Libertarians hope to shore up support in auditor’s race

By Eagle-Tribune

The state’s Libertarians got a boost from former Gov. Bill Weld’s vice-presidential bid two years ago, and now they’re counting on a candidate for state auditor to help expand the party’s base.

Dan Fishman, of Beverly, is challenging incumbent State Auditor Suzanne Bump in the Nov. 6 elections.

Fishman said he believes voters have tired of the two-party system amid the bickering in Washington, D.C., and are giving third parties a new look.

“Republicans and Democrats are no longer interested in compromising with each other,” said Fishman, a libertarian. “The two-party system is clearly broken.”

On the campaign trial, Fishman has criticized Bump for failing to detect a recent state police payroll scandal, not modernizing the office’s electronic records, and not conducting frequent audits of state agencies.

He says Bump has used the office for “political ax grinding” against Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.

Two years ago, Fishman challenged incumbent state Rep. Jared Parisella, D-Beverly, running as a Libertarian on the United Independence Party ticket. He also served as New England campaign director for the Libertarian presidential bid of Gary Johnson and Weld.

Weld, a former Republican governor, said in a statement that a successful bid by Fishman would show “Libertarians have a critical role in solving the imbalance in government.”

In addition to Bump, Fishman will be on the November ballot with Republican Helen Brady of Concord and Edward Stamas, a Northampton science teacher running as a Green-Rainbow candidate.

The auditor’s office is tasked with reviewing the performance of state agencies and contractors, identifying fraud in public benefit programs, and working with cities and towns to gauge the impact of unfunded mandates.

The job involves a four-year term and a $175,000 salary, with benefits.

Bump, of Easton, is seeking a third term. She’s running on a platform of “increasing accountability and improving government performance.”

Noah Futterman, Bump’s campaign manager, said in a statement the Democrat has “set a new standard for excellence in government accountability, and has identified more than $1.3 billion in savings, inefficiencies, misspending and fraud” while uncovering “record amounts of public benefit fraud.”

Cristina Crawford, chairperson of the state’s Libertarian Party, said regardless of the outcome, she hopes to maintain the party’s designation heading into the 2020 presidential election cycle. The law requires third parties get 3 percent of the vote in a statewide race to be recognized and have their candidates listed on the next ballot.

“We’ve never lost our party designation when we’ve had a statewide candidate on the ballot,” said Crawford. “We’re seeing a lot of support this election cycle.”

While Fishman is the party’s only statewide candidate, its involved in other races.

Marc Mercier of Boxford is challenging incumbent Governor’s Councilor Eileen Duff, a Democrat, in the 5th District, which includes most of Essex County.

Libertarians were vying for several state legislative seats as well, but they weren’t able to get enough signatures to get on the ballot.

“It’s hard being a third-party candidate in Massachusetts, or anywhere,” said Crawford. “And petitioning becomes more difficult when you’re recognized as a party.”

State law requires voters be registered with a specific party in order to vote in its primary, though un-enrolled voters may affiliate on the spot. That means so-called “independent” voters, who number more than 2.4 million, can cast ballots in either of the three “major” parties’ primaries.

The Libertarian Party had 8,587 members as of February 2017 — or 0.19 percent of the state’s registered voters, according to Secretary of State’s Bill Galvin’s office. A sizable portion of that membership draws from Essex and Middlesex counties, which had about 3,000 members.

Still, party officials say enrollment has jumped more than 12 percent in the past year.

“Percentage-wise, were are the fastest growing political party in Massachusetts,” Fishman said. “Our numbers have been phenomenal.”

Independent parties come and go in Massachusetts, with challengers that seldom gain traction despite the fact that more than half of the state’s 4.3 million voters are political independents not registered as Democrats, Republicans or anything else.

An example of the seesaw existence of third parties is the Green-Rainbow Party, which regained recognition after three of its candidates — running for secretary of state, auditor and treasurer — got 4 percent of the vote in 2014.

Two years later, the party lost its designation after Green-Rainbow presidential candidate Jill Stein failed to get 3 percent of the vote.

Erin O’Brien, an associate professor and chairwoman of the political science department at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, said third-party candidates have always faced an uphill battle in the state. The current political climate makes that hill even steeper.

Many voters are reluctant to support a third-party candidate over fears that the vote will be squandered on a candidate who doesn’t stand a chance, she said.

“It’s a zero-sum game,” O’Brien said. “People want their vote to count, and in the era of Donald Trump, it’s hard to say that your vote doesn’t matter.”

This article provided by NewsEdge.