Tulsa is not used to being the center of U.S. politics. Being strongly Republican, the Republicans don’t feel the need to campaign here and the Democrats don’t see the point. Additionally, as a flyover state, major media doesn’t pay much attention to what happens here, anyway.
However, the Coronavirus lockdowns have changed the political landscape. Because Oklahoma has not been impacted by COVID-19 as much as the rest of the country, we have also been faster at reopening. Presidential candidates, chomping at the bit to begin their campaign, have found Tulsa to be a prime location to start.
While everyone is aware that the Trump campaign came to Tulsa this last week, fewer are aware that the Libertarian party also launched their campaign from Tulsa on Friday. Jo Jorgensen was nominated as the Libertarian party candidate in May, but has been unable to campaign due to the COVID lockdowns.
Jorgensen was already scheduled to speak at the Oklahoma Libertarian Party convention on Saturday (June 27). In a last-minute scheduling change, the Libertarian party leaders decided to start Jorgensen’s kick-off rally the Friday before. They had less than 48 hours to plan, promote, and prepare for the event. The location, Roosevelt’s Gastropub, was chosen because of its affinities with Libertarian values—it is an individually owned establishment that serves farm-to-table food.
The turnout for such an impromptu event was expected to be less than thirty people, including the media. However, the crowd quickly overflowed the venue, and it was forced to move outside. Over a hundred people attended, all wanting to meet, ask questions, and take pictures with the Libertarian candidate.
Victoria Whitfield, the primary organizer of the event, said that Republicans in Oklahoma feel disenfranchised. She said that what the Republican Party is supposed to be is not what it currently is. She feels that Oklahomans aren’t actual Republican Party loyalists, but rather they just want the freedom to live their lives. The Republican Party was supposed to provide that, but has failed to do so. Speaking about Jorgensen, Whitfield said, “I love that she is a real person—educated, down to earth, and relational. I feel that she is looking out for me.”
While Oklahoma tends to vote overwhelmingly Republican, it has actually become a seedbed of Libertarianism. Rex Lawhorn, one of the event’s coordinators, told me that Oklahoma actually had the highest per-capita vote for Gary Johnson in 2016. He said that he thinks that giving people the ability to do what they need to do to provide for themselves and their family is part of the state character, and the Libertarian party reflects these values.
Jorgensen runs on a fairly standard Libertarian platform, but with less of an attitude than is typical of the Libertarian party. She recognizes that “utopia is not an option,” but instead seeks practical solutions with the goal of decreasing the size and scope of government. On social issues, Jorgenson pointed out to one attendee that the free market actually holds people to account better and faster than the government could. When asked about environmental regulation, Jorgensen said that her position was that pollution is actually a form of trespassing, and, in fact, companies are only able to pollute because government regulations put a cap on the liability that they are held accountable for.
Jorgensen also spoke to attendees about recent events regarding George Floyd. She noted that she was the only presidential candidate to attend the George Floyd funeral. While she objected to the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (a section of Seattle that has been declared independent by George Floyd protestors), she did not think that it was an issue that the national government should be concerned with.
Concerning Joe Biden, Jorgensen said, “When the founders founded the country, the idea was that you would come to Washington for a few months, make laws, and go back and live under those laws. I don’t think Biden has ever really left Washington.”
The atmosphere of the event was celebratory, with many of those in attendance expressing gratitude for having an alternative to the current set of candidates. Many people associated with the campaign noted that a large percentage of campaign support (both in volunteers and money) in this election cycle has come from outside the Libertarian party, reflecting a dissatisfaction among the public with the choices available.