Pat Dixon, an Austin engineer, chairs the Libertarian Party of Texas, helped get it on the Texas ballot in 2004 via petition and then watched as the Party's candidates pulled enough votes each year to hold that ballot perch without resorting to petitions again. In an interview with the Tribune, he talked about Libertarians, how they relate to the two major parties in Texas, the recent goings-on between the Green Party and some Republicans, and whether third parties stand a chance in state elections.
Dixon doesn't buy the theory that Libertarian votes come from voters who'd otherwise be with the Republicans. He says polling and other data from around the country indicate that Libertarians appeal to voters from both of the major parties. Conventional wisdom in Texas — based largely on what consultants in the Democratic and Republican parties say — is that they pull more Republican voters. That's been the experience in Texas over the last few election cycles. Dixon doesn't rule that out, but he says it doesn't always work that way.
That said, he says the Republicans have probably been the source of his party's support recently — mainly because they're the party in power, and thus the most likely targets of disgruntled voters.
Other third parties don't split that way, he says. The Greens, for instance, "pull from the left side of the dial." The third parties do have this in common, though: They've never won a modern election in Texas. So why run?
Texas Libertarians needed petitions to get on the ballot in 2004 — just like the Greens do now. Since then, their candidates have received enough votes every election year to win a spot the next time. And their steady growth each year, he says, is motivating in itself. That's why they can get fill the state ballot with candidates when even the major parties don't. Not every race that has a Republican and a Libertarian in it also has a Democrat. That's been helpful to the Libertarians in staying on the ballot, as their candidates generally get more votes in races where they're one of two choices. But it's also kept them motivated even when they don't fully expect to win an election. He also believes that some of the Libertarian Party's issues are coming into the foreground in this election cycle.
He likes the Libertarians' chances in Texas more than the Greens' chances, and it's because of the way they got where they are right now. The Green Party collected signatures to get on the ballot this year (there's still some legal sniping going on), with funding help from Republicans. The Libertarians, Dixon says, were on their own. And they did it in a year when Ralph Nader and the Green Party were getting a lot of press and failing to get on the ballot. The Libertarians, that same year, succeeded in winning ballot access.
Dixon says the state of Texas — no shock here — makes it too hard to get on the ballot. One example he points to is the state law that prohibits someone who voted in a primary from signing a petition to put another party on the ballot. He thinks that's nuts.
Dixon frankly thinks it will take time for his party to win an election. But he says the momentum has been building since that 2004 drive to get on the ballot, and he says winning isn't the only measure of progress.