From Sunday's WDL:
Libertarian James Werner: Don't count me out
By JONATHAN BLUNDELL
Daily Light staff writer
You may have missed the news release, but there is a fifth candidate running in this year's Texas gubernatorial election.
Libertarian candidate James Werner is by far the underdog in the five person race, but with five candidates running, it's still anybody's ball game with less than four months until Election Day.
With independents Kinky Friedman and Carole Strayhorn joining the race against Werner, Republican Rick Perry and Democrat Chris Bell, a candidate won't need a majority of the vote to win.
According to Texas law, the governorship will go to the candidate with the highest number of votes - 38 to 42 percent could win the election.
That's still a likely long shot for a Libertarian candidate, in a state where Libertarian candidate Jeff Daiell only received 66,100 votes, or 1.47 percent, compared to Perry's 2,617,106 votes, or 57.81 percent, during the 2002 election.
But, if recent history holds to be true, the Libertarian audience is growing - slowly but surely.
In 1998 Libertarian candidate Lester Turlington only received 0.47 percent of the vote or 20,711 votes, compared to Republican George W. Bush with 2,550,821, or 68.24 percent, of the vote.
"With the dynamics of the race this year, I believe I have a good chance to win," Werner said. "The race is so unpredictable and different from any other gubernatorial race in the last 100 years. If any of the non-major party candidates win I would not be surprised at all."
Polls across the state show Werner polling between 1 and 5 percent, and often times his numbers may be lower than the margin of error in the poll - but Werner's not concerned.
"It's true that I'm polling significantly less," Werner said. "But grassroots movements do not achieve success overnight. If we remain silent we will not achieve success. Getting out and campaigning not only helps my message, but spreads the party's message and increases awareness of the party. The very nature of this race and the mixture of candidates in the race have resulted in more media coverage than we've seen in the past. We're getting our message out in ways we haven't been able to before."
While his opponents have touted raising millions during the campaign cycle, Werner's latest filings are meek in comparison - to a tune of just $1,400 in his campaign coffers.
"I tend to think money is not as big of an issue as the other candidates like to think," Werner said. "Most Texans now know who they're voting for. If you're for agri-business, Perry's your man. If you're for trial lawyers, you've got your man with Strayhorn. My campaign will not be able to compete with the tens of thousands of dollars going into their campaigns, but with this election the media has been eager to talk to all the candidates. From CNN, to the San Antonio Express-News, to the Channel 8 in Austin, the media is talking to all the candidates. People are asking what are you doing, what's this race all about and why should people vote for you? This year unlike most, the message is getting out and therefore the total money collected is less important. But it really goes to show how rigged the system has become when you look at the sources of campaign finance."
For most Texans, Werner, the Libertarian party and their platform remains unknown, but Werner hopes his campaign will continue to change that.
"Our tagline for the party and the thing we put on all our bumper stickers is, 'Fiscally Conservative and Socially Tolerant,'" Werner said. "When you tell that to people, 95 to 99 out of 100 will say, 'That's me.'"
Werner said that tagline leaves a lot of specifics to be addressed but the party is vigorously consistent in their philosophy.
"One of our major goals is for a small government - on all levels," Werner said. "We want the state out of individual lives and out of the business of business. We feel anything the government can do, can be done better in the private sector."
Outside the campaign trail, Werner, a resident of Austin, is involved in direct fund raising, development consulting, and sales of information management tools for the not-for-profit sector. He's currently employed by one of the nation's largest software firms, serving college and university clients throughout North America.
On a personal level, one of the major points of Werner's platform is his declaration as the only fiscal conservative running for the governor's mansion this year.
"The Republican governor and legislation initiated the largest tax increase in history in the last legislative session," Werner said. "They're strangling businesses in the crib and doing the exact opposite of what we should be doing which is lowering taxes for a business friendly environment."
Werner is supporting what he calls the Texas Fair Tax, which replaces all existing taxes with a single flat consumer sales tax on goods and services.
"My proposal suggests that we include all goods and services as taxable items," Werner said. "Today when you purchase services you don't pay taxes on the services but under my plan they would be included."
According to independent Texas think tank Public Policy Foundation a flat sales tax of 8-10 percent on goods and services would be sufficient to replace all current taxes in the state.
"The adoption of the Flat BAT (business activity tax) would be 'tax neutral' for state and local taxation in total," the group announced in a recent report. "That is to say, the amount of local school ad valorum taxes, franchise tax, and other business taxes eliminated would equal the additional revenues provided by the Flat BAT."
With the proposed flat tax, Werner also proposes reducing the size of the state government by 10 percent within his first term.
"With a smaller government, it's easy to understand you'll need less taxes from the citizens of Texas," Werner said.
Along with his stance as a fiscal conservative, Werner said he also differs from all his opponents by being supportive of immigrants in Texas and the U.S.
"This is a federal issue, but one I have an opinion on," Werner said. "I hope to lobby with my fellow governors to get Washington to solve this issue. As a Libertarian I'm for the free movement of free people. I think that it is unarguable that immigrants are good for our country. They bring far more to our country than they take. People understand that people follow jobs but they don't understand that jobs also follow people. Immigrants don't just take a high-tech computer job or lower paying agriculture jobs. They need a place to live, a car to drive, a place for health care and a Laundromat - all things that are important to live in Texas. And with them consuming these things, it means there are a lot more people and a lot more jobs."
Werner also believes that most immigrants tend to be the hardest working people he knows who are intent on simply pursing the American dream.
"I welcome immigrants and would like to provide guest worker programs for legal immigrants after they pass a criminal background check," Werner said. "As a side note, I believe Kinky's a funny guy - Chris Bell is too, but doesn't need to be. But the fact is that Kinky's offhand comments about abortion are pretty funny unless you're a 15 year old pregnant girl who doesn't know what to do with her baby. His five general immigration policy is funny unless you're an immigrant stuck in the back of a semi-trailer trying to make a better life for yourself. These are serious life and death issues that demand serious discussion."
The other major point of Werner's platform is for the reformation of the criminal justice system in Texas.
"With respect to the criminal justice system, there are tens of thousands of people arrested, tried and imprisoned for hurting no one but themselves," Werner said. "My proposal is to stop this outrageousness. We need to end prohibition against all victimless crimes. No victim, no crime."
Reforming the criminal justice system would include the legalization of illegal drugs, or as Werner puts it, "ending the prohibition against them."
"Rather than talk about legalizing drugs I prefer to say end prohibition," Werner said. "We didn't have an alcohol problem in this country until we made it illegal. Once it was illegal, criminal gangs organized to manufacture and sell this illegal substance. All the problems associated with drug use were associated with alcohol during its prohibition. Once the country got fed up with the criminal element and legalized alcohol again the criminal activity associated with alcohol ceased."
Werner also clarified that ending prohibition is not his way of advocating drug use.
"I don't advocate drug use, in fact I strongly discourage drug use or abusing alcohol," Werner said. "But we're wasting money by enforcing the law, endangering law enforcement and in fact creating more crime. It's also important to point out that everything we're talking about does not extend to minors. You have to be a competent person to make a contract and a child can't make informed decisions about these important issues. Anyone who provides drugs or alcohol to a minor should face the stiffest punishment. And if you do something under the influence of alcohol or drugs it's a crime as well, whether that's driving your car under the influence or robbing a bank to get money for your addiction.
"There are 10 million alcoholics in the US and yet you don't hear about people holding up banks to get beer. They're just as addicted as a drug addict, but because it is readily available, it's easier to get and the problems aren't as great."
On the issue of repairing the education system in Texas, Werner is proposing full vouchers for students to use at any school in the state.
"I would propose a plan that would ultimately shift the responsibility for schools to the local level," Werner said. "My proposal allows for the ultimate in local control by allowing par ents to select the school of theirs and their child's support."
During a recent conversation with a high school journalism class, Werner said the students were upset that he wasn't supportive of raising the money spent on education.
"I reminded them that we are nearing a 40 percent drop out rate across the state," Werner said. "And yet we're still spending a rate of nearly $8,000 per student, per year. I asked how much would be enough -- $16,000, $24,000, $32,000, $50,000? How much do we really need to spend for each student? If we continue to do more of the same we'll continue to yield more of the same results."
With vouchers, Werner said the competition will create better schools across the board.
"Vouchers will encourage extensive competition in the education system," Werner said. "The best schools are going to thrive whether they're public, private or charter schools. And the worst performing schools are going to fade away. That doesn't mean the end of the public school system I think it means an even better system. I think it will make many of our public school systems better because no body wants to go out of business."
And Werner's definitely not alone with his school voucher proposal.
This week Republicans in Congress introduced legislation for a $100 million voucher program that proponents say would empower the parents of poor children to attend private schools at public expense.
The Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings called the measure an opportunity for families to increase the number of choices they have for their children's education.
The bill is being sponsored by Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and John Ensign, R-Nev., in the Senate and Howard McKeon, R-Calif. and Sam Johnson, R-Texas, in the House.
"This is really a grassroots kind of proposal," Werner said. "But let's look at a place like Timbucktoo East Texas where there are no other options. Maybe there's only one school for 20 or 30 miles. But suddenly people realize they can be paid $8,000 a student to provide a quality education. Suddenly someone running a home school operation begins to hire an additional teacher or two or three to provide a quality education for more than just one or two students. People will have another option where their own particular preferences are satisfied. This isn't a silver bullet that will solve everything but we've got to think about ways to gradually get where we're going to go. If the public schools aren't offering what people are looking for, then other private enterprises will develop that will serve these kids as well or better than public schools."
Werner also adds that the "one size fits all" means of testing students with the current TAKS test may not be the best route for educating Texas students.
"I'm not a teacher and I don't know the best way to educate," Werner said. "But I've spent time in the classroom as a substitute teacher and I don't believe one size fits all is the best way to educate. I saw the way teachers are forced to teach to the test and it deprives our kids of broader education experiences. Once you introduce school choice, I believe we'll find there's a lot of different ways to educate kids."
And while many might view Libertarian party members as anti-government, Werner is quick to note that he's a pragmatic Libertarian and believes the state still has a role in certain aspects of a citizen's life, like the state's transportation system.
"I'm not a committed anti-government Libertarian," Werner said. "I think the state has some responsibility to assist in the state's infrastructure. I want Texas to continue to be as economically attractive as it can be and our current highway system is not up to the task. I have a couple of proposals in which I tentatively agree with the Trans Texas Corridor. But, as a Libertarian I'm appalled about the seizure of private property. I believe eminent domain needs to be done with extreme sensitivity and I think if it is done, we should be offering shares to the land owners in the private companies that will run the TTC. There should be an incentive for the people whose land will be used. And personally I would like to privatize all our roads. There are three areas where we have the most problems - that's health care, transportation and education - and each of those areas suffer from most government intervention."
But for the Vanderbilt University graduate, with a Masters in Spanish and Latin American literature from the University of California in Los Angeles, only time will tell if his message will resonate with the people of Texas over the high dollar campaigns of his opponents.