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Iowa State professor to run for governor

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Eric Cooper, Libertarian candidate for governor

By Mike Malloy

(Sept. 30, 2009 – 8:30 p.m.) Eric Cooper, an Iowa State University associate professor in psychology and neuroscience, will run for governor next fall as a Libertarian. While Cooper is a veteran of local politics he is anything but a typical politician, as evidenced by his stark admission: “I’m not going to win.”

Victory for Cooper is redefined as finishing third, and receiving at least two percent of the vote, meaning the Libertarian Party would not have to petition or get signatures to be on the ballot in future elections. Cooper also hopes to raise the profile of Libertarians in the hopes that one of the two major parties would be willing to embrace Libertarian ideas.

“If a third party can on a regular basis get a fairly substantial percentage of the vote, it tempts the major parties to start poaching their issues to get their voters. That’s what I hope happens with us,” Cooper said.

Cooper knows about the struggles of Libertarians in gaining a political foothold. He has run five unsuccessful campaigns for the state legislature. He received a personal-best 20.5 percent of the vote last year against state representative Lisa Heddens – a Democrat – but Cooper did not have a Republican opponent in that contest. In three races where he’s run against a Republican and a Democrat, he has not received more than 3.1 percent of the vote.

There are currently no Libertarians in the Iowa Legislature. In the 2006 governor’s race, Libertarian nominee Kevin Litten received 1 percent in Story County and 0.5 statewide, and overall finished slightly behind Green Party candidate Wendy Barth.

Influence, though, can be gained without holding elected office, Cooper contends.

“If you look at the Socialist Party platform of 1912, virtually every single thing they wanted got implemented – times-and-a-half for overtime, forty-hour work week, two weeks vacation – even though they won almost no elections,” Cooper said.

The Libertarian agenda is a hybrid of the small government tenets of the two major political parties. Like Republicans, Libertarians favor low taxes (“No one dislikes taxes more than Libertarians,” Cooper said) and deregulation of the economy. Like Democrats, Libertarians oppose restrictions on abortion and gay marriage.

Cooper echoes those beliefs, and often refers in honorific terms to America’s founding fathers.

“America was started as a tax revolt. We understand that taxes may be necessary in certain circumstances, but the government is limited to certain functions it has to perform. It collects tax money to perform those functions and not a penny more,” Cooper said.

He favors a sales tax, where food, clothing and shelter are exempt, and a flat income tax. He opposes property and estate taxes, and on his web site for last year’s legislature campaign, he said that Iowa’s additional one-dollar tax on cigarettes was tyranny.

“That’s a government imposing a tax to get their citizens to behave in a certain way, and that’s not its function,” Cooper said.

Tyranny, by definition is “despotic abuse of authority” or “oppressive or unjustly severe government” and while the extra tax on cigarettes does not prohibit their sale, Cooper still believes its implementation to be an overreach.

“Some forms of tyranny are worse than others,” Cooper said. “Tyranny is any time a government goes beyond the limited functions it has and infringes on the freedom of a free people.”

Perhaps the most provocative of Cooper’s positions – one that neither major party is likely to soon embrace – is that marijuana and other drugs should be legal. 

“The last thing a government of a free people should be doing is dictating what they can and can’t put in their own bodies. Our founding fathers would be shocked this is going on, all of whom, except for (John) Adams and maybe (George) Washington ,did marijuana,” Cooper said.

Informing citizens of dangers is fine, Cooper said, but bans are not. He senses hypocrisy in the government’s stance of banning drugs under the theory that it is protecting public health.

“The things the public likes, like driving private automobiles, are permitted. The things the public doesn’t like, like heroin use, cocaine use, are made illegal even though far fewer people die from those activities than the use of private automobiles,” Cooper said.

Cooper also disagrees with how universities are funded. He favors tying educational funding to students, and allowing them to apply that funding at whatever institution – public or private – they chose. That’s a case of putting dogma before dollars; Cooper has worked at tax-dollar funded Iowa State University for the past 16 years.

“Just like everybody, there’s things about my job I like and things I don’t like. One of the things I don’t like is how it’s funded,” Cooper said. “I think the state is giving the university too much money. I think it speaks to my integrity that I’m willing to say that.”

The results of Eric Cooper’s campaigns for the state legislature:

2008, lost to Lisa Heddens, received 20.5%
2006, lost to Lisa Heddens, received 2.6%
2004, lost to Lisa Heddens, received 13.1%
2002, lost to Herman Quirmbach received 3.1%
2000, lost to Jane Greimann, received 2.4%

Note: In 2008 and ‘04 Cooper did not have a Republican opponent, but did in 2006, ’02, and ’00.

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