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August 2004
Volume 18,
Number 8

Read more of Liberty's LP Convention coverage!

  Libertarian Politics  

An Interview with Michael Badnarik

Only minutes after Michael Badnarik won the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination, he sat down for an interview with Liberty's R. W. Bradford.


R.W. Bradford is editor of Liberty.
Badnarik for President Campaign Button

Liberty: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where'd you come from? What sort of education did you get?

Badnarik: I grew up in Hammond, Ind., just outside Chicago. I went to Indiana University, where I started out with marine biology, and then majored in chemistry. I got a job at a nuclear plant in Zion, Ill. I was transferred from there to a nuclear simulator which is basically a $6 million computer game that they use to train nuclear operators. I moved to California in 1985 when I decided that cold and snow were 4-letter words and I worked for two years on the stealth bomber, then moved to San Luis Obispo to work for four years on the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. In 1997, I relocated from California to Austin, Texas, where I worked as a computer consultant and a technical trainer.

Liberty: What degree did you get?

Badnarik: I actually didn't get a degree. I majored in chemistry and did four and a half years and decided I was tired — I didn't really want to have a job in chemistry and so when I got a real job in the world, I decided not to continue.

Liberty: You've been running for president full-time for the last 18 months?

Badnarik: Yes. I made my formal announcement in Austin at the state capitol on Feb. 17, 2003, which was President's Day.

Liberty: And you've been on the road campaigning ever since?

Badnarik: I've been on the road campaigning. We spent March through June 2003 visiting as many state conventions as we could. We returned to Austin in July so that I could resume a telemarketing job for a while. And then I took some time off to finish my book. I wrote a book on the Constitution that I now use as the text for my eight-hour Constitution class and did fundraising and campaign preparations. We — my friend John Earhart and I — left Austin Jan. 8 and continued traveling just short of 25,000 miles before we came here to Atlanta.

Liberty: I've heard stories that you're into some kind of rightwing constitutional antitax activities.

Badnarik: It's not right wing. We the people ordained and established the Constitution. We invented government and government works for us. The government has not been responsive to the people. If the IRS is planning to collect taxes they have to determine how those taxes are valid, how you become liable for those taxes. Americans across the United States have been asking the IRS how do I determine whether or not I am valid and how much tax I am valid for. And the Department of Justice and the IRS have continuously refused to answer those questions.

Liberty: Do you counsel people about whether or how to pay their taxes?

Badnarik: No I do not. I do not give any legal opinions. I am not a lawyer, I choose not to be a lawyer. I am simply requesting that our government live within the scope of the Constitution.

Liberty: Do the courts have the right to determine whether laws are constitutional?

Badnarik: No they do not. The decision was Marbury v. Madison in 1803 and it's a double-edged sword. Marbury v. Madison is usually quoted because it says that any law repugnant to the Constitution is null and void. I certainly agree with that. The second part of Marbury is that the Supreme Court should assume the responsibility for interpreting the Constitution. But the Supreme Court cannot tell us what the Constitution is because the Constitution tells us what the Supreme Court is.

Liberty: Do you think the usurpation of the right to judicial review makes it easier for Congress to enact unconstitutional legislation?

Badnarik: Absolutely. And we the people should take a more supervisory role over what Congress does.

Liberty: How does your class on the Constitution work? Will you continue to give the course during the campaign?

Badnarik: It's an eight-hour class, typically done in one day from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Liberty: How much does it cost?

Badnarik: Up until now it has been $50.

Liberty: What size classes have you taught?

Badnarik: I have taught classes as small as four or five. But Thursday I taught a class here at the hotel that had 32 students.

Liberty: Will you continue to do this during the campaign?

Badnarik: I would not be adverse to teaching the class during the campaign because my job is specifically to spread the word. If it is deemed that that is a lower priority than some of the other things that I am doing, then certainly it would take a back seat.

Liberty: Do you know who your campaign manager will be?

Badnarik: I do have an interim campaign manager, Fred Collins.

Liberty: Will he be the permanent campaign manager? Badnarik: No. He has indicated that he wanted to be an interim campaign manager. His primary job will be to organize the structure so that we can take this campaign all the way to November in a very professional manner.

Liberty: Last night, I told you that I thought you'd gone from long shot to dark horse in the debate, and that you might very well be the favorite. You almost seemed stunned at your rise. When did you first realize that you had a shot at the nomination?

Badnarik: After the second ballot.

We spent March through June 2003 visiting as many state conventions as we could. We returned to Austin in July so that I could resume a telemarketing job for a while.

Liberty: What do you think will be the primary issues?

Badnarik: I don't know. I really haven't given it much thought.

Liberty: Have you given any thought to putting together some academic advisors?

Badnarik: I do have a few academic advisors. But there was never any formal arrangement for the process, but certainly by the end of the week, we will have a staff.

Liberty: Why do you think you won the nomination?

Badnarik: I would like to think that it is because I tenaciously hold to libertarian fundamentals and that when I express my ideas it is obvious to the listeners that I sincerely hold those views, that the words that I speak are not rhetoric and that I believe what I say from the bottom of my heart.

* * *

The interview continues, by telephone, on June 4.

Liberty: When Fox News asked you for your positions on various issues you responded with brief summaries of the LP position rather than your own views. This contrasted sharply with the intelligent and witty responses to those same questions during the debate.

Badnarik: I really don't know . . . were the Fox News questions and answers written?

Liberty: Yes.

Badnarik: Yes? That was some time yesterday. What I do is just answer the questions with whatever comes to mind and if an interview is following a particular trend I just kind of stick with it.

I've never been put in jail for not having a driver's license, because it's a class three misdemeanor, and they can't put you in jail for that.

Liberty: It was my impression that the answers you gave were extremely perfunctory. All but one of your answers for Fox News simply summarized the LP position, despite the fact that Fox had asked "where do you stand" on the issues. And the one question to which you didn't merely give the LP's official position was "Where do you stand on the separation of church and state?" I would think that someone who is a constitutional scholar like yourself would give an answer more than "the Libertarian Party doesn't have a position on this issue."

Badnarik: Well, the problem that I saw at the time, at least I interpreted that they were asking what the Constitution says. And the Constitution doesn't mention the separation of church and state. The separation of church and state comment comes from a letter from Thomas Jefferson to, I forget which church it was . . . but I don't have any . . . there was no particular strategy to answering the questions that way.

Liberty: When asked about the war in Iraq and calls for resumption of the military draft during the debate, you responded, "Imagine, people are not willing to go to foreign countries and die the way they used to. Imagine that." To Fox News, you said, "The Libertarian Party is opposed to the War in Iraq and we are also opposed to the potential draft that Democrats and Republicans are planning to revise." It almost seemed as if you were downplaying some of your views.

Badnarik: No. There have been no decisions made to do that, and I have just been under the gun and traveling. I haven't slept past 6:00 in five days. I think I am holding up pretty well with the lack of sleep and the traveling. We have not made any strategy decisions to downplay anything.

Liberty: Should we expect you to continue to answer questions in this perfunctory way?

Badnarik: There is no deliberate strategy to do that . . . I haven't been able to count the number of interviews I've been involved in and I think it has been going very, very well and I think I've been improving as I've gone along.

Liberty: I'm curious because I think the kind of answers you gave in the debate were a lot better.

Badnarik: I haven't even seen the debate yet.

Liberty: When did you last file a federal income tax return?

Badnarik: I've been unemployed for about three years. I'm not sure exactly when the last one was. I've sent letters asking the IRS to clarify my tax [situation].

Liberty: In your book, you suggest that people should ask the IRS whether they are liable for income tax, and how does one figure out which "items of income" are excluded for tax purposes. Are these the kind of questions that you have asked the IRS?

Badnarik: Yes

Liberty: Barb Goushaw-Collins, your campaign manager, told me that you are trying to settle with the IRS right now. Is this true?

Badnarik: Yes.

Liberty: Is this a campaign decision to make the campaign go more smoothly?

Badnarik: Yes.

Liberty: Some of your supporters who were aware of your status as a non-filer suggested to me that if the IRS actually arrested you during the campaign, it would be great publicity. You've rejected this line of thinking?

Badnarik: Yes, because I represent the Libertarian Party. I don't think that the Libertarian Party endorses that level of activism. I was doing that on my own for lack of any other venue for getting my message out. I had several people tell me that this was a compromise of values and I don't necessarily see it that way. In order to accomplish things, there are times when we have to postpone our goals for an intermediate step.

You know the Founding Fathers, most of whom were opposed to slavery, bit the bullet and consented to a clause in the Constitution which forbids Congress from [interfering with] slavery until 1808. It wasn't an acceptance of slavery. It was an acceptance of the fact that you can't eliminate slavery immediately. When I was doing that I was doing whatever I could to put government in its place. As a spokesman for the Libertarian Party, I think I have much better opportunities to get our message out and to damage the IRS than to create this big brouhaha which could very easily be spun to discredit us and marginalize us. Although I still intend to eliminate the IRS, this is only a temporary strategic [decision].

Liberty: One of your aides said you don't have a driver's license, that you let yours expire when you moved to Texas, because they wanted your Social Security number . . .

Badnarik: They wanted my Social Security number and a fingerprint and I was trying to obtain one without that. That apparently wasn't possible, and so again, I chose that bat tle because even if I lost, I figured the worst that would happen is that it would cost me money. I've actually been very successful. I've actually won several of my court battles. I've gone to court, picked a jury, and after I have picked the jury, the prosecutor raised his hand and asked the judge — filed a motion to dismiss.

Liberty: You've been stopped without a license, right?

Badnarik: Yes. I've been stopped several times without a license and I have been given citations. I've never been put in jail for not having a driver's license, because it's a class three misdemeanor, and they can't put you in jail for that.

Liberty: Have you been fined?

Badnarik: Yes, I've paid fines. I've actually gone to court and won some of them. The dramatic behind-the-scenes issue is that when I get the ticket, I go to the police station and they ask me how I want to pay the fine. And I tell them point blank that I don't want to pay the fine, I want to go to court. They say, "Go home and we'll send you a letter indicating when you're supposed to appear in court." They tell me that they will, and they're legally obligated to send me notice but they don't. Not being omniscient, if they don't send me a letter telling me when the court appearance is, I don't know when I'm supposed to be there. When I fail to show up, they call my name and file a warrant for my arrest for failure to appear. The next time I'm pulled over for not having a driver's license, due to my lack of knowledge that there was a warrant out, I get handcuffed and taken down to the county jail and get processed.

Liberty: How many times has this happened?

Badnarik: Three. I've been told recently that Alabama does not require a fingerprint or Social Security number for driver's license and I've been advised that I can get a driver's license there.

Liberty: Why does your campaign card list your address as Buda (78610), Texas, rather than putting the ZIP code after the state?

I've been unemployed for about three years. I'm not sure exactly when the last tax return I filed was. I've sent letters asking the IRS to clarify my tax situation.

Badnarik: ZIP codes are federal territories. It's just a style thing.

Liberty: Had you talked to Gary Nolan before the convention?

Badnarik: Gary Nolan and I promised each other when we first met in March of last year at the Wisconsin convention that we would conduct our campaigns strictly above board, we would keep it on the issues, that we would not resort to mud-slinging at all.

Liberty: When Nolan finished third and was eliminated from the ballot, he threw his support to you. Do you think that was critical in your winning the nomination?

Badnarik: Everything was really, really close . . .

Liberty: That final vote wasn't very close, was it?

Badnarik: I think on the third ballot I got something like 55%. I am still kind of dazed by the whole process. I wasn't surprised when Gary did that, but I wasn't expecting it. I mean we didn't have any agreement or arrangement, as had been suggested.

Liberty: Had you talked at all with Aaron Russo before the convention?

Badnarik: When I discovered that Aaron had entered the race, I sent him an email and offered him the same nomudslinging offer. I had met Aaron Russo in, I think, September 1997. I happened to be in Las Vegas and I was driving along and I spotted an Aaron Russo for Governor sign so I stopped and ended up speaking with him because I had seen his "Mad as Hell" video and had learned of him that way. Aaron and I always remained friendly but I just didn't interact with him as often because typically he would arrive just before the debate and just didn't hang around. Politically I thought that all three of us were pretty much down the party line. It was difficult for us to debate each other because our positions were so similar.

Liberty: I had the impression that the debate at the convention was designed to showcase the candidates and the party rather than to bring out differences.

Badnarik: Yes. And all I did was to . . . I was actually speaking to the C-Span audience. Basically I was ignoring the delegates and trying to do my best to do a good show for the C-Span audience because frankly I thought that the debate was my last responsibility in the campaign. I was hoping to do well, I didn't anticipate that I would go home in disgrace, but I certainly wasn't anticipating that I would actually win the nomination.

Liberty: At the Florida convention, all three candidates were asked whether there was anything in their background that could come out during the campaign that could bring bad publicity to the LP or to their campaign or to themselves, and all three candidates including you said that there wasn't.

Badnarik: Right.

Liberty: Did you think that not having filed your federal income tax returns was something that could bring bad publicity?

Badnarik: That wasn't something I was ashamed of. If I thought the Libertarian Party would be comfortable with it, I would be happy to challenge the IRS. You know, we invented the government, they work for us, and the IRS has a responsibility to answer our questions. We are asking what law makes us liable? The question was, "is there anything in my background that I was embarrassed about."

Liberty: Oh. I was told that the question was is there anything in your background that could come out that could be a problem, and to a lot of people the fact that you could be arrested at any moment is that sort of problem. And now that you've won the nomination, you're trying to take care of that IRS problem.

Badnarik: Well, the IRS wants money. They don't necessarily want me in jail, they just want compliance. I intend to start paying them the money, then there's no reason for them to throw me in jail. As an interim measure, I will resolve my differences with the IRS so that it doesn't bring any embarrassment to the LP and then once I'm finished with the election after November, I will pick up my battle with the IRS again.

Read more of Liberty's LP Convention coverage!

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