Sam Steiger made the switch from Libertarian to Republican, and he wants the rest of Arizona Libertarians to do the same.

Although the fiery gubernatorial hopeful has moderated some of his traditional Libertarian positions since his race for governor under the party banner in 1982--including backing away from support of drug legalization--he continues to court party members. A June 7 letter, written by two active Libertarians and paid for by the Steiger for Governor Committee, urges state Libertarians to change their registration to Republican so they can vote for Steiger in the hotly contested primary race.

The letter, sent to all 2,500 registered Arizona Libertarians, argues the same thing Steiger has been preaching on the campaign trail all summer: He is the only candidate who can defeat Democrat Terry Goddard in the general election, and if voter turnout is low in the September 11 primary, Evan Mecham could be the Republican standard bearer against Goddard. If that happens, the letter says, "Goddard will be, (gasp, choke), Governor of Arizona . . . that would be a disaster for Libertarians and a victory for Big Government Terry and his pirates."

Because Arizona has a closed primary system, where voters may cast ballots only for members of their own party, the letter asks Libertarians to temporarily switch to the GOP. The letter also solicits Libertarian money and volunteers.

"Sam Steiger in the Arizona governor's office would be the greatest, most dynamic boost for the cause of liberty ever to happen in Arizona," the letter states. "Just think of it: Libertarian ideas and philosophy being broadly discussed and actually implemented; free-market and limited-government advocates in positions of authority; reduced bureaucracy and spending . . . and much, much more."

Kathy Harrer, who co-authored the letter with former Libertarian party official Rick Tompkins, says the mailing has received favorable response in the Libertarian community. "From what I've heard, the Steiger campaign has gotten better response from this than other letters they've sent out," she says.

Steiger spokesman Edith Richardson says the campaign has gotten a "large written and spoken commitment" from Libertarians to change registration, and has picked up a few campaign volunteers as a result of the letter.

Michael Dugger, the editor of the monthly Arizona Libertarian newsletter and a member of the party's state executive committee, says he has changed his registration and is urging his friends to do the same.

"Almost everyone I know is changing to vote for Steiger," Dugger says. But what are the long-term effects of the switch on the Libertarian party? Will party members who change to Republican simply stay with the GOP?

Dugger isn't worried. "Libertarians are vote conscious and I think they will change back once the primary is over," he says. "This is just a way for us to have some real impact on the process."

Steiger, who won enough votes in 1982 to earn a four-year spot on the ballot for Libertarians, still supports much of the party's platform, including drastically reducing the number of state employees and dismantling local school districts while giving curriculum control to individual schools. He is an admitted "Libertarian at heart."

As one high-ranking state Republican official put it, "You know the old saying--if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it's probably a duck. Well, Steiger is quacking Libertarian all over the pond."

But his openly Libertarian leanings are a target for his opponents, who hope to paint Steiger as an extremist, a candidate unacceptable to mainstream Arizona Republicans. Unlike many members of the state GOP, Steiger also supports abortion rights and a paid state holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Earlier this month, Steiger was attacked for his 1982 statements advocating the legalization of drugs and bemoaning the futility of drug enforcement. His new position paper on the issue states that he has since changed his mind and no longer favors legalization.

Fred Koory, one of Steiger's Republican opponents, says the letter to the Libertarians demonstrates Steiger's "extremism."

"He is much too far afield for most Arizona Republicans," Koory says, "and this letter shows that. He is taking positions of convenience--showing his radical stripes for the Libertarians and more moderate ones for the rest of Arizona."

Richardson, pointing to polls which show Steiger gaining in the Republican race for governor, says the candidate is merely an advocate for true conservatism.

"Sam represents fiscal discipline and less government interference in people's lives," she says.

"That isn't extremism, it's true conservatism. And if the Libertarians support that too, so be it. We can use their help.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Darrin Hostetler