An influential business group in Colorado has told the Libertarian Party’s nominee, Lilly Tang Williams, she will not be included in a much-anticipated U.S. Senate debate next month.
Williams was told she won’t make the cut because the Libertarian Party’s membership in Colorado doesn’t make up at least 1 percent of the state’s registered voters, as needed under the bylaws of Club 20, a Grand Junction-based nonprofit group that sponsors high-profile debates in election years.
“According to the Secretary of State’s office, there are currently 3,678,915 registered voters in the State through the end of August and 35,967 of those are registered as Libertarian voters,” wrote Club 20 director Christian Reece in an email to Williams.
“The Libertarian Party represents .977% of registered voters in Colorado which falls short of the 1% threshold needed to be included in our candidate debates.”
That means Williams will miss out on this year’s first U.S. Senate debate by a margin of 0.023 percent.
The debate is scheduled for Sept. 10 in Grand Junction. Those interested in attending can register here.
“I’m frustrated,” Williams told The Colorado Independent, adding that in a year when voters might be looking for non-major party options, debates are a way for candidates like her to get their messages into the broader political discussion.
A Chinese immigrant, Williams, 51, often talks about her former life under the Communist leader Mao Zedong and about her personal journey to freedom in America.
Now a real estate investor who lives in Parker, she came to the United States when she was 24 with $100 in her pocket. She didn’t know English. She won her party’s nomination in March. If elected to the U.S. Senate, Williams says she would try to abolish the Department of Education, curb crony capitalism and corporate welfare, and roll back the country’s mass surveillance programs.
As the website The Libertarian Republic points out, while registered Libertarians barely made the statewide 1 percent mark, they are represented at higher than 1 percent of registered voters in some of the 22 counties on Colorado’s Western Slope, where the Club 20 debate will take place. The website is urging Libertarians in Colorado to contact Club 20 and “demand” Williams be allowed to debate.
The Libertarian Party of Colorado isn’t going that far, says state chair Jay North.
Since Club 20 is a private, nonprofit group with its own bylaws, “There’s not a whole lot that we can do besides hope that they let us in,” North says.
North says the party is increasing its membership by about 100 voters a week, suggesting that if the Sept. 10 debate were four five weeks later, the state party might be able to crack the 1 percent needed. Plenty of Colorado voters likely agree with the principles of the Libertarian Party, which was founded in Colorado Springs in the early 1970s, he says. But, he adds, they just don’t know enough about the party to join.
“I think most of it is just education,” North says about what the party might do to bring in more people.
Williams says she asked Club 20 to reconsider, but was denied.
Club 20 director Reese didn’t respond to messages left at her office or her cell phone, but passed along a statement via email.
“CLUB 20 has longstanding rules to guide our candidate debates so they are fair and equitable to all parties,” she wrote. “Senate Candidate Williams did not meet the minimum threshold of registered voters required to be invited to participate.”
Founded in the 1950s, the organization is a coalition of businesses, groups, and local governments that represents 22 counties on Colorado’s Western Slope.
Journalists and political observers make the trek from Denver, usually on the first Saturday after Labor Day, for the organization’s top-ticket debates. In 2014, Club 20 put on the first face-off between then-Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and then-GOP Congressman Cory Gardner.
If both major-party candidates for U.S. Senate show up Sept. 10, it will be the first time Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet and Republican Darryl Glenn, an El Paso County commissioner, will have confronted each other before an audience during the general election.
Last Friday, the two both showed up to a legislative barbecue at the State Fair in Pueblo, but avoided each other.
With Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump topping the presidential ticket, voters this election cycle might be looking at third-party candidates a little more closely, perhaps up and down the ballot.
“Certainly in this election year I think people are interested in a variety of opinions and perspectives on the issues,” says Gerry Cummins, vice president of the Colorado League of Women Voters. “What’s going on in national politics influences that but also the population of Colorado is changing. We’ve had so many new residents move to the state and they’re bringing those different perspectives with them. Plus the millennial vote— who knows what they are going to do and if they are going to show up.”
In Colorado, the Libertarian Party’s nominee for president, Gary Johnson, is polling around 16 percent, according to a recent Quinnipiac survey.
Green Party candidate Arn Menconi will be on the November ballot for U.S. Senate in Colorado, as will Unity Party member Bill Hammons. The Green Party has about 10,000 registered members in Colorado. The Unity Party has about 400. Neither of their Senate candidates qualify for the Club 20 debate.