Libertarian vice presidential candidate makes pitch for Alaskans’ votes

The Libertarian Party on Thursday began a last-minute blitz on Alaska, sending vice presidential candidate Bill Weld to make his ticket's small-government case in a state where it's drawing double digits in polls.

Weld, in an interview and later speaking at an Anchorage rally that brought 150 people to the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, pitched a pragmatic libertarian philosophy. His program made room for climate change regulation, status quo military spending, and a near-endorsement of Lisa Murkowski, the incumbent Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, whom Weld described as "dynamite" — and who's running against an official Libertarian candidate, Joe Miller.

Weld is spending two days in Anchorage less than two weeks before the election, with Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico, expected to visit Wednesday.

Weld is a former Republican governor of Massachusetts and an avid outdoorsman who initially tried to fit a trout fishing trip into his Alaska schedule. He said the two running mates see their Libertarian ideology and love for "wide open spaces" aligning with Alaskans who want to keep government at arm's length.

"This is one of the states where Gary and I feel we can make a real statement, and maybe even take it," Weld said at the Thursday evening rally.

Weld said he and Johnson are hoping for a significant share of the national popular vote that could make them part of the conversation in Washington, D.C. But they're also eyeing specific states like Alaska where they could rack up higher totals.

An Alaska Dispatch News poll conducted at the end of September and early October had Johnson drawing 18 percent. Murkowski's own polling put the Libertarian candidate at 10 percent.


The campaign has a staff member working out of a downtown Anchorage hotel room and has adopted the Rogers Park home of a supporter, Doug John, as a de facto headquarters and receiving center for signs.

"All the boxes are in the garage," said the staffer, Devin Gatton, who came to Alaska from Wisconsin to be Johnson's state outreach coordinator for the campaign's home stretch.

The Libertarian presidential campaign sees Alaska as fertile ground, given widespread dissatisfaction with the two major party's nominees and the 53 percent of voters who don't register with a political party. But they haven't been working with the Alaska Libertarian Party, which chose a social conservative and former tea party Republican, Joe Miller, as its U.S. Senate candidate.

Miller has opposed abortion rights and same-sex marriage, which conflict with the national party's notions of personal liberty and privacy.

Weld referred to socially conservative policies as "mean-spirited" at the rally and said Miller effectively "took over" the Alaska Libertarian Party.

"He doesn't speak for us or the national party," Weld said in the interview. Instead, he praised Murkowski, who condemned Donald Trump's candidacy earlier this month. Weld said Murkowski was "absolutely terrific" and said he agreed with her support for oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

A spokesman for Miller, Randy DeSoto, didn't respond to a request for comment.

Weld, who wore a navy pinstriped suit and a necktie with purple stripes, laid out the Libertarian ticket's broad agenda in an hour-long interview Thursday afternoon at the Hotel Captain Cook.

He and Johnson offer a more ideologically flexible brand of libertarianism than past party candidates who took limited government philosophy to the extreme — like Michael Badnarik, the 2004 presidential nominee who refused to get a drivers license.

They support traditional Libertarian principles like legalization of gay marriage and federal decriminalization of pot. (Johnson says he's smoked it, while Weld, a former prosecutor, says he's on board, though he's a non-smoker because "the Jack Daniels got to me so early that by the time it became fashionable to say marijuana should be legalized, I was too old to take drugs.")

But Weld also argued that a Libertarian presidency wouldn't be as problematic for Alaska as one might expect for a state where federal government spending and employment is a key part of the economy. He said Alaskans shouldn't expect to see a substantial reduction in military spending or military force, for example, if he and Johnson were elected, though the candidates remain skeptical of sending soldiers to foreign conflicts.

Weld also said he and Johnson would be friendly to natural resource development — the backbone of Alaska's economy — and could be open to federal tax-exempt financing for the proposed natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to the Kenai Peninsula. He said environmentalists who oppose natural gas development are both "smoking and eating pot."

But Weld, who's worked for mining and natural gas companies, also said he could be open to regulations or limitations on fossil fuel production and consumption to avert some of the impacts of global warming.

Weld said he'd prefer emissions reductions coming from the use of technology. "But if you're asking me, should we turn our back on the Paris accords? No," he said, referring to the global emissions reduction agreement reached in France last year.

One of the rally's attendees, Ben Edwards, 24, said he was open to the Johnson-Weld brand of libertarianism even if it sometimes strayed from the party's ideals. Edwards, a Johnson supporter who leads a conservative group, Young Americans for Liberty, at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said he expected Weld's message to appeal to Republicans who aren't willing to vote for their party's nominee.

"There's a lot of never-Trump Republicans who are looking for a third party," he said.

"They won't vote for Clinton," he added — they'll either stay home or vote for a candidate like Johnson.


The ADN's poll showed Clinton losing more votes when Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein were included in the survey. But Weld, an outspoken Trump critic, said that's because nearly all of Stein's support is pulled from Clinton's base.

Jim Crawford, Trump's spokesman for Alaska, said he wasn't worried about the Libertarians' last-minute campaigning in the state.

"We will deliver our vote," he said.

Nathaniel Herz

Anchorage-based independent journalist Nathaniel Herz has been a reporter in Alaska for nearly a decade, with stints at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. Read his newsletter, Northern Journal, at natherz.substack.com