Eric Cooper of Ames and Nick Weltha of Des Moines have filed papers to seek the Iowa Libertarian Party’s 2010 nomination for Governor and Lt. Governor respectively. Cooper, 43, is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Iowa State University, and is currently the Vice Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Iowa. Professor Cooper was gracious enough to answer a few questions for Cold Hard Cashner via email.
Here they are:
1. How did you get involved in politics and the Libertarian Party?
I joined the party in high school after I read a pamphlet that was available in one of my government classes. When I read the pamphlet describing the Libertarian Party’s positions, I realized that they were pretty much saying everything I already agreed with. My second year as a professor at Iowa State, I was approached by a student who wanted to start a Libertarian group on campus and wanted me to be the adviser because I was one of only two faculty members who were paid members of the party. As a result of being the adviser for the Iowa State Libertarians, I started going to Libertarian State Conventions and eventually got elected to the state party’s Executive Board, and decided to start running for office.
2. What made you decide to run for governor?
I have run for the state legislature five times previously from Ames, and in 2008, I had the most successful Libertarian campaign in the state (21% of the vote). I thought, given the experience I’ve gained campaigning for the legislature, that I was in the best position of anyone currently involved with the state party to run for Governor.
3. It’s unlikely you’ll win. Why should people vote for you?
Third parties can get everything they want without winning any elections at all. The Populists in the 1890s and the Socialists in the 1910s won almost no elections, and yet most of the major planks of their platforms were eventually implemented. The way these parties were successful was to draw enough votes away from the major parties on a regular basis that the major parties started stealing their issues in order to get their voters. This strategy can still work today, and is most effective when the major parties are ignoring a particular constituency (which currently would be people who want to reduce the size of government). If Libertarians can get 10% of the vote on a regular basis, that is enough to decide most elections between the major party candidates and will lead the major party candidates to start stealing our issues.
The reason it is important for people to vote for me for Governor is because under Iowa law, if the top candidate on a party’s ticket (which is the President during Presidential election years and the Governor in non-Presidential election years like 2010) gets 2% of the vote, that gives the party major party status in Iowa. If I get 2% of the vote, the Libertarian Party gains major party status meaning that we no longer have to petition to get our candidates on the ballot, thus making it far easier for us to run lots of candidates putting lots of pressure on the major parties to steal our issues.
4. Iowa has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. Iowa is one of only 14 states that requires a special permit to acquire a handgun. It is one of only 13 states that doesn’t have “shall issue” laws requiring that weapons carry permits be issued to applicants who meet uniform standards. What changes would you like to see in Iowa’s weapons laws and what could you do as governor to facilitate them?
Laws are, of course, a matter for the legislature, however as Governor, one can certainly make suggestions to the legislature about what sorts of legislation might be a good idea. I don’t think there should be restrictions on peaceful people owning any sort of gun, and I think they should be able to carry those guns concealed if they so choose.
5. Because of the Iowa high court’s recent decision, gay marriage has come to the forefront of political discussion. What is your position on gay marriage and what (if anything) would you do as governor regarding this issue?
People come to America in order to follow their own cultural traditions. Peaceful people should be able to have whatever relations with other people that they would like, and they should be able to call them whatever they like. The government goes well beyond its enumerated powers when it starts deciding what does and does not constitute marriage.
6. There is currently some discussion of allowing medical marijuana to be used with a prescription in Iowa. Do you support this effort and what other changes in this area would you like to see?
I would support the legalization of medical marijuana, recreational marijuana, ornamental marijuana, and pretty much anything else that someone would like to do with marijuana. It is absolutely contradictory to the notion of a free society that the government should be dictating to adult citizens what they may or may not place into their own bodies. The drugs that are currently illegal are far less dangerous than many activities that are permitted (driving private automobiles and alcohol use are good examples), but because drug users are in the minority, the activities that they enjoy are made illegal while more dangerous activities that the majority likes are permitted. My first act as Governor would be to pardon all non-violent drug offenders currently in Iowa prisons. If the founding fathers of the United States were to see the sort of government we have today, I don’t think anything would shock them more than that we would allow the government to tell adult citizens what they are allowed to consume. One cannot honestly call oneself a free man when one has lost the right to decide what goes into one’s own body
7. On your website you say that “Iowa is currently doing education in about the most inefficient way possible.” How so and how would you remedy that?
The government is a monopoly and, like all monopolies, it has very little incentive to be cost effective and very little incentive to please its customers. In education, we have a market that should be extremely competitive if its provisioning was left to the free market because it is relatively inexpensive to start a school so there would be lots of competition among schools. The more competitive a market is, the more benefits one gets by having the free market supply a good or service, so having education provided by the free market would be the number one way we could improve education in the state. Unfortunately, the state’s involvement in education has made the education market a virtual monopoly which is exactly the sort of situation that produces goods and services inefficiently.
The best way to improve education in the state is to attach a certain amount of money to the child to help pay for his or her education. The child can take that money to any school: a private school, a homeschool, and can even use it at the current public schools if the child’s parents wish. However, all schools will be funded on exactly the same basis: they will only receive the money attached to the children who attend them. Such a system allows the government to help pay for education while getting all the benefits of a highly competitive market.
8. Fireworks have been illegal in Iowa since the 1930’s. It’s now a time-honored tradition for Iowans of all ages to flagrantly flout that law by bringing fireworks in from neighboring states and lighting them off for Independence Day. Why would you want to hinder such a beautiful annual display of civil disobedience by legalizing fireworks?
Yes, I suppose there is a vicarious thrill in breaking unjust laws for some people. Much better not to have such laws on the books in the first place, however. Getting rid of the fireworks ban is one of the key issues in our campaign because I think it symptomatic of a larger problem that when safety and freedom conflict, the laws always come down on the side of safety even though we supposedly live in the land of the free (not the land of the safe). However, the purpose of our lives is not to be as safe as possible, but to be as happy as possible. When I was growing up in Kansas, one of my favorite activities was shooting fireworks on the 4th of July, and it is really sad that the kids of our state don’t have that chance. Being safe is a part of being happy, but when you are reducing the amount of happiness in your life to make remote dangers even more remote, that is a really bad trade-off.
9. What are some of the other priorities for you and your running mate?
Our top goal is to get the 2% we need to give the Libertarian Party of Iowa major party status in Iowa. If we can do that, it will allow us to put a lot more pressure on the major parties by running more candidates which is what we have to do in order to get the major parties to start addressing our issues.
The next goal is to keep the idea of Jeffersonian Democracy alive in the United States. Libertarianism is the political philosophy of Thomas Jefferson and the essence of the philosophy is that we have a limited government that is only permitted to perform a small set enumerated functions, and that we are a free people meaning that if you aren’t hurting others or their property, you should be able to conduct your life however you want. Our government now is so different from how it was originally conceived, and currently appears to have almost no limits on what it may do nor any respect for the freedom of its citizens. I want people to understand and remember the vision the founding fathers had for America, and, even if I’m the last free man left, I’m going to stand up and protest every single encroachment on that freedom.
10. What can people do to help your campaign?
As with all campaigns, we are limited in what we can do by the amount of contributions that we are able to get, so one thing is to visit our website (http://www.coopersmallergovernment.com/) and donate.
If you can’t afford a donation, we are going to start visiting cities all over Iowa beginning this summer. We need volunteers in as many cities as possible who are interested in helping us to promote our visits by posting fliers, chalking, and telling local papers and radio stations about us. Anyone interested in being our representative in their city should e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org