EDITOR’S NOTE: Nicholas Sarwark is the chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, the executive body of the LP. He is just beginning his second two-year term after once again being elected to the position at the 2016 Libertarian National Convention in Orlando, Fla. You may also recognize him as the face of the party during the national television coverage on C-SPAN the entire weekend. He resides in Arizona with his wife and three children.
MCLAUGHLIN’S TAKE: I’ll admit it, in the week prior to attending the Libertarian National Convention—as a recent refugee from the Republican Party—I didn’t have a clue who Nicholas Sarwark was. After leaving Orlando, Fla. at the conclusion of the event—I was convinced this guy was as important in establishing party credibility as the presidential candidates had been.
Sarwark was the Lion Tamer of the convention, the Maestro without a baton. He was able to tight-rope walk that thin, finite line between being a procedural tyrant and being a backbone-lacking pushover. He found the happy balance with letting Libertarians be their usual eccentric, non-robotic selves without letting those same eccentric types run the parliamentary “zoo”. It was handled with dry wit, civility and professionalism.
When you tune into the Republican and Democratic national conventions later this month, you’ll see made-for-TV events. Everything will be scripted. We all know how those “shows” are going to end, right down to the 1000s of balloons that fall in the end—filled with the abundant hot effluence of both of the decaying fossil parties. The only unscripted part of these two conventions will happen outside the convention hall in the streets when the “supporters” and “antagonists” … ahem … mingle.
With the Libertarian Convention, Sarwark was a key part of why that convention was a huge success with a larger-than-normal audience paying attention on television. From a fresh new recruit’s view (mine), he handled the much-needed media attention very well.
TLI’s Brian McLaughlin caught up with Sarwark recently, with the chairman and his family fresh off of a well-earned Disney-slash-Cruise vacation following an exhausting and rewarding convention experience.
TLI’s BRIAN MCLAUGHLIN: “Nicholas, as a 2nd generation Libertarian, when do you first remember being aware of that word, and what do you remember about your parents’ involvement with the party?”
NICHOLAS SARWARK: “My father was active in the Maricopa County Libertarian Party in Arizona and when I was about 10 years old he would take me to the local meetings. I first met (well-known Arizona Libertarian) Ernie Hancock when I was 12. My father had (1984 LP Presidential Candidate) David Bergland’s book ‘Libertarianism In One Lesson’ on his shelf and supported Harry Browne (in the 1996 and 2000 presidential campaigns). I read that stuff when I was a kid. I was a big reader and it all made so much sense. So I’ve never really been anything else.”
TLI: “How about the college years?”
NS: “As soon as I became an adult, I got involved with the Maryland party because I was attending Columbia Union College there. It is now known as Washington Adventist. But I’ll always call it Columbia Union. I ended up being state chair in Maryland and later on attended law school at American University.”
TLI: “So you’re now a part of your family’s auto dealership in Arizona, you’re married with three young children and you’re the national chair of the third largest political party in America. Um, how are you juggling all of this?”
NS: “Well, I don’t sleep a lot. It’s hard. These last couple of weeks have been pretty difficult. We went on a family vacation immediately following the convention, and that was part of the deal. We did Disney then headed down to Fort Lauderdale for a cruise and then we came back just when the murders took place in Orlando at Pulse. We put out a press release that next morning. It was reality and we were right back into it. It’s also a busy ballot-access season, and I say and Governor Johnson says it all the time that we’ll be on the ballot in all 50 states, but that doesn’t happen without work and we’re still working. Every day I’m talking to somebody, multiple somebodies, putting out the next fire and the next problem. But it works out. Triage really helps. I can delegate and will delegate. We have a lot of very good national office staff members and contractors who take care of a lot of things.”
TLI: “Where did you get the knack to handle a convention hall like you did? I mean, that sort of skill doesn’t grow on trees, it’s not easy. I watched you routinely allow people to say what was on their mind, but there was also structure. How’d you handle it the way you did?”
NS: “Well, you have to remember I was a trial lawyer for 5 years. Everything from misdemeanors to first-degree murder. I was a Colorado public defender. The trick to being a successful public defender is to control the courtroom. Technically it is the judge’s courtroom but really it’s yours when you’re talking to the jury and the judge. That’s your place. There are techniques … the raising and lowering of the voice, pausing. Silence can be more powerful than yelling. Gavels can get attention but a voice can get it faster. I have little kids and I grew up in a big family. You pick your battles. You gain more control of the setting by not trying to control it as much. Everybody needs to feel like they’ve been heard, and then they are more willing to listen.”
TLI: “Can there possibly be a more challenging group to work with than the cast of characters we have in the LP? I mean, I think it’s an awesome array of people who come together, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy, eh?”
NS: “That’s a tough room to do. This was the largest national convention in party history and I think it was close to half first-timers. At a more traditional convention it’s a little easier. You just know what to do and it’s less likely to get out of hand. But this one was a lot more volatile … It was a very heated race for the presidential ticket and honestly it was heated with the platform and bylaws too. People get amped up about that stuff. If you have people who feel strongly about something, you can get dangerously close to being a mob. It doesn’t take that many people for it to get into a shouting match.”
Everybody needs to feel like they’ve been heard, and then they are more willing to listen.
TLI: “But you wouldn’t trade it to be in Reince Priebus’s shoes? Or Debbie WaWa’s? Guessing you don’t envy them too much?”
NS: “I envy their salaries. Honestly, I don’t think either one of them are hurting. But I wouldn’t want those jobs without having a lot more security. Libertarians can be a little nutty and there are some wild times, but no matter what went on nobody ever got hurt. There was no violence. A couple of people outside the hall yelled at each other, but I think that’s the extent of it. I don’t have that same level of confidence about the two ‘old party’ conventions. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both of them come down to people coming to blows. Those parties are intellectually bankrupt, and when that happens it just turns into a naked power struggle about which one of these bullies you want controlling your life. When there is no longer any guiding principle, it gets ugly.”
TLI: “You’re young, Nicholas (born 1979), and I’m sure you see yourself being involved with the LP for several decades moving forward. Where do you think things will be in a decade? Two decades? What should the goals be, in your opinion?”
NS: “I have near-sighted goals and far-sighted goals. For now, it’s all about making sure we’re improving and we’re learning from doing. We want to make sure we’re not moving backwards. For the 10 and 20-year goals, I want to see the Libertarian Party be the dominant party. I want us to run things and others to take their cues from us. The trick is, what happens between your 2 and 20 year goals. We just need to remember that a 20-year goal is accomplished by a bunch of 2-year goals … If you look at polling numbers, the 18s to 35s (demographic), you will find that the skew is toward the Libertarians. It’s not unacceptable to think the LP will grow considerably. Some people look at it and say there’s a long way to go, but look at the right for marriage equality and cannabis, for instance—it’s being driven by young people. And they’re also somebody’s children and they have influence over their loved ones. They help make something acceptable that wasn’t previously acceptable.”
TLI: “Last thing Nicholas, because I know you’re busy as we’ve discussed earlier. What is something about Governor Gary Johnson that you’ve noticed that maybe other people don’t know—but they should?”
NS: “I’ve had an opportunity to have dinner with Gary, and we’re going to do a joint fundraiser in Las Vegas soon. I think people need to know that he’s actually wicked smart and very thoughtful. And one of the big knocks on him that people have made is that he’s not the snappy comeback guy in debates. Well, he’s not a trial attorney. One-on-one, he’s actually thinking about your question. He’s not going to give snap answers to questions. He cares about not coming across that way. In the John Stossel debate somebody brings up mental health screening for guns and he said he was open to that discussion. He says that because … he is. He’s willing to sit down and listen and think about it. He’s not going to give you a soundbyte. He’s way more capable than the old party opponents. The best thing you could do for your country is elect that man for president. He’s just more sensible and sane and he’s a credible former chief executive of a state. Running against him, you have a guy who thinks nothing of running a company into the ground, and you want to make that president? And the other candidate has never held an executive role and at best was a poor manager of the state department. If you really look at things as a non-partisan American, you’re interviewing somebody for a job. And this year you have one qualified candidate and two unqualified candidates. The long-form exposure we’re getting from the press now is letting other people meet the Gary Johnson I’ve met and gotten to know. This is a guy I’d trust to run our government, and I’m Libertarian and I don’t trust government at all—and that’s a guy I’d trust.”