BY BRIAN MCLAUGHLIN
PUBLISHER – TLI
One of the big pushes within the Libertarian movement is to be active on a hyper-local level – and there’s no better way to be active than to face that challenge head on and run for office on behalf of your friends and neighbors.
Five-generation Frostproof (Fla.) native Martin Sullivan is a two-year veteran of his hometown’s City Council, and on Tuesday evening he was elected Vice Mayor of Frostproof. But he wasn’t the only big news for Libertarians, as newly converted LP registrant Austin Gravley was also sworn in for his first term. Gravley won his seat with 62 percent of the vote on April 4, and had registered LP just one day prior.
Today, 40 percent of the Frostproof City Council is sticking up for what Libertarians believe in – starting with fiscal responsibility. While city council elections are non-party affiliated, the platform carries over.
“I just found myself aligning more and more with Libertarian views,” Gravley, 25, told TLI. “I like the idea of government leaving everybody alone. I’ll admit I was a Republican before … but I just don’t want to keep going down this road where we have two options, big government or bigger government. So maybe I just wanted to prove a point by switching to the Libertarian Party … I like the idea of having a third party.”
Sullivan is one of only 11 mayors or vice-mayors nationwide who are registered Libertarians, and only four municipalities in the country have more than one registered Libertarian on their council. See list below this story for details (source, LP.org).
Sullivan and Gravley both face the reality of their hometown’s fiscal challenges. Their primary focus is to cut costs and preserve the identity of a town that has had Sullivan’s family in the vicinity since the 1880s, along with three generations of Gravley’s family. It is a fiercely independent town, which has led to a mostly Republican electorate being open to two men who align with a different political ideology. With the citrus industry struggling, it has been forced to brainstorm the new direction.
Maybe having two Libertarians in the leadership is a start?
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The biggest goal for Frostproof? It doesn’t want to be gobbled up by the bigger fish of Polk County and central Florida. It’s a town that is proud of its history – as evidenced by the Centennial celebration that will take place next year. Sullivan said one of his biggest goals as a city leader is to try to figure out what is the next step for a town whose primary economic base has been the citrus industry – for most of the past century.
So it’s a three-headed challenge. First, fend off outside interests that in many ways want to absorb Frostproof. Second, avoid forcing the residents to swallow a heaping dose of “taxation without representation”. Third, figure out the best way to market the area’s top attributes – like its lakes and winter climate, its natural attributes.
The town of about 3,000 residents is in a transition, and two Libertarians want to be a part of the solution, not the demise.
Sullivan’s winning message back during his first election in 2015 was to keep the local volunteer fire department independent of the county because it ultimately would keep things cheaper and independent. There were also worries that a consolidation with Polk County’s services may mean longer response times – meaning paying more, potentially for lower quality. Sullivan’s push to rescind the previous council’s decision to hand things over to the county was what got him elected.
Another big pushback has come against powerful outside influences wanting to siphon off Frostproof’s water. Sullivan has fought that initiative, along with other council members. Again, battling for his constituents, though Sullivan admits it probably won’t be the last time these strong interests will come from the growing Orlando Metro area – which is thirsty and searching.
“We keep reminding the people that it is their money, and the one thing about Frostproof is it is a really independent-minded town,” Sullivan, 46, told TLI. “They already have that mindset. They see how the town was built originally, built privately with very little government intervention. We’re just a small, rural, isolated town in the southeast part of the county and we’ve never really gotten any real help from anybody.
“There are some who would like for us to unincorporate and be a part of the county so they can absorb our tax base, and we’ll continue to have that fight with them.”
Sullivan, who today works in the Citrus industry, and Gravley, who is an independent distributor, both say their primary focus moving forward will be to keep the budget under control. With his three-year term, Sullivan will be up for re-election in 2018, while Gravley will be on board until 2020. Sullivan said he’ll continue to run for office, that this isn’t a one-time thing.
One of the rallying points for the community is Frostproof Middle-High School, and the mascot is the Bulldog — known for its tenacity and bite when provoked, yet also known for its calmer demeanor when left alone …
… an appropriate mascot for this community and its most recently elected leaders.
The Frostproof duo join Marco Island City Councilman Jared Grifoni as registered Libertarians on city councils in Florida, along with several elected municipal positions in Miami-Dade – held by Gary Gerstein, Keon Grayson, Marco Alvarez Jr. and Marialexandra Garcia, Dennis Misigoy, all Libertarians (SOURCE: LPF.org).
HERE ARE THE MAYORS AND VICE-MAYORS REGISTERED LP
Arkansas, Bobby Tullis, Mineral Springs Mayor
California, Jeff Hewitt, Calimesa Mayor
Colorado, Beau Woodcock, Milliken Mayor
Florida, Martin Sullivan, Frostproof Vice-Mayor
Illinois, Tami Wessel, Brookport Mayor
Kentucky, Larry Odom-Groh, Bellemeade Mayor
Maryland, Leo Martin, Mtn Lake Park Mayor
Montana, Michael Schoenike, Red Lodge Mayor
Pennsylvania, Timothy A. Russell, Emlenton Mayor
South Carolina, Bill Woolsey, James Island Mayor
Washington, Bob Bromley, Sumas Mayor
CITIES/TOWNS/BOROUGH COUNCILS WITH MULTIPLE LIBERTARIANS
Crystal City, Minnesota
Cressona Borough, Pennsylvania
Lago Vista, Texas