Boulder might be known, at least politically, as the People's Republic, in a nod to the area's leftist reputation. It's a tough place for Republicans or libertarians to make a splash.
But that's exactly what Evergreen businessman and Roger Barris hopes to do this November.
The libertarian is running for Jared Polis's vacated 2nd Congressional slot, a safely Democratic seat in this Boulder-centered district that also includes left-leaning spots in Summit County and Fort Collins.
Known for their distaste of federal government and their overall laissez faire approach to politics, libertarians account for slightly under 1 percent of registered voters in Colorado (0.97 percent, to be exact), more than double the nationwide average. But then, the party got its start here more than four decades ago.
Barris is the first to concede the difficulty of winning a dark blue district like the 2nd as a libertarian. But even a second-place finish — potentially ahead of a Republican — could open the door for future libertarian enthusiasm and more funding for statewide candidates.
The Democrat in this race, Joe Neguse, is the heavy favorite, and the Republican, Peter Yu, has little money or name recognition. We profiled independent candidate Nick Thomas last month, and we recently chatted with Barris, a 59-year-old who is running full-time and self-funding much of his campaign.
Westword: Tell us about your campaign and where you sense it's going.
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Roger Barris: I've got three professionals on my staff, and I have a number of volunteers, as well. I've got a social media guy, I've got a campaign manager, and I've got a guy who kind of managers my volunteers and does a bunch of other stuff.
In terms of how it's going, I had a very late start. I was nominated in March, and I hadn't really done anything before that. And the other thing, and this is the big problem with the Libertarian Party, is that we have no infrastructure. Zero. I am also running a much more active campaign than I think anyone has ever done for the Libertarian Party, which means I have to create everything.
The initial buildup has been very slow, but we are hitting cruising speed. My social media has gone from zero to 1,000 in one month, blowing past Nick Thomas and Peter Yu. My next target is Joe Neguse.
We are, finally, firing on all cylinders. Because I can do this full time, I am meeting with every group. I am happy to talk to anybody. As a practical matter, that generally means mostly Republican groups. So tea party groups, groups like that. [And with] the Democrats, I'm trying, but frankly they live in an echo chamber, and they don't want to hear contrarian voices. But I am happy to talk to all groups.
I am doing everything possible to reach out, on a grassroots basis, to anyone who will talk to me. It's building, what can I say?
Give us your background.
I'm originally from the Detroit area. As a matter of fact, the first time I ran as a libertarian was in 1982, when I was 23 years old. I ran for a local office. I've been a libertarian since I was seventeen years old. The biggest reason I'm a libertarian is I hate hypocrisy. I think that being a libertarian is the only political way not to be a hypocrite. Both the Democrats and the Republicans are hypocrites, in different ways, but they're total hypocrites. That's probably the biggest reason I'm a libertarian.
In terms of where I've lived, I studied economics and finance, and then I worked primarily on Wall Street, and then I went to Europe. I initially was working in New York from 1985 to 1990, the last three years at Goldman Sachs. I quit Goldman, and then I was going to write the great American novel, but I ended up teaching finance in France, because there was a woman involved, of course. Goldman re-hired me in London when the money ran out. So I worked in Europe from basically 1990 to 2017 for various firms. I was almost always an investor, so I was either investing the money of the firm, or I was investing for external pension funds. In my roughly 25-year career of doing that, the groups I led — I was almost always the leader of the group — invested about $20 billion, and I'm happy to say that we never had a losing year, even in the financial crisis, because I saw the financial crisis coming.
Since [my business career ended], I've been semi-retired. I continue to work with my old firm on their investing committee, and I advise other firms — usually on their investment committee, as well — because that's the fun part of our business. And then I make mutual investments in different businesses.
What are your primary policy ideas?
I have three campaign promises. The first one is to stop the wars. The wars are not making us any more secure. They're making us less secure because all of the terrorist attacks. They're bankrupting the country, and they're destroying our young soldiers. It absolutely nauseates me when I hear people talking about what we have to do for our vets. The most important thing we can do is to stop producing [vets] in these wars, which serve no genuine U.S. interest. That's number one.
Number two, cut taxes, but also cut spending. Because by cutting taxes, without cutting spending, all we are doing is creating a tax deferral, and we are deferring it onto the shoulders of our children. The Democrats are the party of tax and spend, the Republicans have become the party of borrow and spend. We have to work on spending, period, and then we can have real tax cuts.
The last thing is I want to create a federal government so small that we don't have to fight over it anymore. The basic idea is that we have weaponized the federal government. Every SCOTUS nomination is a declaration of war. Frankly, I want a world where I don't have to care who the latest appointee to the Supreme Court is. I want a world where the government is not intervening in every part of all of our lives so much so that we all have to fight like cats and dogs over who controls it. You want to stop fighting about public schools? Create school choice and let parents decide. Then the battle over what gets taught in schools disappears. I'm in favor of a woman's right to choice, but I'll be damned if I'm going to force people to pay tax dollars to pay for her choice. I'd get rid of that argument.
You want to drastically cut down the government. What does that government look like?
I am not an anarchist, I am a minarchist. My ideal government is we have a federal government that is responsible for national defense. Almost all of the policing and legal functions belong at the state level, not at the national level. But I also want to see a social safety net that is designed to protect people who clearly cannot protect themselves. But I want that in an efficient way. We have something like sixty different welfare programs that overlap, which make absolutely no sense. I would like to see a social safety net that targets people who truly can't help themselves. It creates the right incentives, not this crazy system we have now that basically detracts people in poverty, because if you make an extra few bucks, they take away forty different benefits, so it actually makes no sense for people to actually try and get out of poverty.
[I'd also want] a military designed to protect America, not police the world. And then all the rest of it belongs at the state level. I have ideas about what the state should provide, and, again, I think it's fairly minimal. But at the end of the day, that's nothing to do with the federal government. One of the things we have to go back to is the original idea of federalism, which is one of the key points of our form of government.
What are your feelings toward President Trump?
I always take my Trump à la carte. It's become a question of, are you for Trump, or are you against Trump? I can't answer that question. I am for Trump when he does things like cut taxes, although I wish he would cut spending, and when he does things like work on de-regulation, although he should be doing a lot more of that, and when he overturns some of the really crazy education policies of the Obama administration, like the Title IX witch hunts that the Obama administration [implemented].
Conversely, I am against Trump when it comes to things like his tariffs, which are just mindless, his general authoritarianism and his false idea that he is the CEO of America Inc. and so he is going to micro-manage every aspect of the economy by basically bullying companies. And I'm against him on his immigration policies. I'm not for open borders, but I am for making legal immigration a lot easier, because I think we benefit tremendously from legal immigration. The reality is that despite all of his talk about illegal immigration, the Trump administration has done everything possible to curtail legal immigration, as well.
And the only wall I want to build is between Colorado and California. Having moved here, and having decided specifically to avoid California because of the insanity of their governmental policies, I would hate for Colorado to become East California.
Why do you think you've got a chance in this race?
If the Republicans thought that they had a prayer in this district, they would have nominated someone stronger [than Yu].
In this district, especially in Fort Collins and with the large student population, the libertarian brand is actually much better than the Republican brand, particularly the Republican brand of Donald Trump. When they had the Republican debates up in Boulder, [Kentucky Senator] Rand Paul actually walked into the cafeteria before the debates to a standing ovation. So libertarianism, particularly our social policies, plays much better in large parts of this district than the Republican brand does. There's no doubt in my mind. In addition to which, I can make a strong case that I am, in fact, by far the most qualified candidate.
We've had a history of Libertarian Party candidates. For example, the guy who ran for this office the last time [Richard Longstreth[, did it part time, because he had a full-time job. He spent about a thousand dollars of his own money. It was, like most libertarian candidacies, an amateur effort. I am doing this full time, I have a professional staff, I have professional videos, and I am investing a lot more than a thousand dollars of my own money [about $25,000 to $50,000]. I think if you put all of those things together, and particularly given the weakness [since the Republican Party] has totally given up on this district, and I think I have a fair chance.
You're not the only third-party candidate. How do you differ from Nick Thomas?
A whole variety of ways. One, the Libertarian Party got about 6 percent of the vote last time, so I'm building upon a base that Nick does not have. Number two, frankly, when I listen to Nick, he has no policies. His policies more or less consist of: We're all going to get together, sing kumbaya, and everything's going to be okay, and I'm afraid that's just not true.
In particular, there's a great quote from the humorist P.J. O'Rourke, where he basically says the most frightening words in Washington are "bipartisan consensus." Nick is basically saying that I'm going to go there and I'm going to reflect the bipartisan consensus, and I'm going to hope to bring it about. The problem is that the bipartisan consensus has been a disaster, for the most part. We don't need someone to reflect the bipartisan consensus, we need someone to resist it. For example, the bipartisan consensus got us into Iraq. The bipartisan consensus keeps us in Afghanistan. The bipartisan consensus just resulted in a $1.3 trillion appropriation budget that busts every spending cap on the planet. The bipartisan consensus is basically the lowest common denominator. People have to resist this, not reflect it.
Is your goal to win the race, or is it to make a splash?
I would love to win, of course. But in this district it's virtually impossible. But let me tell you what would happen if I were to beat Peter Yu. There are, within the Republican Party, people like Rand Paul and [Michigan Congressman] Justin Amash, who are libertarians but who have decided to run as Republicans because I think that's how they get elected. But they are disgusted by Trump. They have no influence in their own party, and they are waiting for a signal that they can basically jump ship and still get re-elected. So I think if libertarians start doing well, then it is a signal to these people that they don't have to tolerate the Republican Party re-made in the image of Donald Trump.
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Number two, there are a huge number of people who are libertarians on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley and in Hollywood, frankly. The guys behind South Park are libertarians. They are waiting for a signal that investing in the Libertarian Party is not a waste of money. And historically, it has been a waste of money. Although our ideas are world beaters, our candidates have often not been. So I think once we start demonstrating that we have candidates who are on level with our ideas, then the money starts to flow to the Libertarian Party seriously.
And then the last thing is, if the Libertarian Party starts doing well, the other big barrier we have is that we are ignored, by [the media[, by the pollsters, etc. And if we start doing well, that is no longer the case. We have [real] candidates now. For example, Larry Sharp, who is running for governor of New York, who has raised more money than his Republican opponent. Our national chairman for the Libertarian Party, Nicholas Sarwark, is running to be mayor of Phoenix and has a very serious shot. We have [Nebraska state senator] Laura Ebke, who used to be a Republican and switched to a libertarian. She is doing amazing things in the Nebraska state legislature, and she's up for re-election.
And I would add that one of the reasons that Laura Ebke is doing amazing things is because we are so partisan now that actually being a libertarian allows you to get things done, in a way that being a D or an R does not. We are actually a neutral party. We are outside of the tribe, and we so can actually get stuff done in a way they cannot. And Laura Ebke is the proof of this.
This conversation was edited for clarity.