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Libertarian leaders eye Pittsburgh for convention

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By David M. Brown
Thursday, July 19, 2007
 

Leaders of the Libertarian Party plan to size up Pittsburgh this weekend as a potential site for a future national convention.

While it wouldn't draw the crowds that typically attend the Republican and Democratic national conventions, the organization that bills itself as the nation's third-largest political party could bring as many as 1,000 delegates, family and guests here, Libertarian National Chairman William Redpath said Wednesday.

"We are different from Republicans and Democrats," Redpath said. "Republicans and Democrats try to control people's lives in various ways."

Redpath maintains Libertarians represent "the only party that is consistently in favor of individual freedom and individual responsibility."

The Libertarian National Committee will conduct its quarterly board meeting Saturday and Sunday at the Hilton Pittsburgh, Downtown. Redpath will discuss the possibility of a national convention in 2010 or 2012 during a news conference at 5:15 p.m. Saturday at the hotel.

The party, founded in 1971 as an alternative to the two major parties, holds national conventions every two years.

Mark Rauterkus, of the South Side, who plans a race for City Council in the fall as a Libertarian candidate, said the party "has a growing base in Western Pennsylvania." New members include some people "turned off" by the war in Iraq and others disillusioned with the city's "Democratic model of giving away things that's failed."

"We're bankrupt and still losing people," he said.

Rauterkus twice ran unsuccessful campaigns as a Libertarian for council and the state Senate. He said he believes the campaigns helped promote important issues, including consolidation of functions in city and county government.

The 3,269 voters registered as Libertarians in Allegheny County rank as the largest third party, but equate to a fraction of 1 percent of the county's 893,606 registered voters. There about 36,000 registered Libertarians statewide. There are 29 Libertarian officeholders in the state, all of them at the local level.

Nationally, the party is in a rebuilding phase, Redpath said. Its membership of active donors -- contributors of $25 or more a year -- has slipped to about 11,000 from a peak of 34,000 in 1999, he said.

More than 200,000 Americans are registered as Libertarians, according to the party's Web site. In 2006, about 13.4 million votes were cast for Libertarian candidates around the nation, according to information on the site.

"In a nutshell, we are advocates for a smaller government, lower taxes and more freedom," it says.

The party has recorded an 18 percent increase in membership since January, said Shane Cory, the party's executive director.

Seventeen national committee members and alternates are expected to participate in the board meeting in Pittsburgh. The group will discuss the party's progress and future goals and assess the city as a convention site.

Suitable hotel accommodations is part of the formula. The group also will get "general impressions of the city," Redpath said. "Is it clean, comfortable and fun, and will it provide a positive experience for our members."

"I've been to Pittsburgh often enough to know that it would," he said.

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