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Does Libertarian Michael Badnarik have a shot at the White House?

Michael Badnarik, the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee, has a gun for every occasion - including the inauguration ball.

In addition to several rifles, Badnarik owns what he describes as a "go-to-work" gun and a "dress-up" gun, the difference between the two .45-caliber, semi-automatic Colt Gold Cup Series 70s being that the everyday weapon is dark blue and the gussied-up version is stainless steel.

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Michael Badnarik, Libertarian Party presidential candidate.

While the Second Amendment and decriminalization of marijuana have been among the cornerstones of the Libertarian platform since the party's inception in 1973, the challenge for Badnarik in his bid for the White House is to expand his reach beyond gun-toters and pot-smokers. The Bush administration's budget deficit, the war in Iraq, and constitutional affronts - most notably in the form of the Patriot Act - could alienate conservatives from President Bush. For those who find Democrat John Kerry, Green David Cobb, and Independent Ralph Nader too liberal, Badnarik, who opposes the war in Iraq and supports a balanced budget, could serve as the right-wing protest vote.

Yet, there seems to be consternation within the Libertarian Party about Badnarik's viability as a candidate. It took three ballot rounds, but in May, at the Libertarian national convention in Atlanta, the computer consultant and college dropout who twice ran unsuccessfully for the Texas Statehouse, beat two better-known Libertarians, Hollywood impresario Aaron Russo and talk show host Gary Nolan.

"Badnarik is very friendly and approachable. He's totally unassuming," posted one party member to a Badnarik discussion list. "As my dad would say, he's as common as an old shoe. His transparent realness as a human seems much more important and vital and like the image I'd like to have for the party."

Critics say that Badnarik doesn't have the caché to be taken seriously by a national electorate. "The Libertarian Party has displayed a genius for assigning itself a role in American politics akin to irrelevance, and I am sad to say that this record of genius is likely to remain unbroken as campaign 2004 unfolds," countered another party member.

However, Badnarik's greatest hurdle may be neither money, nor name recognition: It's likely to be Badnarik himself. His connections to militia members (Texas militia activist Jon Roland is his constitutional adviser) could scare off more genteel voters. His penchant for inflammatory statements can be taken as exaggeration or jest, but in national politics, he has to expect that people will hold him to his words.

In an interview with L. Neil Smith of the Libertarian Enterprise, Badnarik lists what he would do on his first day as president `see calendar, this page`, which includes starting a new American currency.

In a speech at Washington University in St. Louis, Badnarik said that if elected president, he would "personally detonate the explosive charges that would reduce the United Nations building to rubble. I want to send a message around the world that United States foreign policy had changed dramatically and unmistakably."

"I don't remember saying that," he told the Current in a phone interview. "But I'm not going to deny saying it. It was intended to be hyperbole." (Asked where he would get the explosives to blow up the UN, Badnarik said companies would be "rushing to volunteer to provide the explosives.")

Other examples of Badnarik's "hyperbole" include statements he has made in speeches, his website, and in position papers that he would "wear a gun during every State of the Union address to demonstrate that gun ownership does not imply criminal activity."

The road to Atlanta - and beyond

In the five months leading up to the national convention, Badnarik traveled 25,000 miles to raise awareness of his campaign and the Libertarian Party. "We had been struggling to raise money to put gas in the car and eat at Subway," he said. "There were times on the campaign trail I wondered if I should just give up."

In Atlanta, he prepared to deliver his candidate speech, with nothing to lose. "I took the stage very relaxed. I didn't have any expectations." Unexpectedly, Badnarik, an excellent public speaker, wooed delegates, many of whom hadn't committed to a candidate, to his side.

"After closing arguments I went back to my chair and realized I was getting a standing ovation," he recalled. "That was my first indication my life was going to change."

After two ballot rounds, Nolan bowed out and encouraged his delegates to vote for Badnarik. On the third ballot, Badnarik secured 423 votes; 405 votes were required for the nomination. Russo came in second with 344.

His mother and father attended the convention. "These are the hands that rocked the Badnarik cradle," Elaine Badnarik, who is running for lieutenant governor in Indiana, told cheering party delegates. "I gave you the candidate; you get him to Washington."

If Badnarik gets to Washington, there will be little left when he leaves. His campaign platform includes trimming or dismantling the Department of Education, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Food and Drug Administration. Privatization would be the linchpin of his presidency, as he turned over several governmental roles - including social services, education, and environmental protection - to the business community.

Badnarik believes the Department of Education is unconstitutional because there is no explicit reference to education in the constitution. Thus, under his administration, schools would be privatized and run like businesses. This, despite the fact that Edison Schools, a for-profit educational corporation, has yet to demonstrate wide success in educating children or turning a profit.

The FDA needs to be eliminated, Badnarik said, because its regulation of the pharmaceutical industry, not the drug companies' desire for profits, results in higher drug prices. "Ultimately it's the public's job to pay attention and protect itself. You are responsible for feeding yourself. You are ultimately responsible for the medical care you get."

Under Badnarik's watch, the EPA would be unnecessary, he said, because citizens would sue polluters "and win large sums." Badnarik didn't explain how citizens could afford to outduel corporations' extensive legal staffs or pay for the scientific testing necessary to prove their cases.

As for the thousands of federal employees who would lose their jobs under Badnarik's lean government, "they would be unemployed for a short period of time - six months." (Badnarik was unemployed for 13 months from 2000-01.) Although Badnarik couldn't say how these workers would survive for a half-year without an income or unemployment benefits, after he eliminated the IRS and international trade agreements such as NAFTA, "small businesses would spring up all over," and thus put people back to work.

Badnarik would have to confront Congress with his unorthodox ideas - or would he? "That's under the assumption I would be working with Congress," he said. "My job as the chief executive is to protect the American people from unconstitutional laws. I'd send bills back to Congress and hold State of the Union addresses to explain to the public why Congress is unconstitutional. Congress can override my veto with 2/3, um, 3/4 of the vote of both houses, but I would encourage Americans to call and tell their representatives to cease and desist." `Editor's note: It's 2/3`

Born in Hammond, Indiana, Badnarik, 49, lives in Austin and is the third Texan in this year's field of presidential candidates. (Texas native David Cobb received the Green Party nomination; although born in Connecticut, President Bush claims the Lone Star State as his home.)

"You are responsible for feeding yourself. You are ultimately responsible for the medical care you get."

He attended Indiana University as a chemistry major, dropping out after five years. He worked as a computer programmer at various nuclear plants and has volunteered as a scoutmaster. Now a computer consultant, he also teaches a constitution class for which he wrote the curriculum. Tuition is five ounces of silver for adults and two ounces of silver for college students.

Badnarik was politically uninvolved until 1982, when he saw a news report about proposed new gun laws in San Francisco. "It suggested that not only would people not be able to purchase guns, anyone with a weapon would have to turn it in," he recalled. "It was communism, a political cancer that had already infected my country. Up until that time, I was neither pro-gun nor anti-gun, but that particular instance dramatized how far the government is willing to go to deprive me of my rights."

With four months left until Election Day, it remains to be seen how Badnarik will fare on the national stage. Unlike Cobb and Nader, who didn't gather enough signatures to get on the Texas ballot, Badnarik's name will appear. (At press time, Nader was preparing to go to court over the state's ballot access laws).

A ballot line didn't help former presidential candidate Harry Browne, elder statesman of the Libertarian Party, who won just .36 percent of the national popular vote in 2000 and .5 percent in 1996.

In contrast, in 2000, Nader ran on the Green Party ticket and garnered 2.74 percent and Reform/Independent candidate Pat Buchanan came in fourth with .42 percent. In 1996, reformist Ross Perot won 8.4 percent and Nader won .71 percent.

Badnarik hopes his nomination will help him raise more money. According to Federal Election Commission records, from February 2003 to March 2004, Badnarik raised $14,600 and loaned himself $4,537. (Fabulous Thunderbird band member Jimmy Vaughn contributed $2,000.)

His running mate - whom Badnarik did not pick, as Libertarians choose vice-presidents independent of presidential nominees - is Richard Campagna, a self-described "multi-disciplinary professional" who placed fourth in 2002 for Lieutenant Governor in Iowa. Campagna could be a liability; although his résumé lists several advanced degrees from Columbia and St. John's universities, it also notes that he earned a doctorate from American College of Metaphysical Theology. On the college's website, applicants can complete a Ph.D. program in two months for a low price of $249.99; the site cautions that the college's degree programs "are not designed to meet any particular local, state, or national licensing or credentialing laws."

Badnarik's plans for America have disenfranchised some Libertarians, including Casey Stanislaw, former Libertarian Chairman for Milam County, Texas. In a March 11, 2004 guest column to the Cameron Herald, he cited Badnarik as the reason he's leaving the party. "It's guys like Michael Badnarik that give us non-conformists a bad name. It's one thing to go against the grain, but it is another to be delusional and stupid."

Badnarik shrugs off such disparaging remarks. "It's not Michael Badnarik that's important in this election, it's Libertarian principles," he said. "My mom asked me if the general public was prepared for radical positions. I said, 'They're Thomas Jefferson's radical positions.' I'm continuing to do the best thing I know for the country, and that is restoring a constitutional republic."

By Lisa Sorg

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