Arkansas Libertarian Party
aka: Libertarian Party of Arkansas
The Arkansas Libertarian Party is a state affiliate of the national Libertarian Party. Consisting of a loosely bound and sparely organized group of activists who share a philosophy of limited government, the party nevertheless has had a major influence upon state and national politics.
Labeling themselves as members of “The Party of Principle,” Libertarians believe in individuals’ right to live their lives as they see fit, with government’s sole function being to protect those rights and arbitrate conflicts, thus giving equal weight to economic and personal freedoms. However, the party’s core belief in opposing the initiation of force limits its ability to achieve political objectives.
The state party has been active since the mid-1970s. In 1980, it placed Ed Clark on the ballot for president in Arkansas. The party continued to qualify presidential candidates for the ballot in subsequent elections, using the political group candidate procedure. The party, however, has been unable to meet the petition requirement to become a state recognized party, the requirement being at least three percent of the total number of votes cast for the office of governor or nominees for presidential electors, whichever is less, at the last preceding election. Early chairmen included Frank Gilbert, Matthew Richard, and Cliff Biedenharn. In 1996, an informal party structure was established. Through the efforts of Rodney Wimberly Sr. and Kerry Kerstetter, a state convention and organizational meeting was held in El Dorado (Union County) in August 1999. Officers were elected, and a party constitution was adopted.
Harry Browne, the party’s presidential nominee, toured the state in 2000 with appearances in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and Hot Springs (Garland County). Election results of less than half a percent were disappointing, and the party set its sights on state issues, drafting an amendment to eliminate the tax on groceries. The Arkansas Libertarian Party’s 2001 annual state convention served as the petition kickoff event. With Karl T. Kimball serving as chair and members of the party providing logistical support, the ballot question committee submitted over 100,000 signatures, thus qualifying the proposal. Even though the amendment was defeated in the 2002 general election, it garnered significant public support. In the next gubernatorial election, the idea of eliminating the tax on groceries was adopted by the other parties, and a proposal reducing the grocery tax easily became law in the 2007 legislative session.
Election laws originally designed by the Democratic Party to disenfranchise black citizens in the 1890s continue to be used to limit the viability of other parties in the state. In 2002, the Arkansas Libertarian Party mustered enough resources to make a challenge to these laws. With slightly more than 10,000 raw signatures, their new party petition was rejected as insufficient. The party filed Langguth vs. Priest in federal court, based on Reform Party lawsuits adjudicated in 1996 and 1999. In those cases, U.S. District Court Judge George Howard found the disparity between new party and independent candidate petition requirements to be unconstitutional. Even though their case was dismissed, the opinion by U.S. District Court Judge William Wilson strongly supported the earlier rulings by Judge Howard and led to the successful Green Party of Arkansas vs. Daniels in 2006. In 2011, the party submitted, for the first time, enough signatures to place candidates on the ballot for the 2012 election. In 2014, the party offered candidates for all statewide positions and several local ones; in Arkansas’s Third Congressional District, Grant Brand secured over twenty percent of the vote facing off against a Republican incumbent.
By 2018, with the decline of the Green Party’s political activities, the Libertarian Party had become the third most active party in the state, offering candidates for local, state, and federal offices. The following year, the party filed suit against the state following the passage of Act 164 of 2019, which increased the required number of valid petition signatures for “new political parties” seeking ballot access from 10,000 to three percent of the votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election. A federal judge blocked enforcement of the law on July 3, 2019.
In the 2020 election, the party fielded four candidates for federal offices (one for president and three for Congress), four candidates for seats in the Arkansas House of Representatives, and seven candidates for county offices. With no Democratic candidate running against incumbent Republican Tom Cotton for a seat in the U.S. Senate, Ricky Dale Harrington Jr. secured one-third of the votes.
On September 30, 2022, federal judge Kristine Baker placed a permanent injunction on a state law passed in 2019 that made it more difficult for third parties to qualify for Arkansas’s general election ballot. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit had already upheld a preliminary injunction in the case, and the judge rejected the state’s further arguments for the statute. Baker stated that she ruled for the plaintiffs because of the combined negative effects of an early deadline for petition gathering by new political parties; a ninety-day petitioning period; a requirement to gather petitions signed by three percent of voters in the last gubernatorial election; and a requirement that new party candidates declare before the selection of major party candidates.
For additional information:
Arkansas Libertarian Party. http://www.lpar.org/ (accessed October 3, 2022).
Satter, Linda. “Libertarians Sue to Protest Laws on Ballot Access.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 18, 2002, p. 9B.
Wickline, Michael R. “Libertarian Candidate Petitions to Be Put on Ballot in Arkansas.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 30, 2004, p. 3B.
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