Great news. That’s how Jessuah Bardgett, chair of the Missoula County Libertarian Party, couched the Missoula County Commission’s decision last week to diversify the county’s election advisory committee. As soon as a vacancy opens, someone from his party will join the seven-member body charged with overseeing Missoula’s elections. Bardgett says he might even throw his own name in the hat.
“Me and another guy were thinking about doing it, but obviously we wanted to open it up for everyone as well,” he continues. “I probably will be at least an alternate in the mix.”
The advisory committee, which acts as a liaison between the public and county officials in election-related matters, spent much of 2017 debating whether to alter its by-laws to add a student member — a change proponents saw as a way to tap into the viewpoints of younger voters. The proposal that went before commissioners April 4 paired the addition of a student member with the addition of a Libertarian Party member. Until now, only Democrats and Republicans were represented. Bardgett says Missoula’s Libertarian chapter hadn’t pushed for the change, but notes that the county considered the change in consultation with state-level party leadership. He regards the inclusion as a reflection of the party’s growing popularity.
“There’s definitely been an uptick [in membership] since the special election,” says Bardgett, who’s currently running for HD 98. “Our candidate Mark Wicks definitely drummed up a lot of people and support.”
According to Cindy Dyson, state party secretary and chair of the Flathead County Libertarian Party, Montana’s Libertarians were recently recognized by the national party as having one of the fastest growing memberships in the country. They also blew past their target of 18 candidates for the 2018 ballot (there are currently 21 registered Libertarian candidates statewide). And on May 18, the Montana Libertarian Party will host a delegate convention in Butte — the first in the party’s recorded history, Dyson adds. Delegates selected there will travel to New Orleans for the Libertarian National Convention at the end of June.
Despite those advances, Dyson says, there’s more organizing to be done at the state level in the wake of party powerhouse Mike Fellows’ death on the campaign trail in 2016. “Mike Fellows had single-handedly pretty much kept us with ballot access and kept it going,” Dyson says. “But after he passed away, it became necessary to build a party with lots of people and far more hands on the steering wheel, and that takes a while.”
Though she’s unfamiliar with the particulars of Missoula’s election advisory committee, Dyson considers the addition of a Libertarian member to its ranks a great step forward for the party. The position fits well with the whole ground-up philosophy behind Libertarianism, she says.
“It seems to me that it’s often the case that the two major parties have kind of an entrenched standoff on many things, and sometimes having someone with an alternative ideology and principles can help break that for everybody.”