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Phil Anderson

PHOTO BY SAIYNA BASHIR

Phil Anderson is all about Libertarian politics these days. He’s vice chair of the state party, chairman of Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson’s state campaign and president of the Libertarian Party of Dane County, a relatively new group that numbers about 37.

Oh, and he’s also running for U.S. Senate.

Anderson, 51, runs two businesses. He’s the general manager for Green Cab and owns his own real estate business. And he’s the father of two teenagers. But despite all that, he’s dug deep into his well of energy to run a campaign.

“I was just in Milwaukee this morning and we’re going to be in Milwaukee again on Saturday, and in Green Bay,” he said. “I’m going to be at a high school football game every Friday night from now until the election. We’ve been all through northwestern Wisconsin, I was in a parade at Muskie Fest, we’re going to be at the Colorama in Minocqua, we’ve been at the Brown County and state fairs this week. We’ve been all over the place.”

He’s invested his own money — $10,000 of his own so far — along with a few thousand in donations to mount an effort that next month will include television ads.

It might be a long shot, but Anderson said he wouldn’t be running if there wasn’t a pathway — albeit a narrow one — to success. And that pathway is paved with antipathy toward the two major parties, whose presidential candidates share dismal favorability numbers. Anderson expects the widespread disgust with politics-as-usual to trickle down to his opponents, Republican incumbent Ron Johnson and his Democratic challenger, former Sen. Russ Feingold.

Anderson could be a factor in the race. According to the most recent Marquette University Law School poll, Anderson has 7 percent support among voters in the state. That might make the Johnson camp nervous since Libertarian support historically leans Republican. But Anderson appears to be siphoning votes from both camps at a nearly identical rate.

The same is true for his standard bearer, Gary Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico who’s polling about 10 percent both in the Badger State and nationally after taking 1 percent of the vote in 2012.

Anderson sat down with the Cap Times to talk about his opponents and why Libertarian fortunes seem to be on the upswing this year.

We have two major party candidates with lousy favorable ratings. It’s a good time for party building, isn’t it?

Yeah it is. It’s an opportunity. Gary Johnson got asked about polling at 10 percent, and he said, ‘Well, Mickey Mouse could be polling at 10 percent right now.’ A lot of it is a protest vote. The more the public gets aware that they have a sane, not radical, not far right but not far left person as an option, then it makes sense to them. Especially the anti-war angle. That’s not being represented by any of the major party candidates.

Libertarians are drawing support from about 3 percent of Bernie Sanders supporters. Why do you think that is?

Bernie Sanders followers are a lot closer to libertarianism than they are to their own party’s nominee at this point because we agree on foreign affairs, that we should not be involved, that we should be for peace and not regime change and not foreign involvement. On social issues we believe people should be able to live their lives as they choose, marry who they want, form contracts with whom they want, eat, drink, smoke what they want. That’s a Bernie Sanders thing and not so much a Hillary Clinton thing. In terms of foreign policy and social legislation Bernie Sanders folks should be looking right at Gary Johnson as an option.

On abortion – an issue on which a lot of people vote – Libertarians seem to be more conflicted.

The national platform pretty much leaves it to the states, although Gary Johnson says he's pro-life personally and pro-abortion as a matter of government, but he would leave that to the states. I’m pro-life. There are a lot of pro-life, anti-abortion Libertarians. There’s a question as to what point, whether it’s conception, live birth, or somewhere in between, is this a person that therefore has rights under the Constitution. At whatever point somebody believes that based on things that could be mutually agreed upon – the medical science, the physiology, the logic, whatever that might be – that’s the point at which it should be illegal to have an abortion.

How’s your campaign fundraising going?

We have both my contributions and people contributing as well. There’s no PAC money at this point. I don’t really expect any because Libertarian candidates aren’t good investments for people who want to have influence on government. Not only because we have a lower likelihood of winning but because we’re philosophically for smaller government. That’s not something that the national trial lawyers or the pharmaceutical industry wants to invest in because they’re not going to get what they want from us.

Libertarians are marketing themselves as the peace party. Do you think both your opponents are too hawkish?

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Feingold in his ads talks about striking at ISIS. He worked for Obama’s reelection campaign. He endorsed Hillary Clinton. So that’s part of his foreign policy: We’ll continue to topple regimes, fight overseas and do all the nasty things that we do that create more terrorists that come back and try to kill us.

And Johnson?

He’s for more war, boots and the ground. He’s all in for that and that’s the biggest issue for me.

ISIS is definitely being played up this year. What do you think we should do about that?

The first thing we need to do is to stop the regime change, the drone strikes, the things we do across the Middle East and the world, and then defend ourselves against ISIS. We certainly don’t need boots on the ground in Syria. But the massive investment, the massive amount of influence we have that gets abused because of politics and because of big industry’s involvement in politics is what created ISIS in the first place.

Donald Trump has voiced support for some positions that fit with Libertarian philosophy, like backing out of NATO and scaling back foreign involvement. What’s the Libertarian’s main beef with Trump?

He’ll talk about raising tariffs on things and forcing Apple to build iPads and iPhones in the United States, which is silly. And he’s talked recently about the federal minimum wage being raised to $10, which is ludicrous, a bad idea, completely anti-Libertarian.

So if Gary Johnson pulled out tomorrow, where would his votes go?

I don’t know where they’d go. There might be a lot more people staying home.

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.