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In Colorado, libertarians duel with presidential candidates after RFK’s surprise nomination causes chaos

Last week, the Libertarian Party of Colorado made a surprise announcement: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. would be their presidential candidate in the state.

Party leaders described this as a mutually beneficial alliance. Kennedy is an independent candidate, and this would guarantee him election in Colorado. The Libertarians, meanwhile, said they shared some values ​​with Kennedy – and supporting his candidacy could damage the two-party duopoly of Democrats and Republicans.

However, there is a potential problem.

The National Libertarian Party has already chosen a candidate, and it is not RFK. A man named Chase Oliver was nominated at the party’s convention in May and is set to appear as the Libertarian candidate on ballots across America—but apparently not in Colorado.

Party member Caryn Ann Harlos of Castle Rock – who calls herself the “honey badger” of libertarian politics – was not happy about this.

“To say I was completely freaked out would probably be an understatement,” Harlos said. She believed the state party was going astray – and that her decision to nominate a new candidate would violate the agreements and bylaws that govern the party.

“Libertarians don’t believe in government, as you know. But we believe in voluntary contracts. In a world where there isn’t even such a thing, Thunderdome reigns,” she said, stressing that she was speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the party.

So Harlos, who is also a National Party official, took action.

Earlier this week, she printed out the state government’s candidacy papers. She entered the names of Chase Oliver and his running mate Mike ter Maat. She had the papers notarized at a bank and sent them to the Secretary of State’s office.

Those filings officially declared that Oliver – not Kennedy – would be the nominee in Colorado. Meanwhile, the Oliver campaign filed its own paperwork accepting the nomination. All of this followed standard protocol, Harlos argues – she also filed the 2020 paperwork to get that year’s Libertarian candidate on Colorado’s ballot.

It appears that the national party has beaten the state party to the punch. As of Wednesday morning, the state party had not filed its own paperwork to nominate RFK as a candidate.

This fight is far from over

The state party has strongly denied Harlos’ claims. State party officials say their charter does not require them to follow state party guidelines. They say the selection of a presidential candidate in Colorado is solely in the hands of the state executive committee.

“There are legitimate questions and concerns about whether Ms. Harlos exceeded her authority, not only with her communications with Colorado SOS, but also in her role as LNC Secretary,” state party spokesman Jordan Marinovich wrote in an email.

The State party will soon submit its own documents, he said.

Harlos’ bid is not yet complete. The national party still needs to submit the names of 10 presidential electors to complete its nomination by Sept. 6, according to the Secretary of State’s office. During that time, the state’s Libertarian Party could also complete its own nomination papers.

It could be a race between rival factions – or a legal battle.

“A single party may not place multiple presidential and vice presidential candidates on the ballot in Colorado. The Department will accept complete filings from any branch of the Libertarian Party if submitted. Colorado law is silent on intra-party conflicts regarding the nomination of candidates,” wrote Jack Todd, a spokesman for the Secretary of State.

The very public split is also causing a scandal at the party’s national level. According to an email released by the state party, national chairwoman Angela McCardle rebuked Harlos for filing the paperwork.

“You will not usurp my authority as chairman,” McCardle wrote to Harlos, according to the document. “You took unilateral action this week that put us at risk of legal action. To be clear, you acted outside your authority when you sent that form to the SOS, knowing that (the state party) had provided us with a written agreement with Kennedy… We will not be dragged into a lawsuit on your behalf.”

The national party did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

However, one person could definitely come out on top: Kennedy.

His campaign has already spent weeks collecting signatures from thousands of voters. If he submits enough valid signatures, he can appear on the ballot as an independent, regardless of what happens with the Libertarians. Giselle Massi, a campaign volunteer, said the campaign has also submitted more than 20,000 signatures, compared to the 12,000 required, and that needs to be done this week.

It reflects larger divisions within the smaller party

Even before the state party turned to RFK Jr., Colorado Chairwoman Hannah Goodman had turned against national candidate Oliver.

“He doesn’t necessarily represent libertarians across the country,” she said on the Free State Colorado podcast, pointing to Oliver’s positions on the COVID-19 response and transgender youth.

Courtesy of Hannah Goodman

Hannah Goodman, candidate for the 4th Congressional District.

Oliver has reiterated his support for non-surgical gender reassignment surgery for minors and LGBTQ rights more broadly. A growing faction within the party holds culturally conservative views on issues such as gender.

The state party has called Kennedy a good alternative. Although he was a Democrat until recently, the state party argued that Kennedy’s focus on “ending corporate welfare, reducing government spending and protecting the environment” was consistent with its own priorities. And he could bring new money and relevance to the party, argue his libertarian supporters.

Others, like Harlos, disagree, saying Kennedy is a liberal in part because he would sign an assault weapons ban if it passed on a bipartisan basis. Kennedy was nominated as the Libertarian Party candidate at the convention, but received only 19 votes from the more than 900 delegates.

This has happened before. In Arizona in 2000, Colorado-born science fiction writer L. Neil Smith appeared on the ballot instead of the national Libertarian candidate.

In Colorado, the Libertarian Party ranks third in terms of membership, far behind the Democrats and Republicans.

In 2020, the Libertarian candidate received about 52,000 votes in the state, or 1.6 percent of the vote. But it’s possible that minor candidates are doing unusually well this year. A recent edition of the Rocky Mountaineer poll found Kennedy supported by 12 percent of respondents, although the pollster noted that polls often overstate third-party support.