Tropicana

Last week, the California and Nevada Libertarian parties announced the finalization of plans for holding their 2015 annual conventions jointly. The announced venue for the joint conventions is the Tropicana Las Vegas. The convention of delegates for each party will be on Sunday May 31st, with the preceding days beginning on May 28th set aside for LPEX, billed as the “first Libertarian Political Expo” and meetings of LSLA, the Libertarian State Leaders Alliance. Delegate floor fees were not announced as of this writing, and are expected to be in the range of zero to “who knows?”.

Plans for the event were laid by the Chairs for the two parties, Kevin Takenaga (California) and Brett Pojunis (Nevada). In a November 14 letter to the California Executive Committee, Takenaga explained the genesis of the unusual convention proposal:

“I was approached earlier this year by my counterpart in Nevada, Brett
Pojunis, about the possibility of teaming up for a joint Executive
Committee meeting this year. In addition, the LP Nevada is hosting the
Libertarian State Leadership Alliance (LSLA) conference along with a few
other liberty-minded groups next year in Las Vegas. The LPNevada is
holding their annual convention at the end of the conference and Chairman
Pojunis would like us to consider his offer of having a joint convention
at the same time.”

Takenaga’s letter did not mention specifically LPEX, which is closely associated with the Nevada Chair Pojunis. Pojunis has reportedly stated words at a recent public appearance to the effect he is “personally” on the hook for a 500-room committment to the Tropicana, “so please come.” In view of recent attendance at California conventions trending well below 100 delegates in recent years, a 500-room commitment is a considerable risk, and indicates a high degree of confidence by Pojunis that the other two events, LPEX and LSLA, will draw enough attendees to fill at least 500 rooms.

While this is the first-ever conference for LPEX, LSLA has held annual conferences before. According to LSLA’s website, LSLA is a national organization “to support local state affiliates of the Libertarian Party” that is “organized exclusively for educational purposes, more specifically to coordinate activities and share knowledge among Libertarian Party State Chairs and Affiliate Parties.” LSLA’s 2014 conference was co-located with the national LP convention in Columbus Ohio, and their 2013 conference was in Denver. Past attendance statistics are not readily available for LSLA conferences, but it may be inferred that such conferences have not historically been the type of events that can fill 500 hotel rooms.

That puts a lot of pressure on Pojunis and his new event to draw a large number of libertarian visitors to his new event. With the well-established and high-profile FreedomFest planned for just five weeks later, and the Washington State Libertarian Convention competing for regional vistors and speakers the same weekend, it remains to be seen whether LPEX can put together a compelling enough program to fill the room commitment.

Overall, that sets up a unusual dynamic for the 2015 California convention. If the preceding conferences are great successes, the convention will be an afterthought on the last day, but there will be some glory for the outgoing officers to bask in. On the other hand, if the conferences fail to attract the needed number of visitors and are lackluster, the stench of failure will be lingering on Sunday, no doubt lending a degree of volatility to what may turn out to be a very hot afternoon.

Either way, California is not in the driver’s seat for 2015, instead tagging along in the shadow of Chairman Pojunis, LPEX, LSLA, and the much smaller Nevada party, which along with Pojunis is apparently taking the financial risks and managing the meeting space details. Members of the California party’s Operations Committee recently confirmed that the California party was not legally at risk for the room commitment, not being a party to any agreement with the Tropicana. Details were sketchy, but its obligations as of this writing may be limited to a handshake agreement with the Nevada party to reimburse for direct expenses related to its meeting room. If the pre-conferences are sufficiently successful, California may get a free ride on its meeting room. It is uncertain what this will mean once the convention date comes.

The California party has held out-of-state conventions before, once in Nevada and once on a cruise ship. But it has never held its convention as a subsidiary to a larger event in a different state. The choice was controversial from the outset. Some members feel the joint meeting is a good opportunity to learn from and network with the Nevada party, and entails little financial risk. Others would prefer to hold conventions closer to the membership, and believe distant conventions are a factor in the decline in LPC’s membership. This controversy may play out at the convention, at which most officers are up for election. Changes to the LPC bylaws may also be considered.

Prior convention planning called for a 2015 convention to be held somewhere in Los Angeles County or Inland Empire. Locations were identified and costs estimated, but the convention committee never agreed to make a specific proposal and was led by members who were new to the planning process. This left an opening if not excuse for Takenaga to push for the Las Vegas convention proposal late in 2014. This effort was aided by the resignation of several members shortly before the December 6th LPC Executive Committee meeting in which the Las Vegas proposal was adopted. The Chair was able to appoint replacements at his pleasure to fill the vacancies. The newly appointed committee members are Jeff Hewitt, Kelly Barnes, Eric Vaugnes and Ray Fostore. Coincidentally, all of the new members hail from the Inland Empire, so nobody can accuse the Chair of bias against the South! Also, although the convention will not be in the South this year, Southern California delegates will face lighter travel burdens getting to Las Vegas and may be expected to outnumber those from other parts of the state.

According to California’s website at ca.lp.org, “If you wish to become a delegate but you’ve never been a dues-paying member of LPC, you must join by March 2, 2015 to become eligible.” It will be an interesting year to participate!