Libertarian Party candidate Mark Wicks appeared in a televised debate with Republican Greg Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist Saturday for Montana’s at-large congressional district election occurring May 25th.
Wicks has been a virtual unknown in the race, with the media focusing almost entirely on the major party candidates. News coverage of the race has mentioned the libertarian as an afterthought, or not at all. Wicks would have been excluded from Saturday’s debate as well were it not for the committed work of libertarian activists and the national Libertarian Party.
On Monday, April 24, Wicks received an email from Jon Stepanek, the News Director of KTVQ (Q2 News). Stepanek and other MTN News Directors had decided that “the one hour timeframe allotted for the debate will best be used between [Quist and Gianforte],” and that Wicks would not be invited to participate. Soon after, Wicks posted the email to his Facebook page.
Responding to an action alert from The Feldman Foundation, Libertarian activists from Montana and across the country began commenting on KTVQ and other MTN stations’ social media pages. After being asked what criteria had been used to exclude Wicks, Q2 News responded via Facebook, “When choosing candidates for the debate, we applied the same news standards we have used in the past for other political debates. Those standards include polling at 5% and actively campaigning.”
However, of the very few polls for this race, one poll by Emerson College showed that Wicks had indeed attained 5%. Another poll by Gravis Marketing had Wicks at 3%, but with a margin of error of ±2.9%. Several Google Consumer Surveys polls showed Wicks receiving as much as 11% of the vote. And Wicks was indeed actively campaigning.
The Feldman Foundation prepared to file a complaint with the FEC, on the grounds that MTN’s exclusion of Wicks constituted unreported campaign contributions to the Democratic and Republican candidates. The New Libertarian put out a call to action: members were asked to publicize MTN’s exclusion of Wicks, to contact Q2 News and other MTN affiliates, and to “make the voice of liberty heard.” At the same time, national Libertarian Party chair Nicholas Sarwark sent in the artillery – the party’s legal counsel – to tell MTN to do the right, legal, thing by including Wicks in their televised debate.
On Saturday, the voice of liberty was indeed heard. Mark Wicks impressed the debate panelists, and many Montanans learned for the first time that they have an authentic alternative to the major parties.
When asked who was the winner of the debate, Mike Dennison, MTN’s Chief Political Reporter, responded, “I think a clear winner had to be Mark Wicks, the Libertarian. Not only because he got some great exposure statewide, probably for the first time in the campaign, but also because he answered the questions really well and directly. He was articulate, he was funny, he didn’t dodge anything; he did a great job of differentiating himself from the other two candidates throughout the entire debate.”
Tim McGonigal, MTN Anchor/Producer said of Wicks, “He was refreshing, he had the sound bites of the night.”
Those sound bites included a strong closing statement by Wicks, in which he appealed to Montanans by comparing himself and the other candidates to types of cars. Wicks described Gianforte as a luxury car, and Quist as a little half-ton pickup, which are of no real help to a Montanan in need, and said Wicks is the vehicle Montanans can rely on.
“I’m the work truck,” said Wicks. “I’m the guy when you’re pulled over on the side of the road, and you’re broke down, you want to see that big pickup pull up behind you with the tow ropes, the chains, the tools – and you know you’re gonna get home that night.”
Will Wicks represent Montana in the House of Representatives as a Libertarian? We will find out soon enough. Montana can make a choice: to hear the same old story, or to turn a new page. With luck and with help from libertarians, Montanans will know that they can make a better choice come election day.
Eliyahu Neiman is a libertarian activist from Chicago. He volunteers as Webmaster and Social Media Coordinator for the Libertarian Party of Chicago.
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