NEW CUMBERLAND-Like his own beliefs about the role of government, John Buckley's Libertarian campaign for the U.S. Senate is small and limited.
But he's betting that his chances of election in November will grow as more people endorse his ideas about shrinking the federal government.
"We take the red, we take the blue-the best of it-marry them together, and we've got Libertarian purple. That's what I'm trying to promote in the campaign," Buckley said during a recent campaign stop in Hancock County. "People who want less government need to have an option on the ballot. I'm the only one representing that option."
John Buckley, Libertarian candidate for the U.S. Senate, takes a break from campaigning last week at the New Cumberland Municipal Building. (Photo by Stephen Huba)
Buckley, 61, of Mathias, W.Va., is running as an insurgent, third party candidate in the campaign to fill the Senate seat being vacated by longtime Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV.
Whether his campaign is taken seriously by the news media, whether it catches fire with the voters, whether he and other third party candidates get to participate in a televised debate on Oct. 7-all that remains to be seen.
He admits he's fighting an uphill battle against the Republican candidate, U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, and the Democratic candidate, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.
But Buckley takes the political realities of running a statewide campaign in 2014 in stride because he's involved in politics as much for the ideas as for the chances of winning.
"I enjoy the discussion of political ideas and philosophy," he said.
As a Libertarian, Buckley is an unpredictable amalgam of positions on the hot-button issues of the day. He's pro-life, pro-gun rights, pro-gay marriage and pro-marijuana legalization.
Conservatives might appreciate his stance on abortion and the Second Amendment, he said, while liberals might share his views on same-sex marriage or the "war on drugs."
Buckley said he tries to transcend the "binary, bipolar contrariness" of the Republicans and Democrats by touting a political philosophy that he sums up in the slogan "Live and Let Live."
"Libertarians say that anything you do that doesn't harm or violate the rights of another person should be free, should be legal in a free society," he said. "It's almost a negative view of government. Government shouldn't do things for us; it should exist to protect our freedom to live our own lives."
Buckley traces his political beliefs to being part of the "Texas branch" of the Buckley family-his father's first cousin was conservative commentator and author William F. Buckley Jr.-and an early involvement in politics, especially the candidacy of Ronald Reagan.
A native of New Orleans, La., Buckley got involved as a high school freshman with Young Americans for Freedom, a national conservative youth organization. His family moved to northern Virginia when Buckley's father took a job with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Buckley attended the University of Virginia and got his law degree from the College of William and Mary, becoming the national chairman of Young Americans for Freedom. At age 25, he ran as a Republican candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates. He was elected in 1979 and served a term in the statehouse.
Buckley said he stopped identifying as a Republican around the presidency of the first George Bush. "I'd reached the point of being very soured at what I saw of the prospects of the Republican Party to advance the things that I believe in," he said. "My political philosophy is the same as ever-limited government, individual freedom, free enterprise."
After practicing law for several years, Buckley pursued a career at the U.S. Court of Federal Claims-as chief of staff, senior law clerk to the chief judge, and acting clerk of court. His recent retirement allowed him and his partner-he is the first openly gay candidate to run for statewide office in West Virginia-to settle permanently in Hardy County.
Buckley said he's running on the Libertarian Party ticket to give people more of a choice on Election Day.
"My perspective is completely different from the perspectives that are offered currently in the political process," he said. "The Libertarian issues cross conventional lines. The conventional politics is Republican vs. Democrat, conservative vs. liberal, red vs. blue. Libertarians take the best of both sides ... and we marry them together in a way that I think is more unifying among the electorate."
Buckley's views on abortion-that Roe v. Wade was a "horrendous" decision and that states should regulate the procedure-go against the grain of the Libertarian Party, but he believes they're consistent with the libertarian belief that government should protect the life and liberty of every person.
"My premise is, as I follow the biological facts, I see that there's another person involved-the unborn child," he said.
On the political hot potato of coal, Buckley said he supports the state's coal industry insofar as he supports free-market capitalism.
"I'm not pro-business; I'm pro-free enterprise, so I'm not reflexively in support of anything that works to the advantage of the coal industry. I'm for allowing coal to compete fairly in the marketplace, as I'm in favor of allowing other energy technologies to compete fairly in the marketplace," he said.
Buckley decries what he calls the regulatory overreach of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency but then adds, "If the coal industry pollutes, we have to make sure they bear the cost of those solutions. ... When government comes in and tries to pick winners and losers ... the government mucks everything up. We would do better to let the free enterprise system work."
While in Hancock County, Buckley, a non-smoker, said he does not support the health board's recent decision to ban indoor smoking in public places and the workplace. As with other issues, he believes the marketplace should decide.
"I think it's a mistake, philosophically and practically, for the government to tell private businesses what to do on things like smoking bans. It's naturally a part of the libertarian live-and-let-live approach. If you don't like it, don't go there," he said.
On the issue of same-sex marriage, Buckley believes a proper case can be made, on equal protection grounds, for its legalization but that it should be handled by state legislatures-not the courts.
Buckley said he's sympathetic to religious conservatives who might be hesitant to vote for him because of his sexual orientation. But he also has a challenge for them.
"Usually, if they have those values on gay marriage, generally they're also pro-life. I'd like to tell them, 'Between the two-my private life or the lives of unborn babies-weigh those and ask yourself, "What would Jesus do?" If you're a religious conservative, ask yourself, "What would Jesus do?" I think the answer is clear,' " he said.