Libertarians, Howe says, think government should stop trying to control people's private behavior. They also want it to stop "demanding" that we contribute to one another's social welfare. So government spending in virtually every form is suspect. No corporate welfare. No abortion funding. No public financing of campaigns. Even Hurricane Floyd relief strikes them as, well--keep it to a minimum. "Disaster relief is primarily a private responsibility," Howe says.
"It's not for me to say you have to help another person," she argues. "I would hope that you would be willing to help, because in that same situation, you would probably want to be helped. But government should not demand it."
Not all Libertarians are anti-capital punishment, Howe says, but she's proud that the N.C. party has made it part of its official platform. "I oppose it on moral grounds," she says. "The only legitimate use of force is in self-protection. Once you have someone bound and gagged, and he's no threat to anyone, you don't have the right to kill him."
Howe is a 47-year-old homeschool teacher of her two teenage children (her 21-year-old son is working and may go to college). She's a missionary for the cause--"individual freedom and personal responsibility," as she'll say every few minutes--who speaks with the brisk twang of the Western North Carolina mountains where she grew up. Like a lot of Libertarians, she came to her political philosophy as the result of success in school--and her sense that the schools, reflecting the conformist mindset of the culture, didn't really like people who stood out from the pack. "I was valedictorian of my high-school class [in Marshall]. And the response was, 'That's nice, Barbara, now don't be bragging.'"
She met her husband, Tom, now a programmer at IBM, in graduate school. She was a Libertarian at heart; he was an "official" Libertarian. They've been active in the party since, helping it grow from a handful of people in North Carolina to the current total of 6,000 registered voters. Their dream is that it becomes a third major political party. Their goal is 10 percent of the vote in a gubernatorial election, which is what it takes in North Carolina to gain automatic access to the next election ballot. Otherwise, it's out on the pavement to collect 51,000 signatures--the test Green Party members failed, which is why there'll be no Ralph Nader on the presidential ballot come November. There will, however, be Harry Browne, Libertarian candidate for president--the Libertarians are persistent.
The 10 percent goal is a long way off, however. Howe, running for the U.S. Senate in the '98 race, got 2 percent.
And it doesn't help when, on the rare occasions the major party candidates debate one another, she's left out. That was the case two weeks ago when Democrat Mike Easley and Republican Richard Vinroot were invited by business and education groups to debate school issues in Raleigh. Howe wasn't included (she's pro-school choice, but with tax credits, not vouchers), and she had to work a bit even to be seated in the invitation-only audience.
She's also not wanted, apparently, at the only debate scheduled for broadcast TV, the one set up by the "Your Voice, Your Vote" gang of major newspapers and television and radio stations for Oct. 26. They've included her in interviews, she says. But for the main event, no invitation so far. "I'm going to go to work on that," she smiles.