Utah’s Libertarian caucus drew about 20 party members to the Sandy City Library on Saturday April 19. As with any party convention, business focused on nominating local candidates for the 2008 election and delegates for this year’s national convention to be held in Denver.
Business progressed smoothly until it came time to nominate Libertarian candidate for governor, at which point one of Utah’s most notorious celebrities took the floor.
Former Totally Awesome Computers owner Dell Schanze, whose purposely obnoxious TV commercials made him a household name in the past two decades, formally announced his candidacy for the office. Among his promises if elected: limits to “huge, gigantic government spending,” protections for personal freedoms, protections for gun owners who are falsely accused of brandishing their weapons and promise not to “cowtoddle to the media.”
“I’m the guy who’s going to vote and do what I say I will,” said Schanze, adding that he thinks he has a chance to defeat Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr. or at least “get some notoriety for our party.”
Superdell’s notoriety, however, was exactly the reason why two Libertarians said their party should literally vote for nobody before picking Schanze. The party’s constitution currently allows members to pick none of the above, or NOTA, for any political position.
Former Libertarian Party chair Jim Dexter said Schanze’s nomination would be “a disaster for our image as a serious political party.” Dexter’s reasons for saying so: Schanze’s illegal “buzzing” of Utah highways (and most recently a tour boat) in his paraglider and a 2006 charge of brandishing a firearm at Draper residents who confronted him for speeding through their neighborhood. Schanze was later acquitted of the charge but convicted for giving a false statement that he was reaching for a cell phone, not a Glock.
“It will be far better to have no candidate than this loon seeking office,” said Dexter, who reportedly rejoined the party for the sole purpose of opposing Schanze’s bid.
Dexter was joined in his opposition by Willy Starr Marshall. The former Big Water mayor said that Schanze had no business running for office because of his bigotry towards gays, non-Mormons and minorities. Marshall referred to former TAC employees’ allegations that Schanze had fired them or cut their salaries because they were not Christian, or because they were not white. He also referred, in passing, to an unaired radio commercial in which Schanze referred to gays as “faggots” and “tinker bells” in need of “psychological evaluations” and offered them $100 off purchases for “being rude and abusive to homosexuals.”
City Weekly reported on the commercial in 2005 after receiving it in the mail on an unmarked CD. At the time, Schanze denied making the radio spot and called it the work of a talented impersonator, or someone splicing together clips of his voice.
An archived copy of the commercial can be heard at web.archive.org/web/20060423185314/www.slweekly.com/media/closetspot.mp3.
Marshall said that he defends Schanze’s right to free speech and even his right to fire employees for any reason.
“You have a constitutional right to be a jerk, but that doesn’t mean you can be a jerk and run for office,” said Marshall, adding that Superdell, and not Libertarian concerns for lower taxes and personal freedoms, would become the campaign issue.
In his rebuttal, Schanze said he had not discriminated against his employees and that he had no problems with gay people and would not approve laws to hurt them if he is elected.
“There’s nothing wrong with having homosexual fantasies or tendencies,” he said, adding, however, that homosexuality is a “weakness.” He also said that he had taken responsibility for his past brushes with the law, including the charge of speeding.
A number of Libertarians spoke in Schanze’s defense including lawyer Andrew McCullough, who will make another bid for attorney general this year. McCullough said Superdell’s notoriety would actually benefit the Libertarian party.
“Dell Schanze will get us on the front page of the Salt Lake Tribune, and if he has his finger in his nose, that won’t effect his ability to be governor,” he said, referring to Schanze’s recent commercial for title loan company Money Train, in which Schanze picks his nose.
When time for the vote came, Schanze attained his candidacy on a 10 to 9 vote. Dexter then attempted to get the vote overturned based on an article in the party constitution that says a candidate must have a two-thirds vote to win a nomination. Libertarian Party chair Rob Latham ruled that the article referred to a race involving three or more candidates, not Schanze’s run-off against NOTA.
Schanze then named attorney Joe Hobbs as his choice for lieutenant governor.