Mike Wherry has heard the stories of volunteers collecting petition signatures over the years. He's met many of the state's past candidates for Secretary of State. But even while acknowledging the importance of the election he's facing in November, he never strays too far from his core belief.
"This year's race for Secretary of State is more about winning elections than it is about survival," Wherry notes. "Our party's candidates are competing to win at several levels. Sure, I realize my race, by definition, will keep us on the ballot for four more years, but survival has taken a distant second place to seeing where we can win."
"I've been traveling the state constantly since our spring nominating convention. It seems in every direction I travel, I hear that a Libertarian Party candidate is competing to win," Wherry continues. "Look at Rush County, for example. Four short years ago we had no county affiliate; we barely had a half dozen interested names. Today, Joyce Morrell and Victoria Foley are out campaigning door-to-door on weekends and the party is growing. We're competing. We can win."
This is seen throughout the state as Wherry travels, with bottom-to-top candidates appearing on the ballots in many of Indiana's counties for the first time.
"We're incredibly excited in Lake County. We have candidates running for township office, county office, statehouse, statewide and federal offices," points out Lake County Chairman Jeff Duensing. "Some of it was initially driven by trying to support Mike's race for Secretary of State, but anymore we're looking to compete to win. The political climate is ripe for us to make serious in-roads where we'd been shut out historically."
Wherry recently echoed that sentiment at a Fort Wayne forum hosted by the local 9/12 group. Speaking with attendees after the event, he reminded them that this election is very much about winning and maintaining choice on the ballot -- and not just a libertarian option.
"The days of the 'wasted vote' argument are passing quickly - thankfully," Wherry explains. "Most visibly, the tea party movement is showing that every vote truly counts and activism can pay off. But, it's not limited to a single group's efforts. Technology is truly allowing new voices to be heard, viewpoints from upstart conservative and progressive groups alike."
"It's really refreshing to see the old parties scrambling and losing ground as they try to argue that a vote belongs to their party," he reflects. "It's actually pretty sobering for me. When I first sought the nomination for Secretary of State, to me it was about winning the 2% we needed to keep the party on the ballot. I realize now it's much more than that. My success is directly tied to the future success of not only the Libertarian Party, but the Green Party, Constitution Party, Reform, Natural Law, Progressive parties."
"We are the opposition to the status quo this year. I have to not only succeed for the LP, but I have to break through our threshold in a way that gives us leverage to speak on behalf of all groups trying to have their message heard," he concedes. "It's both exciting and humbling."
"If we're going to continue to challenge for wins at local and state level elections, we have to allow more opinions to be heard," Wherry explains. "Indiana has some of the most restrictive ballot access laws in the country. The more success we have in Hagerstown, La Porte, Clarksville and Indianapolis, the more success we will have in moving Indiana away from such a restrictive system. That allows more diverse viewpoints to be heard, which has to help energize our elections. In my opinion, energized and diverse debate make for stronger and healthier communities."
In Indiana, to appear on the ballot, a candidate must obtain valid signatures from at least 2% of the voters in the past Secretary of State's race for that jurisdiction. In a statewide race, that amounts to over 35,000 valid signatures. To maintain ballot access for a party, that party's candidate must secure more than 2% of the vote in the SOS race.
"I don't take anything for granted," Wherry said. "I fully understand the importance of the race I'm running. We've come a long way in just the last four years, so I can imagine where we'll be over the next four. First, though, I have to do my job to support our candidates and that includes running to win my race. Is it an uphill challenge? Sure. But seeing what I see from across the state, I know we're up for it. I know I'm up for it."
Wherry is an attorney, mechanical engineer and businessman residing in Greenfield, Indiana. He served as an officer in the U.S. Navy, stationed in Hawaii aboard the USS Indianapolis.