Image courtesy of Robert Sarvis.
Robert Sarvis, known for his 2013 gubernatorial bid, is again running for office in Virginia. The Libertarian Party candidate, with a background as a software developer, lawyer, and math teacher, is aiming to be the next senator from the southern state.
This past Saturday, Sarvis was confirmed as the Libertarian nominee at the party’s convention in Richmond. He will be running against a particularly popular incumbent senator, Former Governor Mark Warner (D). A 2013 poll gave Warner a 61 percent overall approval rating, with only 25 percent of respondents disapproving of his performance. The Republican challenger will likely be Ed Gillespie, a former Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia and political strategist who has worked for then-President George W. Bush and Senator George Allen.
Neither of Sarvis’s opponents has a record of consistent respect for liberty. Gillespie’s expressed views on foreign policy are far from libertarian; he has defended George W. Bush, his former employer, regarding his “firm sense of direction in what it takes to win the War on Terror.” Gillespie has also been a vocal supporter of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Warner is more libertarian on gay marriage and gun rights, but the same cannot definitely be said of his record on foreign policy. What little information we have on his drug policy views suggests no deviation from the War on Drugs mentality, while Ed Gillespie has no apparent record of comments on the issue.
Along with supporting gay marriage and “less intervention in foreign policy,” Sarvis will be an urgently needed voice for a more sensible drug policy. As a candidate for governor, he promoted legalizing marijuana under similar regulations to those currently in place for alcohol. This put him in line with what polls estimate to be 40% of voters in Virginia, and the majority of voters nationwide. For other currently prohibited drugs, he endorsed the decriminalization policy currently on display in Portugal. Under the Portuguese drug policy, the drug market remains underground, but drug possession for personal use is not treated as a criminal offense. This has been a resounding success. Since the policy was enacted in 2001, the small European nation has demonstrated significant and lasting decreases in drug-related harms, such as overdose deaths and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. As a United States senator, Sarvis would push to leave these matters to the states, which would allow the already impressive progress of the drug policy reform movement to continue to spread.
Sarvis garnered a full 6.5% of the vote on election day last year. Although some polls had put his support at closer to 10%, his actual results were still quite impressive for a third-party candidate. This put him in third place in the records for all Libertarian candidates for governor, behind only Wisconsin’s Ed Thompson with 10.5% in 2002 and the party’s 1982 candidate for Alaska, Dick Randolph, who managed 14.9%.
As was pointed out during Sarvis’s last run, it is not entirely reasonable to assume that Libertarians will serve as “spoilers” for their Republican opponents. In the last 50 gubernatorial elections in which a Libertarian nominee received at least two percent of the vote, the victors were evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. For last year’s race in particular, exit polls determined that had Sarvis not been in the race, Sarvis voters would have been equally likely to vote for his Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe as for his Republican opponent Ken Cuccinelli. The majority of his supporters, though, said that they would not have voted at all without Sarvis. In other words, he is able to inspire a constituency who otherwise did not find themselves represented. This can only be a good thing for his prospects in this latest bid for public office.
Parts of this article were published in an earlier article on The Libertarian.