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Lawyer elected U.S. Libertarian Party officer

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Mark Rutherford wants America’s third-largest political party to make inroads by showing competence at the grassroots level of government.

An Indianapolis business attorney has been elected second-in-command of the U.S. Libertarian Party. His ambition is to move America’s third-largest political movement from the margins to the mainstream by focusing on competence at the local office level.

“You don’t apply to be a CEO of a Fortune 500 company straight out of college. You start in the mailroom,” said Mark Rutherford, a partner with Thrasher Buschmann & Voelkel. “Why should people think we should lead national office until we’ve proved it at the City-County Council or county commissioner level?”

Libertarians elected Rutherford their vice chairman at their national convention in May. Rutherford, 50, is a New Albany native who grew up in Carmel, spent his teen years in Columbus, earned his undergraduate degree from Wabash College, and his law degree from Valparaiso University School of Law.

The son of Republican parents, Rutherford said he knew he wanted to be an attorney at age 8. His first law job was to serve for three years as a deputy prosecutor under Stephen Goldsmith. He then moved to private practice, where he focused on commercial and bankruptcy law, often serving as defense counsel for clients accused of white-collar crimes.
 

Rutherford Mark Rutherford

“The prosecution has lots of resources and an awful lot of power. It’s easy to be misused,” Rutherford said. “I feel much more satisfaction keeping government at bay and making sure it does things fairly.”

As you’d expect from a Libertarian, Rutherford’s views align with conservatives on many business issues. He bemoans the encroachment of regulation and criminal penalties in a wide number of areas, from fishing licenses to waste disposal to nursing home management. But on social issues like ballot access, civil rights and personal freedoms, he sides with liberals.

He wants government to keep an eye on the country’s borders, not its citizens’ bedrooms. Bottom line, he embraces the Libertarian view to abridge the rules for everyone, then live and let live.

“Congress would be better off if they tried to approach everything as simply as the 10 Commandments,” said Rutherford, who is married with no kids. “When you start adding all these regulations, you give a lot of control to the prosecution, because who knows what’s a crime anymore?”

Rutherford’s election to the Libertarian Party’s National Committee didn’t come out of the blue. He spent most of the last decade as chairman of the Indiana Libertarian Party with a strategy then, as now, of focusing on grassroots victories. Today six Libertarians hold Hoosier elected office.

“Building a party is a slow business, unless you get lucky or are a media darling,” he said.

Libertarians face a substantial foe for the top third-party bragging rights. Rutherford doesn’t like the term “fringe” for parties besides the Republicans and Democrats, but he acknowledges that the Tea Party currently has the most momentum among them.

Rutherford likes their enthusiasm, but finds Tea Party supporters inconsistent in their aim to reduce taxes without an equal emphasis on cutting spending. Tea Partiers share Libertarians’ dislike of the political dominance of Democrats and Republicans, but Rutherford said the Tea Party “picks and chooses when big government is OK,” and has too many members who still want their Medicare.

“Libertarians say you can’t have it both ways,” Rutherford said.

If history is any guide, neither the Libertarian Party nor the Tea Party is likely to compete with the Democratic or Republican parties in mainstream politics anytime soon, said Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis political science professor Brian Vargus. The United States actually has more than 50 active parties. The most successful in recent years was Ross Perot’s Reform Party, which not only had a well-known leader at the top of the ticket, but made significant inroads at the grassroots level in the 1990s.

The Reform Party’s fortunes have faded, Vargus said. That’s largely because sustaining a bottom-up political strategy in the long-term is incredibly difficult. Most people pay little attention to politics, Vargus said, and when polled, about a third of voters in any congressional district can’t name any candidate running. So they fall back on socialization and vote for the party their parents favored – or vote the opposite way for the same reason.

Grassroots efforts can have a big impact on local races, where investments in shoe leather could literally introduce a candidate to every voter. But bottom line, Vargus said, it’s tough for a political party to build sustainable support quickly.

“This would be equivalent to turning the Queen Mary around in the White River,” Vargus said.

Rutherford understands the challenge. But he said Libertarians are here for the long haul, and he’s committed to helping them gain ground.

“When I first got involved, one of the hardest, biggest things we had to overcome was no one had heard the word ‘Libertarian.’ Now the biggest problem is people misunderstand the term,” he said. “We’ve made the hurdle. It’s made the vernacular. Now we can educate people what it means.”•

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This story was originally published by the Indianapolis Business Journal July 6, 2010.

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  1. Im very happy for you, getting ready to go down that dirt road myself, and im praying for the same outcome, because it IS sometimes in the childs best interest to have visitation with grandparents. Thanks for sharing, needed to hear some positive posts for once.

  2. Been there 4 months with 1 paycheck what can i do

  3. our hoa has not communicated any thing that takes place in their "executive meetings" not executive session. They make decisions in these meetings, do not have an agenda, do not notify association memebers and do not keep general meetings minutes. They do not communicate info of any kind to the member, except annual meeting, nobody attends or votes because they think the board is self serving. They keep a deposit fee from club house rental for inspection after someone uses it, there is no inspection I know becausee I rented it, they did not disclose to members that board memebers would be keeping this money, I know it is only 10 dollars but still it is not their money, they hire from within the board for paid positions, no advertising and no request for bids from anyone else, I atteended last annual meeting, went into executive session to elect officers in that session the president brought up the motion to give the secretary a raise of course they all agreed they hired her in, then the minutes stated that a diffeerent board member motioned to give this raise. This board is very clickish and has done things anyway they pleased for over 5 years, what recourse to members have to make changes in the boards conduct

  4. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  5. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

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