Libertarian's run for governor is all uphill

Lancaster gets his name on ballot, aims to inspire others with campaign

Election 2002

October 30, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

When Marylanders go to the polls next week, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. won't be the only ones listed for governor on the ballot.

For the first time in more than 30 years, a third name will appear beside the Democratic and Republican candidates - Libertarian nominee Spear Lancaster, a 69-year-old retired salesman who is traveling around the state in a quest to spread his party's philosophies.

"The goal is to make this an educational process," says Lancaster, a native of St. Mary's County who lives in a Crownsville home he built himself. "It's about getting people to listen to our ideas and think about them, to realize how far out of control they've let government become."

But Lancaster and his party supporters acknowledge that they're facing a struggle, including what some describe as a "media blackout" that shuts Libertarians out of most candidate forums and debates. About 6,200 voters are registered Libertarian in the state.

Unlike other minor-party candidates who have had to resort to write-in campaigns, Lancaster won a place on the ballot this year. To qualify, the party collected more than the required 27,000 valid signatures, or 1 percent of Maryland's 2.7 million registered voters.

"It went right down the wire, so in June and July, in 95-degree heat, I would leave home with two or three apples and about a 2-liter bottle of water, and spent five or six hours outside asking people to help," says Lancaster.

It was an exhausting process that Lancaster says built camaraderie among his supporters. But by the time they won a spot on the ballot with more than 36,000 signatures, some were burned out before even starting the actual campaign.

Lancaster, however, says he gets up excited each day to go out and meet people and share his ideas. Some days, he visits college classrooms and campuses. Other days, he attends small political meetings or festivals, distributing literature and chatting with anyone who will listen.

"I feel the Republicans and Democrats are just two branches of the same political party, and I find their only answer is to create more bureaucracies and to throw more money at things," says Lancaster. "Trying to get politicians to solve these different problems is like trying to screw in screws with hammers."

Lancaster spent 30 years as a manufacturer's representative for Rubbermaid and then owned a company that made floor-matting products. He has been married to his wife, Doris, for 45 years and has two grown sons.

He says he spent most of his life as a Democrat, in the model of Harry S. Truman and Hubert H. Humphrey. But he grew disenchanted by what he saw as "a lack of creativity and a focus on just creating more government bureaucracy."

A voracious reader who keeps a computerized list of the next 50 books he'd like to tackle, Lancaster says he stumbled across the Libertarian Party about six years ago and plunged into its politics. And for the first time, he read some of America's founding documents, such as the Federalist Papers.

Libertarians say they believe government should focus on the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, limiting its actions to only what is necessary to protect people's life, liberty and property.

The party calls for the decriminalization of drugs, significant cuts to the state's budget and government services, and providing parents with financial incentives if they choose private schools for their children.

With six days until Election Day, Lancaster's campaign has raised about $41,500. But much of that was spent on the effort to collect signatures, leaving no money for anything other than literature and bumper stickers.

"My opponents are going to spend between $15 million and $20 million for a job that pays less than $200,000 a year," Lancaster says.

He says he is not troubled by the lack of attention or resources, proudly ticking off the handful of articles that have been written about his campaign by some smaller newspapers in Maryland.

He is also pleased that a poll this month by the firm Gonza- les/Arscott Communications & Research included his name among the gubernatorial options. The results, released last week, put his support at about 1 percent among likely voters.

But Lancaster's running mate - Lorenzo Gaztanaga of Baltimore - is frustrated.

"We've been kept out of the televised debates, we've been kept out of the radio interviews, the newspapers ignore our positions," says Gaztanaga, a Cuban-born security guard who ran for City Council in 1999 and is Maryland's first Latino statewide candidate.

"I suspect very strongly that if we were given proper, decent coverage instead of a total media blackout, a lot of people who stay home and should be voting would come out and vote for us," he said.

Other Libertarian candidates say they're inspired by Lancaster's campaign.

"It's giving our party more legitimacy, and I'd like to think I can even ride on Spear's coattails a little bit," says David Margolis, who is running a Libertarian write-in campaign for Howard County Council.

Lancaster says he is proud of the party's other candidates and hopes that more follow his lead in future elections. He is also finding some support among other minor parties, including Green Party candidates.

"If I was in my 20s right now, I would probably be with the Greens because they have so much energy and passion for what they believe," he says.

On the campaign trail, he hands out copies of the Constitution to college students and writes on each, "The world's greatest political document."

"I challenge them to find one that's better, and promise to buy them dinner if they can," Lancaster says. "So far, no one has met that challenge."

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