By literally running while running for office, Barbara Howe may have the race for best hook of North Carolina’s political season sewn up.
The Libertarian candidate for governor has jogged in 5-kilometer increments through more than 90 of North Carolina’s 100 counties as part of her campaign since kicking it off in May.
The 59-year-old Oxford resident often contacts local media or stops by a diner or visitors’ center to connect with voters. There, she shares her party’s philosophy of a limited government that stays out of people’s business.
“You can learn a lot by just listening,” Howe said. “Almost all people want the same thing. They want to live their lives, they want to be able to provide for their families, they want to be able to educate their children, they want to enjoy their free time, and they don’t want a lot of meddlesome rules and regulations telling them what to do.”
She’s run around the political block a few times, too. In her fourth bid for statewide office, Howe understands her lack of campaign funds compared with Democratic nominee Walter Dalton and Republican Pat McCrory. She’s irritated about being left out of live television debates, so the public doesn’t have as much familiarity with her and her party.
It means Howe and other Libertarians are focused upon her getting at least 2 percent of the vote. The threshold is critical: Without it or a strong showing by Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, state election officials will have to decertify the party. That means having to collect 100,000 signatures of registered voters by 2016 to return to the ballot – an expensive endeavor.
Howe knows there’s pressure on her.
“There are several measures of victory. First is to be the next governor, but secondly would be to ensure that the Libertarian Party (officially) continues to exist,” Howe said.
Howe is a Libertarian Party veteran and former chairwoman who has survived the challenges of meeting some of the strictest ballot access laws in the country. Things improved for third parties when the Legislature approved a 2006 law lowering the election threshold from 10 percent of the vote to 2 percent to remain an official party.
Duke University professor Mike Munger ran in 2008 and tallied almost 3 percent of the vote, giving the Libertarians some breathing room to raise their voter registration to a record of more than 17,000. Munger didn’t run in 2012 because of health issues. That opened the door again to Howe, who was Munger’s campaign manager four years ago and ran for governor herself in 2000 and 2004.
Munger said Howe’s candidacy is in some ways a deserved reward for years of hard work building the party. She’s been a common sight for years in legislative committees and at party booths at the State Fair and other public events.
“She’s really the architect of the growth of the party in North Carolina,” Munger said.
Howe’s views on state government reflect the party’s viewpoints that combine fiscal conservatism and social liberalism. The Democrats “approve of government involvement in business and education and all sorts of things,” Howe said, while the Republicans “want to be involved in people’s bedrooms” and how children should be educated.
Howe envisions state government scaling back to the core functions of protecting people – law enforcement, a strong court system and a highway agency with projects paid by road user fees. Taxes can then be lowered significantly, she said.
On public education, Howe ultimately would like to give tuition tax credits so parents can choose to send children to private schools, home schools or government schools.
Howe opposed the constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage and said government shouldn’t be involved in marriage. She and her husband, Tom, shredded their marriage license in front of the Legislative Building weeks after the May referendum.
Howe also opposes the death penalty and if elected would commute the sentences of everyone on death row to life in prison. She also would pardon many nonviolent drug offenders.
Any Libertarian governor likely would have to work with a General Assembly that is overwhelmingly comprised of members of the two major parties and weigh whether to sign legislation. She said she would evaluate whether a bill on balance is promoting Libertarian principles before deciding on a veto. Those who know Howe say she’s got a way of uniting those with differing opinions.
“She has a very sort of soothing personality,” Libertarian activist Susan Hogarth of Raleigh said, adding that Howe “has been able to step in a lot of instances and get people working together.”
Howe said her campaign is reaching out to supporters of former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul and college students for votes. The campaign is planning to release Internet ads but getting them on TV is an expensive proposition.
As Howe nears the close of her two runs – she plans her 100th campaign 5K the Sunday before Election Day in front of the Executive Mansion – she remains optimistic of reaching her goals.
“I’m certainly the long shot,” she said, but “we don’t have to win an election to influence public policy.”