It's party time!

The fun begins as Georgia Libertarians notch a win

This may be the winter of discontent for Georgia Democrats, but for Georgia Libertarians it looks like springtime.

The Libertarians won their first partisan election in the state when Ben Brandon of Rising Fawn was elected Dade County executive, a position replacing a hired county manager. Bradford won a resounding 65.6 percent of the vote in a Nov. 23 runoff against Republican Allen Lee Bradford.

Members of the 32-year-old third party have been elected in Georgia before, but only in nonpartisan contests. Brandon is the first to be elected with "Libertarian" attached to his name on the ballot.

Dade, nestled in the northwest corner of Georgia, is one of the most remote and contrarian of the state's 159 counties, and was long known as "the Independent State of Dade." After the Civil War, the county didn't formally rejoin the Union until 1945. Dade wasn't even accessible by Georgia roads until the late 1940s. Prior to that, motorists had to pass through Alabama or Tennessee to reach the county.

Winning a local office in a small, rebellious county in the Chattanooga suburbs might not seem a big deal. But Libertarians view it as a breakthrough, proof that party members are no longer mere spoilers but, finally, can crash the barrier of the two-party hold on Georgia politics. Brandon's victory will give Libertarians a track record in public office and may inspire others to seek office on Libertarian principles.

Brandon, a one-time Republican who says he converted to the Libertarian Party after listening to talk show host Neal Boortz on WSB-AM (750), forced Bradford into a runoff by winning 33 percent of the general election vote to the Republican's 40 percent.

The Democratic candidate, Jason Ford, was eliminated Nov. 2.

While Libertarians were celebrating the partisan victory, Georgia Democrats have suffered a wrenching two-year collapse, losing a U.S. Senate seat and control of the state House of Representatives on Nov. 2, and, two years ago, losing the governor's office, the other U.S. Senate seat, and control of the state Senate.

Last week, a well-connected Democrat was licking his wounds after losing the nonpartisan runoff election for a seat on the Georgia Court of Appeals. Howard Mead, a former legal counsel to Democratic Govs. Roy Barnes and Zell Miller, lost to Debra Bernes, a former Cobb prosecutor, despite spending more than $3 million on TV commercials.

Georgia Libertarians feel the time is right for their party to grow because of the breakdown of the Democrats and the concerns among some Republicans that their party is failing to adhere to its traditional fiscal conservatism and is now aligned too closely with the religious right.

"The Democrats are falling out of the cultural and political debate and it gives us an opportunity to succeed," says Glenn Tatum, executive director of the Libertarian Party of Georgia. "The Republicans claim fiscal responsibility but have proven time and time again they are no better with taxpayer dollars than Democrats."

The Libertarians will announce a slate of candidates for 2006 early next year, Tatum says. Among the issues the party will stress will be finding innovative solutions for transportation problems and Atlanta's deteriorating infrastructure, and revisiting the state flag issue.

"Democrats and Republicans have both failed in bringing the issue to the people by allowing a popular vote on what the people really want for the flag," Tatum says. A flag referendum in March did not allow Georgians to vote on the 1956 flag with the large Confederate X. Thousands of Georgians erected "Sonny Lied" signs to reflect their anger with Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, who was elected in 2002 on the flag issue.

If the Libertarians can drain just a few percentage points from Perdue's vote total in 2006, they could cause maximum mischief in the election. Democrats are expected to field a credible candidate with rural roots, either Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor or Secretary of State Cathy Cox, to oppose Perdue.

Libertarians wreaked extreme havoc in 1996's U.S. Senate race, when retired restaurateur and polo maven Jack Cashin won 3.6 percent of the vote, giving Democrat Max Cleland a victory over Republican Guy Millner by a scant 1.4 percent.

Tatum feels his party can attract both disappointed Democrats and disgruntled Republicans, particularly those concerned about social issues.

On the issue of the gay marriage amendment, Tatum says, "The Constitution is designed to protect our rights rather than allow the government to grant those rights to us or, in the case of the marriage amendment, to actually restrict the rights of personal choice."

But Libertarians hold views across the board. Some, like Boortz, are in favor of the war in Iraq. Others, like former Libertarian presidential candidate Harry Browne, are virulently anti-war. On abortion, some Libertarians are pro-choice, but others, like Brandon, are pro-life. He calls himself a "Christian Libertarian."

Brandon points out that social issues are usually not germane in local government elections, which makes the tax-averse Libertarians an ideal choice for municipal offices. Brandon says he was elected county executive on the basis of local issues such as taxes and zoning. He discovered massive errors in the county's tax digest and promised to fix them. He opposes zoning. He favors removing senior citizens from the school tax rolls.

He also stressed during the campaign that he was the only candidate who would have qualified when the job was a hired position. Dade voters decided two years ago to institute the elected county commission executive office.

Raised in Dade County, Brandon worked his way through Georgia Tech as a karate instructor and earned an MBA from Kennesaw State. He worked with several large corporations, including AT&T and SwissAir, and today runs an electronic messaging business and provides turnaround strategies for failing companies.

Now a celebrity in Libertarian circles, Brandon he says he has no immediate plans to run for higher office. Instead, he says, "I want to be a role model for other Libertarians in counties across Georgia."