl, but he is not discouraged. In at least two polls where his name was specifically mentioned, he received six percent while the major candidates have fluctuated.

“I think people are listening this year,” he said. “The problem is letting them know we’re here.”

Photo Credit: Shari Lewis / The Columbus Dispatch