The L-Word

Libertarian candidate Bruce Guthrie says what Cantwell can't.

Bruce Guthrie, the Libertarian Party candidate for U.S. Senate, appeared on statewide television last week and did what Maria Cantwell hasn’t done this election season—firmly aligned himself with the Seattle liberals and progressives.

While Cantwell plays to the muddled, post-9/11 center and GOP candidate Mike McGavick tries to pass himself off as a reformer, Guthrie declared himself antiwar, anti–Patriot Act, pro–gay marriage, and pro-pot. Cantwell, meanwhile, says gay marriage is not an issue, and McGavick recently called for drug testing of welfare recipients. “I’d prefer drug and alcohol testing of members of Congress,” Guthrie said during the candidates’ televised debate Oct. 17.

In the past, most TV stations have limited debaters to the D’s and R’s. But KING-TV goes by a set of complicated and lengthy guidelines to measure a candidate’s appeal to voters, one of which is how much money a candidate’s campaign has raised. This time, it was set at $1.2 million. So Guthrie, a former Western Washington University business lecturer, turned off his instinctual hatred of debt, mortgaged his house, pooled his savings, and landed a loan from a commercial bank, which he gave to his campaign.

And there he was on TV, calling for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq the same day that 11 U.S. soldiers were killed there, while Cantwell and McGavick, in essence, backed the war effort.

Guthrie, a Libertarian since his college days at Cornell, calls the two major parties “big ugly parties” that leave gay voters and many lefties “stuck” with nowhere to turn.

“We’re gun-toting economists on drugs,” Guthrie says, laughing about the longtime Libertarian rep in his rundown Lake City office, which is located next to an empty storefront and a bar called Cadillac Jack’s. Guthrie doesn’t own a gun but supports gun rights. He smoked his last joint in 1985, he says, but is all for decriminalizing marijuana use.

For decades, Libertarian candidates have hewed to an antigovernment, fiscally conservative, gun-rights line, while stressing personal freedom and privacy rights and opposing most wars. Though they’ve been mostly on the fringes, current political realities may make it easier for a Libertarian to appeal to educated, urban voters in ways that religious Republicans and warrior Democrats cannot.

Not that any of this makes it easy for Guthrie to get serious exposure. He says he was rebuffed by papers large and small across the state when requesting endorsement interviews. And the Libertarian Party in Washington state has hardly been a hit with the electorate in the past. In 2004, its gubernatorial candidate, Ruth Bennett, pulled 2 percent of the vote, likely stripping votes from Republican candidate Dino Rossi in a historically tight and controversial election that went to Democrat Christine Gregoire. In the same election, Guthrie took 2.5 percent of the vote in running for office in the 2nd Congressional District.

But now, Guthrie has made a public ripple in ways that Green Party senatorial candidate Aaron Dixon can only wish for. Dixon was arrested for trespassing after being barred from the KING-TV debate taping on Oct. 17. Meanwhile, Guthrie showed up in coverage of the debate on KING-TV as well as in The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Guthrie’s next move is to decide whether he’s going to spend a significant amount of that $1.2 million on the campaign. He says he’ll decide later this week whether to run TV ads in the remaining days before the election. Seriously. A Libertarian running TV ads. Finally the Kill Your Television crowd will have a reason to tune in.