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Libertarian traverses Maryland to make his case for governor

Why would a Libertarian run for governor of Maryland?

It's a hefty trip from southern Calvert County to Havre de Grace, but not even the thought of driving 111 miles on crowded Interstate 95 could dampen Shawn Quinn's spirits.

Quinn, 52, the Libertarian Party candidate for governor, had taken the day off from his job to meet voters. He was riding solo in his trusty Chevy Silverado. And he was looking forward to (by his count) his 105th campaign event of the year, an evening forum sponsored by the NAACP.

The truck driver from Lusby sounded certain it was all about to pay off.

"I see no reason right now why I can't win this election," Quinn said, pausing to bite into a cheeseburger at a diner he'd chosen as a resting place along the way.

To call Quinn's prediction unlikely would be an understatement.

His establishment rivals, Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Republican businessman Larry Hogan, enjoy multimillion-dollar budgets — Mack trucks compared to the Matchbox-size $35,000 Quinn says he has spent this year, the vast majority out of his own pocket.

And even though some pundits have dubbed 2014 the Year of the Third-Party Candidate — recently on NBC's "Meet The Press," host Chuck Todd mentioned a strong showing by independent candidate Greg Orman in a Kansas Senate race, among others — history isn't on Quinn's side.

The Libertarian Party, founded in 1971 with its emphasis on smaller government, lower taxes, and individual freedoms, has never placed a candidate in national office. Its best gubernatorial effort came in 1982, when an Alaska insurance man won 14.9 percent of his state's vote.

It's even harder in Maryland, a state with an unusually strong two-party system, said John Willis, a professor of government and public policy at the University of Baltimore.

"If he won 1 percent of the vote, that would be noteworthy," Willis said.

None of that deters Quinn, a man who has worked as a Navy aviation mechanic, a deputy sheriff, a CPR instructor and a corrections officer and now drives a fuel truck for the Naval Air Warfare Center in Patuxent River.

Somewhere along the way, he decided American politics ignores ordinary people like him, men and women who just want to be left alone to live their lives as they choose. But the two-party system has grown into a self-serving behemoth, he says, an entity that tramples the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

"They tell you you have the right to free speech, but if you want to protest, you have to pay them for a permit," Quinn said. "They tell you you have the right to bear arms, but then they make you register and pay for a fingerprint check. … They've found a way to make you pay for every one of our civil rights. I just want to get the power back in the people's hands."

Quinn conceded he used to be the kind of guy who merely griped about such things. That was before his wife, Colleen, started saying if he chose not to get involved, he had no right to complain. Last year, when party leaders who liked his energy asked him to run for governor, he accepted.

His run has come with the usual third-party challenges. With just $4,000 in donations, he has paid most bills out of his own pocket. He has taken out no TV ads and was barred from the televised debates.

In a way, the challenges have played to his strengths.

Quinn speaks of the Facebook chats he has with followers every morning. After getting home from work at night, he answers emails until about 3 a.m. "If people write with questions, they deserve to hear from the candidate," he said. And he delights in naming events he has attended that his opponents skipped: a charter school ribbon-cutting in Baltimore, a ceremonial civil-rights march in Frederick, a forum on gerrymandering in Annapolis.

When Brown and Hogan make such events, he said, Brown "always shows up late and leaves early" and Hogan "says what he opposes" but rarely lays out an agenda, Quinn said.

"Neither one is really talking to the people and coming up with a plan. It's like they're trying to keep their mouths shut so they don't have to stick their foot in it," the Libertarian said.

He conceded he missed all three debate telecasts (he had to work) but the clips he later saw only bore out his view that the pair are too beholden to donors, too ideological and too cautious to explain what they'd do if elected.

He, on the other hand, has said he'll work to soften Maryland's gun control law, cut its sales tax in half, eliminate pensions for legislators, legalize marijuana, enact term limits and more.

Bob Johnston, chairman of the state party, said Quinn has proved exceptional at "wading into the crowd, talking to people" and forcing fresh issues into the political conversation, which he called one measure of success for any third-party candidate.

One recent poll showed Brown and Hogan with 85 percent of likely voters in their columns and Quinn a mere 4 percent. That, Quinn said, could be misleading.

Pollsters only talk to several hundred voters across the state, he said, and that leaves millions unaccounted for.

"You have to be an optimist," he said with a laugh. And he left the diner, climbed in his pickup and drove away, ready to meet a few more voters.

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

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