The Virginia Lt. Governor's race, normally an inconsequential affair because of the largely ceremonial nature of the office, just got a bit more interesting. Gary Reams, a Northern Virginia telecommunications industry manager, has entered the race on the Libertarian ticket. But Reams has a twist: he is campaigning solely on the marijuana issue and calls his campaign a referendum on marijuana prohibition, or more alliteratively, the Reams Reeferendum (http://www.reamsreeferendum.com).
"What makes this campaign unique is that I am specifically, loudly and repeatedly telling people this is not a vote for Gary Reams, or the Libertarian Party, or libertarianism, this is a vote for marijuana reform," Reams told DRCNet. "If people vote for me, the only thing anyone can claim is that those were votes to change the marijuana laws. Even on my campaign literature, I restrict myself to this one issue. In a state that does not have an initiative process, this is as close as we can get to a true referendum on the marijuana laws."
Virginia requires signed petitions from 10,000 voters to qualify candidates for state-wide office. Reams turned in 23,000 in June and qualified for the ballot earlier this month, along with Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Bill Redpath. He would like to get at least as many votes as he got signatures, but even that could be an uphill battle. Libertarian Party presidential candidate Harry Browne got only 15,198 votes in Virginia last fall. In 1997, third-party gubernatorial candidate Sue Harris DeBauche got 26,000 votes, just 1.5 percent of the total.
Reams has no illusions about becoming the next lieutenant governor of Virginia, but he does believe he can beat those totals. "Libertarians or third party candidates have only polled 2% or 3% in the past," he conceded, "and anything above that threshold will be a measure of our success. If we got to double digits, that would be a tremendous success," he said.
"There are only something like a thousand Libertarian party members in the state," Reams told DRCNet. "My base is Libertarian, and I'm proud to be a Libertarian, but when people vote for me this year, they are voting for the Reeferendum. Support for the Reeferendum cuts across all demographic lines, all age lines. I chose this issue because I think there is consensus that the marijuana laws have gone too far, that prohibition doesn't work. I think a large part of the population agrees, but the main parties have failed to address it. This campaign is an opportunity for voters to signal the government that the laws have gone too far and it is time for reform," Reams explained.
And it is an opportunity to focus attention on marijuana reform in an off-year. Only Virginia and one other state are holding state-wide elections this year. According to Reams' calculations, with the dearth of other political campaign news this fall, his Virginia race could garner national attention. "Virginia is right in the front yard of the nation's capital," Reams said, "and a lot of pundits and national politicians live in the Washington suburbs, so this could have a real political impact. When mainstream politicians see there is a sizeable constituency for marijuana law reform, they will begin to pay attention. If we do well in this campaign, we will be noticed. This could be the most significant electoral drug reform effort in the nation this year."
Reams is no stranger to political activism or third parties. An active Quaker, Reams cut his teeth on environmental and anti-nuclear politics and worked on the 1980 Citizens Party presidential campaign of Barry Commoner. Tired of being marginalized, he became a Democratic party activist during the 1980s, but that extended dalliance ended in 1992. "I was always big on civil liberties, for tolerance, and against prohibition," said Reams, "and I came to see that the Democrats were not defenders of personal civil liberties. I was very disillusioned." He has since become active in the Virginia Libertarian Party, where he was twice elected state chairman. He resigned that position to undertake this campaign.
"I've always been against this drug war," Reams said. "It's just gotten progressively worse over the past 30 years, escalating until it has no bounds, no limits, and the prohibitionists have no restraint. The drug war cuts across issues; it involves the budget, foreign policy, the criminal justice system, racism, public health and safety."
The campaign is beginning to pick up steam. Reams first picked up press coverage with an appearance at a 4:20 festival at Virginia Tech in April and has begun to garner more now that he is officially on the ballot. He is also hitting the airwaves, thanks to local radio shows; he is setting up meetings with local newspaper reporters and editors; and he is planning a Reeferendum golf tournament (see the web site for details) for the non-tie-dye set. "We want to get beyond the counterculture," he explained, "and show those folks how they benefit from ending marijuana prohibition."
But he can use all the help he can find, he told DRCNet. "Anyone who is interested should go to the web site and register," he said. "Even if you're not from Virginia, you can write letters. Even if they don't get published, the more letters these newspapers get, the more likely they are to take us seriously."
And November 6 will only be the end of the beginning, said Reams. "We hope we will do well, get lots of votes with tremendous impact and tremendous coverage, but however well we do, we will walk away from this in Virginia with a budding coalition of longtime activists. After the election, we will build on that and be able to better coordinate our efforts to bring about more rapid change."