By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Does Fiske have a favorite socialist joke? He's silent for a long while before admitting, "No, I don't." Then he recalls that, "We have a very funny column in The Militant called 'The Great Society.'" And still later: "As of a year ago there were 471 billionaires in the world and their current annual income was equal to the two billion poorest people in the world. I don't think that's funny. It's a crying contradiction."
Frank Germann is a true believer. For 22 years he has been an active member of the Libertarian Party in Minnesota--giving money to it, handing out literature at the State Fair for it, and writing extensively about it through online newsgroups. But the former civil engineer really didn't want to be the party's candidate for governor this year.
"I was drafted," he allows with a chuckle. "I was dragged in, yelling and screaming, 'No, no!' I just would have rather had someone else do it." But in small parties, activists turn into candidates by default; sooner or later everyone who's willing--however grudgingly--takes their turn. The reluctant candidate was officially anointed at the April 18 Libertarian convention at Mystic Lake Casino, a venue chosen in part because the den of slot machines and blackjack tables is far from Democrats' and Republicans' idea of a fitting site for any official function.
"I'm not sure that I'm the most ideal candidate from the personality standpoint," concedes the 56-year-old Germann. "I'm kind of quiet." But if every race needs its Paul Tsongas, the laconic Germann seems accommodating for the party's sake. He figures he may be just "too subdued" for political grandstanding, but adds, with signature optimism, that "it takes all kinds, too, maybe."
Germann's two-story white suburban home in Dakota County's West St. Paul serves as campaign headquarters. As sun streams in the front windows on a cool fall morning, Germann fetches fuel from a coffeemaker atop the organ--his wife plays--in the corner of the room. A plastic tub on the dining room table holds what appears to be the bulk of his campaign literature. A small sign planted in his front yard proclaims, "Enough is Enough! Vote Libertarian"--one small cry for breaking rank with conformity along these tidy, quiet streets.
Germann says he once considered himself a conservative. He voted for Barry Goldwater in 1964 after getting out of the Navy. In short order, he grew disaffected when it began looking to him like Republicans were getting as hooked on big government as Democrats. He took to reading Ayn Rand tomes and hefty economic texts (Milton Friedman's Free to Choose is a favorite). He remembers being "ticked off" as he watched Republicans take office on the promise of lowering taxes and then failing to follow through. "I was politically homeless and I was looking for a home," Germann recalls of his wandering in the political wilderness. "I found it with the Libertarians."
While he downplays his own viability as a charismatic candidate, Germann is unquestionably a political animal. Online newsgroups have become a favorite vehicle for computer-savvy politics junkies to feed their addiction, and Germann is a steady, tireless provider of sustenance to forums such as the Minnesota Politics Forum and a Libertarian newsgroup. "I like putting my views out in front of people that have never heard of a Libertarian solution to a political question," says Germann, who guesses he spends a minimum of two hours a day online.
Despite his professed reticence in the political arena, Germann did run for City Council in West St. Paul in 1988. Although the race was nonpartisan, he says he made no secret of his politics, and ended up with a decent showing at 39 percent of the vote. This year, he concedes he hasn't done much campaigning, but says he's gotten the best response when he hands out a phony, outsize $1,000 bill with a picture of himself on it. It's meant to symbolize the amount every person in Minnesota would get as a tax refund from the state's bulging budget surplus, if those holding the purse strings were to follow Germann's directions.
That refund is the party's defining issue this year. Also on the plank: Germann (an uncharacteristic Libertarian with his pro-life stance) would eliminate state income and sales tax in Minnesota, a move he guesses would cut state revenues by about two-thirds. Essentially, the party marries social liberalism with fiscal conservatism to forge a "mind your own business" platform. Libertarians oppose laws governing sex between consenting adults and think drug laws do more harm than good. They believe farms should operate without government subsidies, that the minimum wage causes unemployment, citizens have the right to bear arms without undue restriction, and U.S. military intervention around the globe is unwarranted. "Basically," Germann says of the party's don't-tread-on-me ethos, "we're for a lot less government, and a lot less regulation."
Statistics from national headquarters show that the party now claims 30,000 dues-paying members, a total head-count that has tripled in just four years (with defecting Republicans outnumbering Democrats by 4 to 1). More than 162,000 voters across the nation are registered Libertarians in the 24 states that allow voters such identification; some 220 elected and appointed office holders in 33 states hold down City Council seats, small-town mayorships, and lesser posts. This fall, Libertarians are the only party aside from the Democrats and Republicans running candidates for all five constitutional offices in Minnesota (the Reform Party failed to run a candidate for State Auditor) in Minnesota.