Why you should care
Whether it’s a moment or a bonafide movement, libertarianism is on the rise. That’s thanks to people like Doug Craig, chair of the Libertarian Party of Georgia.
Enter Doug Craig’s office.
Or rather, his warehouse. This sheet-metal manufacturing plant in Atlanta’s poor, urban Southside might seem like a strange place to find the architect of a third-party uprising, a spoiler of potentially national proportions. Yet here is Craig, wearing a black “Freedom” T-shirt hastily tucked into cargo shorts, warning me to avoid the close-by glass shards from a shattered television.
“I didn’t think of dressing up,” he says against the backdrop of whirrs and clangs and booms. “I’ve never been the type of politician to wear a suit and tie anyway.”
As the first-year chairman of the Libertarian Party of Georgia, Craig is understated: a portly man with an easy air and a large goatee. But he shouldn’t be underestimated. This year he’s anointed two candidates who stand a fair chance of spoiling two high-profile races and turning Georgia into a high-stakes battleground. Now, no one expects Andrew Hunt to become Georgia’s next governor, or Amanda Swafford to make it to the U.S. Senate. But should they live up to their poll numbers — between five and seven percent, regularly — they’ll likely force runoffs. (In Georgia, statewide races go into overtime if one candidate doesn’t capture 50 percent of the vote.)
And if the Senate race heads to a runoff, expect the millions of dollars Democats and Republicans are pouring into the Peach State to increase. “[W]e might not know who controls the majority of the Senate until January,” says Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political scientist. “In the case where that happens, Georgia will be ground zero for national politics for months.”
We’re a regional incubator of libertarian ideas. Without us, you wouldn’t have the Ron Pauls and Rand Pauls.
– Doug Craig
Behind this success of sorts is the man in the “Freedom” T-shirt: Doug Craig. He got into politics, but reluctantly, he says. Yet he’s managed to tap into a growing libertarian sentiment. It’s not just in Georgia. Coast-to-coast support for long-held libertarian tenets such as same-sex marriage, marijuana legalization and noninterventionism is higher than ever before. Meanwhile, races around the country are marked by voter disenchantment with the two-party system. From a North Carolina pizza delivery man to a Kentucky police officer, third-party candidates are polling well all over.
Whether it’s a libertarian moment or a bona fide movement, it’s state soldiers like Craig who’ve done the grass-roots work of building a viable party from very little. “We’re a regional incubator of libertarian ideas,” says Craig. “Without us, you wouldn’t have the Ron Pauls and Rand Pauls.” Grass-roots work, is turns out, is the scut work: sending press releases, badgering reporters, forging relationships with donors and raising money for only the third television ad in the state party’s history. The candidates get the glamour. Craig gets his sheet-metal plant.
So what kind of politician is Craig?
Start his story with that of a former Navy nuclear power plant operator, who visited a Buddhist temple in Thailand, hand-fed wild monkeys in Africa, witnessed the 1989 San Francisco earthquake and sailed off for Operation Desert Storm during six years in the military.
Fast-forward to the tale of an Irish-Scottish college dropout, the father of two redheaded lasses, born into Southern poverty and a family of roofers; who one day decided he wanted to sell the roofing equipment, not install it; who mortgaged his house to start a business; who turned that venture — first called Red Beard Sheet Metal, then Viking Metals — into one of the state’s leading sheet-metal manufacturers.
“I grew up here in East Point, right here in the bad part of Atlanta,” says Craig. “To go from being that poor to having a company worth millions of dollars? Only in America can you do that.”
We believe in liberty, whether it’s in your bedroom or in your tax bill.
– Doug Craig
Craig breathes “liberty” and “freedom” — the words come up often — and lives by a gospel of self-empowerment. He offers an internship program for inner-city kids who aren’t likely to attend college, teaching them industrial skills and setting them up with high-paying technical jobs after high school. Those interns have given him a front row seat to the racial and social toll of the war on drugs, which the Libertarian Party decried decades ago. A former intern was recently pulled over, with a BB gun, a $500 paycheck and less than an ounce of marijuana in his car.
“They wanted to call him a drug dealer,” says Craig. His voice is rising. “They wanted to throw the book at him because he was an African-American in the inner city with two joints.”
Plenty of other social issues preoccupy Craig. Get him waxing poetic on the power of freedom. Maybe you’ll hear about the time he marched with LGBT groups at Atlanta’s gay pride parade. Then again, you’re just as likely to hear about the gun range fundraiser he hosted earlier that year.
“We can feel comfortable at both,” Craig says. “We believe in liberty, whether it’s in your bedroom or in your tax bill.”
Banish the idea that Libertarians are just conservatives who want to smoke pot — that’s Craig’s goal. If he can achieve that, he believes his party’s platform will begin to take root in Georgia, where social conservatism has a stronger history.
After all, the Peach State is home to John Monds, the first Libertarian to earn one million votes, in the race for state public commissioner, in 2008. Bob Barr was the Libertarian presidential candidate that same year.
The real aim is not to play spoiler but to influence policy, Craig says. He tells the story of Jimmy Harris, a Libertarian whose failed 1988 run for public service commissioner nonetheless resulted in the partial deregulation of gas in Georgia. Craig’s point: “Jimmy Harris didn’t have to win to get through his ideas.”
And if opponents win by adopting libertarian platforms?
“That’s even better,” Craig says. “Then we get to stay at home, watch football and hang out with our kids.”