HARRISBURG, PA, [April 2, 2017] – Following a year of growth and ballot successes, advocates of liberty from around the Commonwealth gathered in Harrisburg for a weekend of speakers and professional development. During their yearly convention held April 2nd at the Harrisburg Hilton, the members of the Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania selected a diverse and enthusiastic leadership team going into the 2017 election season.

Drew Bingaman of Northumberland County was elected Chairman. Bingaman has served as the Chairman of the Susquehanna Valley Libertarian Party since 2013 and represented Pennsylvania as a delegate to the 2016 Libertarian Party National Convention. 

“In order to capitalize on the momentum of the 2016 presidential race the LPPA needs to run candidates that offer a real alternative to the status quo” Bingaman said. “It is clear that Pennsylvania voters want change, and the LP offers a principled alternative that will have a positive effect on their lives.”

Jessica Santiago of Alleghany County, William Sloan of Cumberland County, and Chris Bastone of Philadelphia were elected to the Western, Central, and Eastern Vice-Chairmanships respectively; Joseph Soloski of Centre County was elected Treasurer and Steven Brenize of Cumberland County was unanimously elected Secretary. 

“Our people are energized and motivated. The great dissatisfaction with the established parties also gives us a great opportunity to reach new young voters and independents who make up a large percentage of the voter base” Chris Bastone, an Air Force veteran and finance professional, offered. 

Jessica Santiago, a Regional Manager for a large non-profit and self-described “PTA mom”, said “People are looking for new political homes. People are feeling divided, uncertain, and some are having serious buyer's remorse. We can capitalize on this opportunity by reaching people from a place of reason, logic, and possibility. I believe we can do this at every level from the ground up.”

Newly elected treasurer, and a CPA with over 30 years’ experience, Joe Soloski is looking forward to solidifying the LPPA’s financial footing. Soloski “would like to see the LPPA positioned to assist viable Libertarian candidates get elected to various offices.  Financial strength and liquidity will allow us to do just that,” he continued “our personal liberty principles resonate with people in all walks of life.  This is our best moment yet to continue to attract people to our Party of reason and common sense.”

 

 The new leadership team will be hitting the ground running with support and assistance from outside the Commonwealth. During the Pennsylvania Leaders Forum, a professional development conference hosted by Pennsylvanians for Liberty the day before the convention, members of the party heard from potential nominees for 2018 state-wide races. Also speaking was the Vice-Chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, Arvin Vorha.

“The enthusiasm is off the charts” Vorha said. “People who want freedom are coming to us. And we are seeing that happening now not just at the national scene, but the state level. We are seeing all these people who are saying ‘I have been a republican or democrat my whole life, but they aren’t giving me what I want’ which is more freedom.” 

Headlining the Pennsylvania Leaders Forum was Larry Sharpe, a 2016 candidate for the Libertarian Party Vice-Presidential nomination. Sharpe, a Marine Corp veteran, entrepreneur, and business consultant is touring the country to support party unity and growth. 

“Once the election was over last year, we did well but a lot of people wanted more. So there was still a level of disappointment even though we had a good year,” Sharpe explained “I thought the answer was for me to run around the country... I am trying my best to keep that message going because too many people have decided that once 2016  was over, the next answer was 2020. And its not. It 2017, ‘18, ’19, then ’20. If we want a shot at victory in 2020, we have to build our momentum, our infrastructure in ’17, ’18, ’19. I am going to try my best to do that.”

The Pennsylvania Leaders Forum was organized by Marc Bozzacco of Montgomery County and Steven Brenize. The pair were soundly cheered during the convention for their successful event; Brenize was elected secretary in the lone unanimous vote of the day. 

Brenize, a former member of the Shippensburg Borough Council and an infectious optimist, is ready to take the LPPA one step further but recognizes the challenges that lie ahead. “We will hit the ground running but we have to be real, we are the trying to climb Mt Everest” Brenize said, “what we did today was book the plane ticket to Nepal... but people do reach the summit every year.”

The Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania is the third largest political party in the Commonwealth and advocates for less government and more freedom. For more information please visit LPPA.org or for media inquiries please email Steven Brenize at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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Submitted to Pa4liberty by Andrew Hatstat

 

Liberty scored a win in 2014 and 2015 when the Pennsylvania Superior and Supreme Courts ruled in a series of cases that Pennsylvania’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws were unconstitutional. Since then, Pennsylvania effectively has had no mandatory minimum sentencing laws in place. Amazingly, without mandatory minimums, the Commonwealth did not descend into crime and chaos. In fact, just the opposite occurred. Since those rulings, crime in PA continued its steady decline and the prison population continued to decrease from its peak in 2012. Studies inside and outside the Commonwealth have confirmed that mandatory minimum sentences don’t serve as a deterrent to crime. This sounds like good news all around. So, what’s the problem?

Law Enforcement Likes Mandatory Minimums

Without the threat of a lengthy mandatory minimum sentence, prosecutors lost significant leverage when negotiating with accused criminals to make a deal. In this Newsworks article, John Delaney, deputy in the Philadelphia district attorney office explains, "Without the mandatory-minimum sentencing statutes, we know there's a fairly low chance that we will get what had been the mandatory after a trial." Think about that for a second. Delaney also remarks, "The absence of mandatory minimums has resulted in lower offers from us on any number of cases."  One can only conclude that when mandatory minimums were in effect, many people were being imprisoned longer than Judge thought was appropriate based on the facts presented at the trial. Without mandatory minimum sentences, the District Attorney’s lost power to impose their will on accused criminals. Apparently, they didn’t like that.

The Bill

At the urging of the District Attorney’s from Montgomery, Delaware, and Berks Counties, State Representative and former prosecutor Todd Stephens sponsored PA House Bill 741 to bring back mandatory minimums. The bill restores minimum sentences for a broad range of offenses from selling pot to violent crimes against the elderly. According to Stephens, his bill “is supported not just by the DA's Association but also the PA Chiefs of Police Association, the FOP, the State Troopers Association and the PA Victim Advocate.” Go Figure.

Stephens is selling the bill as being tough on violent crime. “Most people I've heard from in our community support tough sentences for those who commit violent crimes (rape) against children and the elderly and those who use firearms to commit violent crimes.” But prosecutors seem to be zeroing in on its use in the drug war. In this Pittsburgh Post-Gazette piece, three District Attorney’s from Western PA are interviewed and all three agreed that the minimums would be used to target drug traffickers. Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. wants leverage to “move up the chain”. Hasn’t the failed drug war cost us enough already? Maybe it’s time to try a different approach.

One particularly concerning part of the bill covers selling drugs in a “Drug Free School Zone”. These zones include wide areas around all schools and universities. Unlike other areas, there are no exceptions made for the type or amount of drug sold inside the school zone. This effectively puts all college students at risk for a 2-year mandatory minimum sentence for selling their roommate a joint, even in an off-campus apartment. Another disturbing point is that Drug Free School Zones disproportionately cover dense urban areas with large minority populations.

Although I could not find a drug free school zone map of any Pennsylvania city, I did find one for neighboring Camden New Jersey. New Jersey has a similar definition of a drug free school zone as Pennsylvania (within 1000 ft. around any school or university). Take a look at this map from the 2005 New Jersey’s Drug Free Zone Crimes and Proposal for Reform.

 

 

Nearly half the city is a Drug Free School Zone. It’s not hard to imagine Philadelphia or Pittsburgh looking much different. Is this what the land of the free looks like?

 

What Can We Do?

  • Spread the word on social media that mandatory minimums are unjust and unneeded.

  • Call your State Representative and urge them not to support HB 741.

  • Vote for Libertarians in the next election. Better yet, run for office yourself.

 

Additional Articles

 

 

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The following list of Legislative priorities were written by Roy Minet of Lancaster County and Adopted by the Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania at their board meeting in Harrisburg on February 26th as an official statement of the board to the Legislature of the Commonwealth  

 

We use the mechanism of elections to choose those who will wield political power in order to keep this important decision-making power from falling into the hands of just a few people. The Pennsylvania Constitution unequivocally specifies that, “Elections shall be free and equal.”

Obviously, the overall process of electing candidates is critical to putting the best people into office and thereby achieving high quality government. That means the primary objective of elections is to make the best possible decisions for the overall well-being of all qualified electors. Every aspect of the process needs to be carefully examined and engineered to achieve this primary objective and to ensure the integrity of the process.

Unfortunately, there are several areas where this has not been done well at all. It is a particularly good time to re-examine everything since the technology available in the second decade of the 21st century, when very carefully utilized, can enable us to do a better job than was previously possible. It should be noted here that some attempts to utilize modern technology which are already in service have been steps backward in that they do not provide a durable, human-readable audit trail; their use should be discontinued.

Attention also needs to be directed to ending politics as a lucrative career. We need to return to the concept of productive individuals from the private sector temporarily leaving their careers to serve in elective office, then returning to their private lives.

Fix Ballot Access

It all starts with ballot access. It is impossible for voters to choose good candidates if they do not appear on the ballot. Competition always drives improvement and this surely is true for elective offices. Ideally, voters should always have a choice of at least three options, preferably four or five. More wouldn’t be bad, especially with better voting systems that would have no trouble handling many options.

In about half of the races for Pennsylvania State Representative, there is only one (1) candidate on the ballot; that’s no choice at all. Clearly, Pennsylvania would benefit from having more choices, not less.

It is just as pernicious (and just as shameful) to rig elections by controlling who appears on the ballot as it is to manipulate the voting process itself. The only valid and justifiable reason for any barrier to ballot access is to screen out large numbers of “frivolous” candidates. So, such a barrier must be as low as it can possibly be and still serve its purpose. There is no legitimate reason to make it higher.

When establishing ballot access requirements, we should be mindful not to exclude potentially good candidates who may not have large resources available. The traditional standard is that a prospective candidate should have a “modicum” of public support to appear on the ballot. It would seem that there should be two ways to obtain ballot access.

First, an individual may gather the signatures of qualified electors on a nominating petition. A modicum is a small amount, particle, speck, fragment, morsel, shred or pinch. It would seem that about 200 signatures might be a pretty good modicum for offices which are filed with the Secretary of the Commonwealth. Requiring more than 600 or so becomes prohibitive to would-be candidates with small means. It is better to err on the low side. If hordes end up on the ballot, raise the barrier slightly if/when that problem persists. It’s hard to think of a good reason why a modicum would be different for differing offices or jurisdictions. A drop of water is a drop of water, whether it came from a puddle or an ocean. It should be the responsibility of the Secretary of State to validate all signatures, and once accepted, they are not challengeable.

Second, organized political parties demonstrate a modicum of public support through their voter registration numbers. As practiced in other states, a party achieving at least 0.05% or 0.10% registration of statewide electors surely has met that standard. Such parties should be able to select candidates meeting their standards using their own nominating processes (and at their own expense), and then certify their nominees to the Department of State. This should be the only categorization of political parties in Pennsylvania.

There obviously is a small marginal administrative cost to taxpayers for an additional candidate to be handled in the election system. Therefore, a reasonable flat filing fee is justifiable for each and every candidate. $100 to $200 would seem to be the correct range. Again, there is no obvious reason this should vary depending on the office being sought. Such a fee also adds a few bricks to the wall against frivolity.

Note that a 1997 study published in the Ohio State Law Journal by Mark R. Brown found that 100 signatures and $100 were effective at screening out unserious candidates while also helping to minimize races in which voters had insufficient choice.

This ballot access issue is of the highest priority since Pennsylvania’s current ballot access laws/procedures (as applied) have been declared unconstitutional by a federal court.

Replace Plurality Voting

It has been well known for more than two centuries that the widely used plurality voting method (the option receiving the largest number of votes wins) works well only when there are just two options. When there are more than two options and no option receives a majority of the vote, plurality completely falls apart and is simply not capable of picking the option that should win. Also, it is the limitations of plurality voting which cause the almost irresistible pressure to vote insincerely for “the lesser of two evils.”

Many alternative voting systems have been proposed over the years with widely differing characteristics. Some of these would be far better than plurality and some would be considerably worse. Many aspects need to be considered when choosing the “best” method, and the tradeoffs are not as simple as they may at first appear.

IRV (Instant Runoff Voting) is one alternative method that has gained some popularity and was recently adopted in Maine. There is no doubt that IRV achieves some improvement over plurality at an acceptable increase in complexity. Unfortunately, IRV still has some very serious flaws. There still are important and common situations in which IRV is utterly incapable of rendering an intelligent choice, just like plurality. Much better methods are known.

For a more detailed explanation, please see the article, “Plurality Voting Needs to Be Replaced, But Not with IRV” by Roy A. Minet.

Fix Redistricting

Drawing voting districts has become a modern art form. The “artists” are career politicians of the old party which has control at the time blatantly attempting to assure their reelection in perpetuity. Reasonable specifications and procedures should govern all redistricting. A requirement that the perimeter of a district may not exceed five times the square root of its area would help. Alternatively or in addition, a specially constituted ad hoc redistricting commission could be formed on which no political party or ideological faction has a majority.

End Taxpayer Funding of Primaries

The expenditure of dollars confiscated from taxpayers for the benefit of any private political organization is just plain wrong, period. Primary elections are the mechanism used by the two old parties to nominate their candidates for general elections. As such, they should be entirely financed by the parties themselves. Referenda should be handled in general elections, not primaries.

Eliminate Taxpayer Funding of Pensions

 

No taxpayer dollars should be expended for pensions.

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The most wonderful thing about being a Libertarian is the ability to take responsibility for the fact your candidate didn't win. We have seen exponential growth in the party post-election because we know that we need to build, we know that we have to build a more effective vehicle for liberty. We are not bitter, we are resolved that we will promote our ideas to the best of our ability and we will empower other activists to do the same. We will acknowledge when we fail and when we succeed. We failed on Jeff Sessions confirmation not because he was the right candidate for the position, but because we were not in a position to make the conversation about his truly glaring issues, his abhorrent views on the drug war, his insane concepts on due process, and his support of violating civil liberties of all Americans to fight the war on Terror. These issues were the issues that could have gained traction with a handful of Senators, but because we have not placed ourselves in the position to be included in the hearings we were not heard. We will move on.

Our next fight is before us. We have been given a gift in HR 899. Eliminating the Federal Department of Education is an opportunity to free our local school boards from the unnecessary regulations that get in the way of innovation and have stagnated public education. This is a step toward Liberty and it is a step we should support not as our long-term goal but as a move in the direction of saner government. Call your Congressional Representative today and ask them to co-sign HR 899.

Steven Brenize 

 

 

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