SALEM — A reconciliation is in the works between the long-splintered Libertarian Party of Oregon.
Since 2011, there have been two organizations calling themselves the Libertarian Party of Oregon. One is officially recognized by the Secretary of State's Office. The other group is not.
Kyle Markley, the recognized party's chairman, says that "tensions have eased considerably" since last summer and the leaders of both groups have met several times.
"Our board of directors has already agreed to accept some of their members as delegates to this year's Libertarian National Convention, and their board of directors has already agreed to cooperate with our primary election and nomination process," Markley wrote in an email to the EO/Pamplin Capital Bureau. "There are still difficult details to negotiate, but we are making progress."
Though there had been divisions in the party for years, in 2011 they came to a head when the then-chair of the party adopted new bylaws, in what the unofficial party characterizes as a "coup."
The official party views the 2011 move as an effort to limit "undue influence" of party members who didn't live in Oregon or register as Libertarian voters.
"I think it's fairest to say that it began with a basic disagreement as to what the nature of the Libertarian Party ought to be," said Lars Hedbor, a member of the board of the recognized party. "Should it be an organ of the libertarians of Oregon, in other words should it be basically owned and managed by the libertarian voters? ...Or should it be basically a paid membership club open to anybody anywhere as long as they wanted to belong to it?"
Richard Burke, who is on the other side of the split and serves as that group's secretary, sees it differently. He says people who may identify as libertarian register as either Democrats or Republicans to be able to vote in primary elections. (Both the Democratic and Republican parties in Oregon hold closed primaries). He notes that Oregon's unofficial party is recognized by the national party and its judicial committee.
Burke says he and his side believed that those people, as well as people who purchased lifetime memberships to the party and moved out of state, and young people who may be younger than voting age, should all have an opportunity to take part in the party's activities.
Those differences of opinion may soon be water under the bridge, though the groups plan to divide party-related duties.
The side currently not recognized by the Secretary of State's Office will focus on policy and lobbying; the other group will focus on candidates for elected office.
Libertarians make up the largest minor party in Oregon. But only about 19,000 Oregonians — roughly .7 percent of registered voters — were registered as Libertarians as of April, according to the Secretary of State's Office.
Burke says he's also interested in asking the Secretary of State's Office to consider changing its policies to prevent one party official from changing the party's bylaws.
He says the Secretary of State's Office recognized the other faction because party bylaw filing documents submitted to state were signed by the last-known chairman of the party. Burke would like the Secretary of State's Office to require political party bylaw filings be signed by more than one officer, or put other safeguards are in place to ensure the rules have wider party support.
"Most of us really don't care who's chair," Burke said. "What we're concerned about is that a single person has this much power, whoever the chair of record is. If this happened to us, it could happen to anybody."
Hedbor says libertarians are all "philosophers" of one kind or another, who can find something to argue about until the cows come home. However, he says, by the same token, they tend to agree ideologically, if not in terms of how the party should be structured.
"It's like herding cats," said Hedbor. "But they're all cats who have the same sort of basic understanding of what we're trying to accomplish."