If I’ve learned anything about libertarians, it’s that they know how to have a good time. There’s a place on the 500 block of Hayward Avenue in Ames called the Liberty House II, ground zero of my ties to the university libertarian community here and the locale of more than a few heavily intoxicated nights over the course of the past year. So when one of its residents, the fiery-bearded David Olson, called me to tell me that another, 23-year-old and former Des Moines Area Community College economics student Campbell DeSousa, planned to kick off a bid for a seat in the Iowa Statehouse at the Bali Satay Indonesian restaurant Tuesday night, I had to check it out.
Festivities began around 8 p.m., at which point two dozen or so friends of DeSousa gathered around a few tables near a set of windows facing Lincoln Way and ordered dinner. When food came, I doused my 80-cent bowl of steamed rice in soy sauce — a sacrifice made to allow for a second glass of cheap beer on tap — and listened to the ensuing conversation as the candidate finished off his Shiraz and read over the notes to his speech.
Libertarians are a strange breed. Their economic policies, in the well-minded interest of freedom, are less intrusive than even those of dreaded Reaganomics, and although I must admit I find their message intriguing, the jaded idealist in me always pleads caution to keep my distance. But just as I feel my fingers balling up in anticipation of a shaking of the fist — “Those damn libertarians!” — they say something to win me over.
On Tuesday, this particular phenomenon first occurred in reverse order after dinner, a few tables nearer the stage where DeSousa would later deliver his speech. There, fifth-time Statehouse candidate Eric Cooper, associate professor of psychology at Iowa State, commanded a decidedly smaller audience. I introduced myself, and Cooper, who is again challenging Democrat Lisa Heddens in District 46, left the table to take a seat at the bar for a brief chat.
“First, I’d like to see marijuana legalized in Iowa,” Cooper told me, earning my immediate approval. “I think we’re spending way too much on prisons putting these folks in jail, all of which could be saved if we just were to legalize it. So just way too much law enforcement expense on that.”
Then he voiced his key economic concern, about the privatization of schools: “I don’t see there’s any reason for the government to run the schools any more than there’s any reason for the government to run the grocery stores,” he said, likening his vision to our government’s food stamp system. “The government can help poor people pay for their education without actually running the schools themselves.”
A few impatient minutes after 9:30, DeSousa finally emerged from the back rooms of the Bali House for his moment in the spotlight. Appropriately, I thought, it was the same location where I had encountered Republican presidential candidate and area libertarian hero Ron Paul on the eve of the Ames Straw Poll last August. (Regrettably, I thought, there was no flautist dressed in Revolutionary War-era garb this time around.)
“We need some freedom around here,” DeSousa began to a chorus of cheers from the sympathetic crowd as he sipped a fresh glass of wine. “Freedom is a most wonderful thing. Absolutely. So when I’m in the House, I’m going to implement a lot of bills to give you guys freedom. Take, for example, gay marriage. Right now in the state of Iowa it is illegal for two people of the same sex to be married. Why on earth does the government have to decide that?”
Aptly, his next target was the drinking age of 21 — “Let’s face it, that’s a little bit high” — as he listed off freedoms granted at the age of 18 while someone in the audience shouted “Porn! You can buy porn!” DeSousa’s reasoning: “Honestly, in this day and age you shouldn’t have to go and vote for somebody without having a little bit of booze in ya.”
He then voiced his support for the legalization of cannabis, condemning America’s appalling incarceration rate — “There are so many people in jail because America keeps redefining what crime is. They keep making things that don’t hurt anybody else illegal” — before talking economics and taking aim at House District 45′s Democratic incumbent, Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (or, as he teasingly called her, Beth “Wessel-Kreshell”). He criticized her support for minimum wage legislation, the new smoking ban (two other issues Cooper also took aim at), and what he considered time- and money-wasting resolutions she introduced including one to honor ISU’s volleyball team.
After his speech, DeSousa and I ventured to a table to discuss matters further. He carried with him the third glass of wine I’d seen him with that night, which he was handed shortly before giving the stage to Cooper (and immediately after finishing his second glass on stage).
Here, he took on a more serious tone, continuing to discuss some policy proposals — for example, the expansion of the free market and replacement of social welfare with private charity — but switching his emphasis to more philosophical matters.
“There is so much bloating of the government,” he told me. “The government is getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and what we need is a free society again. The Constitution was written for this purpose, to keep the government in check. The government is an institution of the people, not the other way around.”
DeSousa decided to run, he said, in response to the flaws of our current system of government, namely corruption including the pervasive “kowtowing to special interests” and suppression of the views of third party candidates. To combat this, he said, the best way is to begin from the bottom, “and the House of Representatives in the state is a great place to start.
“My hope for the campaign is to get the word out that there are alternate ways to think, be it Libertarian or Socialist or Green. The two-party system is causing so many problems, for state governments and the federal government, and it’s just time for a change. It’s absolutely time for a change.”
His sentiment echoed that of Cooper, who had admitted to me in our earlier conversation that although third party candidates don’t typically win elections they still hold the potential to enact change. “I see the role of the third party as to just get like 10 percent of the vote on a regular basis,” Cooper said, “because that’s enough to decide the election between the Republican and the Democrat. That’s going to force the major parties to adopt our issues.”