Libertarian candidate offers voters a third way in NC-14
Libertarian David Coatney entered the race for North Carolina’s 14th Congressional District long before Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-Henderson) announced his intention to run in the newly-penned 13th District on Nov. 11. A lot has changed since then, but not Coatney’s desire to give voters a third option — outside of the typical American two-party dynamic.
“I want to present people with another choice. I believe we can’t continue to sit on the sidelines, doing the same thing we’ve always done and expect it will magically get better,” he said. “At the end of the day, until we stop seeing each other as Democrats or Republicans, we can never be part of the solution because when you represent a team you no longer represent the people.”
Founded in the early 1970s, the Libertarian Party is probably the most longstanding third party in modern American politics and recently gained its first member of Congress back in 2019, when incumbent Michigan Republican Justin Amash changed his party affiliation. Amash didn’t run for re-election in 2020.
More than 350 Libertarians still hold office across the United States. North Carolina’s State Board of Elections reports that as of Nov. 27, more than 47,000 people had registered as Libertarians, compared to 2.5 million Democrats, 2.5 million unaffiliated and 2.1 million Republicans.
Coatney holds a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism and a master’s degree in multimedia communications. He started a video production company, which evolved into a full-service advertising agency but now focuses on web design and search engine optimization.
A native of Arkansas, he’s only been in the area for about a year, after a previous stint living in Western North Carolina.
“We spent 10 years on the road traveling across all 50 states,” Coatney said. “We’ve lived in a half dozen different states and this was the one area that always felt like home. We knew when we were going to settle down and finally plant roots, this was where we were going to come back to.”
The field in the NC-14 race has shuffled significantly since Cawthorn’s move, but Coatney remains the only Libertarian so far. Five Republicans (with the recent announcement of Henderson Republican Sen. Chuck Edwards) and six Democrats have also committed.
The Smoky Mountain News: Unfortunately for Libertarians, rather than being able to go out there with that brand name of Republican or Democrat where people know what they’re going to get, you all have to spend a good amount of time explaining what the party believes, right out of the gate. Tell me what your party stands for in 30 seconds.
David Coatney: We support the rights and freedoms of all individuals, whether you personally agree with them or not. We’re often described as fiscally conservative and socially liberal, but our platforms are really consistent. We believe prohibition doesn’t work. For example, whether that’s drug policy, whether it’s gun rights, any number of issues, as a general rule of thumb, we support your right to live your life in the manner of your choosing and nobody else’s. That isn’t the government’s job and it’s nobody else’s job to dictate to you.
SMN: So recreational cannabis should be legal.
SMN: Same-sex marriage legal.
SMN: One of the things I’ve watched during the pandemic is the Libertarian Party’s stance against mask mandates and vaccination mandates.
DC: Let me start here. I’ve been vaccinated. I keep a mask on me. I’m happy to encourage these things, but I believe in encouraging them through education and not legislation. Ultimately infringing upon someone’s bodily autonomy sets a very dangerous precedent for the rights and liberties of individuals. I also believe that these are conversations you should be having with your doctor, not some politician. Educating people about vaccines is great, but when you say you’re going to use coercion or force to make people do something, it sets a very dangerous precedent. I mean, that’s what they do in dictatorships.
SMN: What other social issues that we debate in the two-party system make you say, “Hey, we don’t think the government belongs here.”
DC: Obviously you have LGBTQ rights, you have the abortion issue, other issues over bodily autonomy. Right now, with [mask and vaccine] mandates, we support your bodily autonomy in all situations, and whether that sides with the Democrats or the Republicans is completely irrelevant to us.
It goes back to the false dichotomy of the two-party system as well, because when you look at the issues on the surface, what does the corporate tax rate have to do with same-sex marriage? Absolutely nothing. There is this fallacy in this idea out there that if you sit in the middle, you inherently compromise your values and it’s not true at all. We understand that you can support same-sex marriage and also support a lower tax on business. We’re not so much fiscally conservative and socially liberal as much as we are fiscally and socially Libertarian. We support liberty for all individuals.
SMN: So what does the phrase “common sense gun reform” mean to a Libertarian? Strengthening red flag laws, for example.
DC: The lines drawn for red flag laws are blurry and gray and can be used to justify seizing guns for any number of reasons, which would be unconstitutional. We do not support red flag laws. We believe the best thing you can do to protect innocent, peaceful people is to not disarm innocent, peaceful people.
SMN: Similar issue, rural broadband. The free market has not provided the solution and some would argue that’s when governments should step in and act.
DC: That’s something we’re looking into. I’m not an expert on this issue, so I wouldn’t want to jump to conclusions too hastily without doing more research into that particular issue but I think that if the private sector hasn’t been able to create the solution up until this point, the government’s not going to come in and be able to magically fix it either. I believe, given enough time, the private sector will innovate to meet those demands.
SMN: But, how long can we wait? We’ve had multiple reports of families sitting in parking lots at McDonald’s so the kids can do their homework. Ideally, yeah, it’d be great if there was no government interference in that market, but right now people are suffering. How do you justify letting the private sector handle it? Because they haven’t handled it.
DC: I haven’t seen any evidence to this point where the government would be able to provide a quicker solution to that problem. It’s unfortunate, but if I could see a practical solution to solving that within a reasonable timeframe, I would absolutely be willing to consider that as a viable alternative. When I look at the history of the private sector, outperforming government in almost every facet of society — private schools tend to have children with higher test scores, FedEx and UPS consistently operate in the black — the most economically viable and innovative ideas and energy come from the private sector and are usually blocked by politicians that know little to nothing about that industry.
SMN: In some ways, Libertarian philosophy is fairly close to conservative, Republican philosophy. Looking at the types of people who are going to vote for you in this race, if you weren’t there, they’d probably vote Republican. How do you reconcile with the assumption that Libertarians sometimes help Democrats get elected?
DC: I don’t know that that’s necessarily the case. I think the evidence has shown that the Libertarians’ largest demographic in terms of support comes from independents who are disaffected by the two-party system to begin with, and other Libertarians. Do we pull some votes from Democrats and Republicans? Yes, absolutely. I think we have positions that align equally with both parties.
SMN: When you look at the Constitution strictly, a lot of the spending that our government engages in is not directly called for in the Constitution. If you’re elected or if Libertarians can gain a sizeable voice in Congress, what is the plan for tamping down spending that’s not explicitly authorized in the Constitution?
DC: You have to tackle that one issue at a time. I don’t support throwing a bunch of items into one bill that’s labeled as something completely different that has nothing to do with that topic, which is what many of our politicians are doing right now. As a fiscal conservative, I support reducing our spending, getting our national debt a little bit more under control. Our national debt-to-GDP ratio has grown exponentially in recent years. We’re going to have to look at each particular issue and fight that battle one at a time to get our spending more in control.
SMN: The U.S. Department of Education is one of those not explicitly authorized in the Constitution and usually education is a state or county’s single biggest expense. What’s the Libertarian position there?
DC: We believe education should be localized. I believe in local control. That’s not something that should be decided by a federal department. I also support the right of parents to choose their children’s education, whether they want to homeschool or take their children to a neighboring district, because it aligns more with a particular objective that they feel benefits their family.
SMN: One of the tropes that Libertarians get torpedoed with all the time is that when we’re talking about bodily autonomy and we talk about say recreational marijuana, then why not recreational crack cocaine? Should there be a limit? What’s to say that your kid smokes weed and they’re a good kid and it’s not a problem, but then they go down the street and buy a bag of legal heroin?
DC: I support decriminalizing all drugs in a way that’s very similar to the Portugal model. Portugal decriminalized all drugs. They had a drug crisis in their country and it seemed like a really radical concept — except it worked within a decade. Their drug overdose rate fell 90% because they started treating them like a patient, and not a criminal. They set up a commission for the dissuasion of drug addiction, which functions basically the same as an arbitration committee. You have a psychiatrist and attorney and a social worker whose job then is to oversee each individual case, treat them more like a patient and they can then recommend admittance to a drug rehabilitation facility. They’ve seen tremendous success with that.
When we look at what we’re doing by increasing incarceration and arrest, there’s an arrest coming every 23 seconds. And yet, despite all the efforts that we’re putting into the war on drugs, consumption has increased, not decreased. Drugs have won the war on drugs, so I think it’s time we try something different. If you decriminalize all drugs, you destroy the revenue streams for organized crime that have an incentive to recruit more members as a result. There’ll be less people out on the streets pushing this stuff. I believe you would actually see a decrease in consumption, not an increase.