Five main party candidates have declared they will run for the District 26 congressional seat against Michael Burgess, R-Texas, 16 months before next November’s election. While that may seem early, that’s nothing compared to Libertarian party candidate Mark Boler. He’s been running for this position for eight years.
Boler has been the Libertarian nominee for District 26 every election since 2010, and his support has been steadily increasing, for the most part. He received 2.3 percent of the vote that year, 3 percent in 2012 and 4 percent in 2016. In 2014, when the Democratic party didn’t field a candidate, Boler received 17 percent of the vote.
“When there is a third party running, people go to websites. People say ‘Oh look, there is another party,’” he said. “I think had people like me not run, all that’s left is the Republican and the Democratic party, which is really the same party. They’re the Big Government party.”
The Libertarian party is the most prominent third party in the U.S., as well as one of the most long-lasting, holding its first convention in 1972 and growing ever since. In presidential elections, their candidates have been receiving increasing support since 2004, culminating in Gary Johnson receiving 3.28 percent of the vote last year, the first year in which the party was on the ballot in all 50 states. With the major parties fielding two of the most disliked presidential candidates in history, he was polling in double-digits at some points.
Johnson received 3.8 percent of the vote in Denton County.
The party’s politics are based around preserving or reestablishing as much personal choice as possible by lowering taxes and fighting against laws that govern non-violent personal behavior. The most common policy positions include ending the war on drugs and pulling out of the Middle East.
Denton County Libertarian Party historian James Gholston said that while the party’s poll numbers are growing slowly, public opinion has shifted much more strongly toward its positions.
“Some of our ideas that seemed wildly insane once upon a time are basically mainstream,” he said. “It’s almost a case of ‘pick a topic.’ Ending the war on drugs, bringing our troops home, not regulating things into nightmare situations where you’re horribly penalized just for creating jobs.”
Gholston said the party’s longevity is historically notable, and that most third parties start as a grassroots movement and then die out in a couple of years’ time.
“We’re still here, which is actually not a small thing when you’re not a Democrat or a Republican,” he said. “If we were going to vanish without a trace, it would have happened decades ago.”
County chair James Felder said that Texas’ push to end straight-ticket voting has things looking up for the party. Felder pointed to the 2016 race for Texas railroad commissioner, in which Libertarian candidate Mark Miller received 5.2 percent of the vote despite being endorsed by several major newspapers, as an example of a race that would have gone differently without straight-ticket elections.
“The majority of the people vote straight-ticket. They don’t even care about down-ballot candidates,” he said.
Felder said Boler has been running for congress since before he became the local party chair. He said the party keeps putting Boler up as a candidate because he’s incredibly active. He said Boler was party treasurer when he arrived and serves on the executive committee, goes to state conventions and helps with other candidates’ elections around the county.
Boler said the major barriers to his being elected are money and the prominent idea that voting for a third party is a wasted vote. The logic, such as it is, goes that since a third party candidate could never win, no one should vote for them.
“There’s going to be some kind of a tipping point, a critical mass, where people see, ‘Oh, there’s a certain percentage of people voting for somebody other than a Republican or a Democrat,’” he said. “I think then they’re going to go ahead and say, ‘Wow, maybe they could win.’”
Boler said the most he’s ever raised for a campaign was $2,600 in 2012, and a lot of that was his own money.
After four unsuccessful campaigns, Boler said he is still re-energized by the increasing support he receives.
“I get successes and satisfaction from seeing a steady increase in the number of people that vote for me. Maybe that many people are really saying, ‘Hey, I’m fed up, I want more freedom.’” he said. “I’m here to show that there’s another way, and there is. I gain satisfaction from that, even if I don’t win.”