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Reshaping The Party An Interview with Larry Sharpe

LibertyBuzz recently sat down with Larry Sharpe for an interview. Larry was a Libertarian Party candidate for Vice-President of the United States in 2016. He is currently the Managing Director of the Neo-Sage® Group, Inc and provides training, coaching and consulting in many industries including: finance, law, technology, media, retail, real estate, luxury, government and healthcare. He has trained and coached hundreds of entrepreneurs, executives, leaders, lawyers and reps from dozens of companies all over the world.

In addition, Larry has been an interim senior executive for companies in times of crisis, filling a senior post and helping them find a replacement. He consults with law firms for jury selection and trial prep. Additionally, Larry consults on political campaigns regarding strategy and debate prep. He is also a professional speaker and has spoken at dozens of venues to a wide range of audiences throughout the US, Europe and Asia.

After over 6 years as a US Marine, Larry became an English teacher for a few years and then worked in several Business-to-Customer  and Business-to-Business sales positions. In 2001, he started Prime Distribution Inc., but sold this business after two years.

Larry founded Neo-Sage® in 2004 and has been training top-tier professionals ever since. He has been an interim Executive VP and Sales VP for public companies and an executive coach for senior and C-Suite management.

He has been:

– a Guest Instructor at Yale University’s School of Management

– a Guest Instructor at Columbia’s Graduate School of Business

– an Instructor for Baruch College Continuing & Professional Studies

– an Instructor for John Jay College’s Veteran Career Transition Program

– the Strategy Director of the New York City Bastiat Society

– the Eastern Region Deputy Director of the Our America Initiative

Larry lives in New York City with his his wife and two daughters. He and his wife met in high school. You can learn more about his life story here.

LB: How would you describe your experience at the Libertarian Party national convention in Orlando in 2016? What if anything did you learn from it?

Sharpe: I learned several things.

One, I learned the value of retail politics — of getting out there and shaking hands. I had helped many politicians in the past with conversations, consulting, but actually going out and doing the glad handling myself was a good lesson for me. I enjoyed it a lot —  meeting the actual loyal libertarians, the ones who are serious. It was really good.

LB: I believe in the last couple of days you have announced that you are running for governor in New York State . . .

Sharpe: I have not. That is not true. Just to be clear, I have announced that I have an exploratory committee. I am now actively looking to see if it makes sense to run. But in the past I thought it kind of made sense, because I am a New Yorker. New York, I don’t know if you know, was labeled by CATO as the least free state in the Union, so I thought it was something I have to do here. Cuomo’s not that popular.

Also, I have been telling people throughout the country: “Look, if we are libertarians, we have to start running. We just can’t wait every four years for a savior.” So if I am going to say “Hey, you have to run,” I have to do it too. So I thought governor was a good idea. Just recently I put together my committee, and we are looking into who is probably going to be running, what are the issues voters are concerned about, how much money will we have to raise? We are looking at all those things.

I am 99.9 percent sure I will run for something in 2018. Whether I will run for governor or not? The odds I think right now are high, but they aren’t one hundred percent.

LB: Any timetable on when you think you might make a decision?

Sharpe: The decision will absolutely be made before September of this year. No question.

Everybody is talking about 2020, but I don’t want it to be me and a couple of celebrities that people are thinking about. That is the wrong answer. We need to have lots of people that people are thinking about, and that only happens if they get known in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Whether those are local elections or statewide elections, who cares? We’ve got to get out there and run.

The reason our celebrities aren’t coming to us — our Rand Paul’s, our Massie’s and Amash’s  aren’t coming to us, is that we haven’t given them something yet to come to.  And we have to create that infrastructure and that serious party for them to come to.

LB: If you were to put a percentage on the possibility of you running for either President of the United States or Vice-President in 2020, what would that be?

Sharpe: Sure. The reason why I ran in 2016 was two-fold. First, I saw it was going to be Donald Trump and Hillary. When I saw that, that is when I threw my hat in the ring. And that is why I was the last entry into the VP slot. Now I wanted to do something on the national level, when I saw those two were the nominees, because I thought the American people would be more open to us than ever.

I know that I am a good communicator. It is what I do for a living. I am a professional,  so I knew I could be good at it. But I didn’t want to make the ticket weaker. I wanted to make it stronger. All of the presidential candidates had a higher profile than I had —  both inside the party and outside. So I thought, “Why would I run for president?” If I ran, it would be to win, and if I won, I would actually make the ticket weaker. So I decided to run for VP, so I could add to the ticket instead and make it stronger.

That same logic applies to 2020. If there is no one in the presidency slot who has a higher profile than me, I would consider running. Assuming there is someone with a higher profile, I would consider the VP. If all the VP people had higher profiles than me, I would consider neither. So I don’t want to lessen the ticket. I want to make sure the ticket is as powerful as it can be.

But there is a more important piece to 2020 here: It shouldn’t just be someone who can win. Because the odds of a victory in 2020 aren’t that high. We could win, absolutely —  but the odds aren’t that high. What I am more concerned about is having someone in 2020 who can run a national campaign and can spend a whole lot of time as a bullhorn for the people who are running locally, for the down ballot candidates.

For us to really win the presidency and have power, we need as a party to have a lot of people in local offices. I would like us to have a couple of senators, a couple of representatives, maybe a big chunk in a couple of state houses — that would be awesome!

LB: So there really is no way you could put a definite number on how likely it is you will run in 2020?

Sharpe: Well look, it depends on my possible run in New York State. In my perfect world, I’m not eligible in 2020. In my perfect world I am an office holder in New York State. If that doesn’t work out, I would be looking at, can I add to the ticket. If I can, then yes, I am in.

LB: Of course, many elected officials do not hesitate to seek higher office mid-term if they are currently in office. I suppose that would be a good problem to have?

Sharpe: Le me be clear: I would not do that, because I want to be successful at whatever I am doing to show the country that we can be successful at governing. I don’t want to rush to the top — let someone else run to the top and I will be the bullhorn for them. I can say: “Hey look, I am successful at the state level, there is no reason they can’t be successful at the national level.” I promise that if I get elected in 2018, I will not run in 2020.

LB: You have stated publicly that you are in close communication with Austin Petersen and that you do not expect that you will both seek the LP presidential nomination in 2020. Would you like to be on the same ticket together?

Sharpe: Let me be clear on several points with Austin Petersen: Number one, we are talking; we are friends; he is important to me. I want him in the party. Assuming he does stay in the party, and I really hope he does. If he becomes a Republican, he will still be my friend. If he stays as a Libertarian, here’s what I can promise you: He and I will talk together and one or both of us can be on the ticket.

What I can tell you for sure is that we will not fight for that. We will not go head-to-head. Either we will both be on the ticket, or one of us will be and the other will support the other person, or neither of us will be, and we will both support that person.

LB: And that is something you have spoken to him about? You would expect that if I were to ask him the same question, he would say the same thing?

Sharpe: Absolutely.

[Editor’s note: Mr. Petersen independently confirmed that is correct.]

LB: If the two of you were on the same ticket together in 2020, which of you would you expect to be on the top of the ticket? You mentioned “high profile” before. Which of the two of you do you think has the higher profile?

Sharpe: Wow. That is a very good question. I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for that. That’s three years from now, at least. I don’t know.

LB: A lot can change in three years.

Sharpe: Yeah, I don’t know.

LB: You have stated publicly you would like to see Austin Petersen be the Libertarian Party candidate for US Senate in Missouri in 2018. Why is that important to you?

Sharpe: That’s a great question. First, Austin Petersen IS a libertarian. He is a savvy debater. He is a smart guy. If he could become a Libertarian senator, and I become a Libertarian governor, this party is on the rise. And if both of us could stump for someone running for president, and both of us could stump for local candidates, as successful Libertarian office holders?

Come on, how awesome is that? Right now, we don’t have many people with a strong following in the Libertarian Party talking about running in 2018. Most that are running don’t have that big a following. I would like Austin and I to change that. To help them to grow to be more powerful and strong. Not that I am against a celebritarian coming in, but I would rather it be homegrown. We have spent the last forty years hoping one person is going to come in and save us.

I would rather us build our farm team. There are lots of talented grassroots Libertarians, that if they had the right support, and the right audience, could thrive and be amazing. I would love for us in 2020 to have several savvy homegrown Libertarians seeking the national ticket: Who we all expect, know, and have experience running. That would be awesome.

LB: The vice-presidential race works a bit differently in the Libertarian Party than in the Republican and Democrat parties . . .

Sharpe: They run on the same ticket as the presidential candidates. The issue is that they are selected separately. In the old parties, the president is nominated, and that president selects their vice-president with no input required from anyone else. In the Libertarian Party we nominate both separately, but once both are nominated, they are in the same ticket.

In 2016, as a vice-presidential candidate I endorsed no one for president prior to the nomination, because I thought they all were fine, and I would have been fine with any of them. I would happily have been the running mate of any of them.

LB: So no hard feelings with Austin over his endorsing Alicia Dearn for vice-president instead of you?

Sharpe: Then Alicia Dearn dropped out and she endorsed Bill Weld. One thing to remember here, and this is important for Libertarians to understand, and many of them don’t: We are a family. And, yeah, we can have spats, of course, we can. But we are still a family, and we are still on the same team. So, look, would I rather have had him endorse me? Of course, who wouldn’t?

I wish everyone would have endorsed me. That would have been amazing. I wish Gary Johnson would have endorsed me. But I stumped for Gary Johnson after he chose Governor Weld as his running mate. So why would I have anything against Petersen? If you think someone is better than me for a position —  that’s awesome. You should say so and you should support that person. We’re still on the same team.

LB: One thing that set Austin Petersen apart from the other Libertarians seeking the presidential nomination in 2016 is that he presented himself as the pro-life alternative within the Libertarian Party. Are you and he on the sane page on that? Are you compatible on that issue?

Sharpe: We are not exactly on the same page, no. I know that Austin is pro-life, full stop. I am personally pro-life, but I am publicly, or I should say politically, pro-choice, up to the point of third trimester. First and second trimester, I feel it is still the woman’s body. I don’t feel the fetus is viable, and therefore the woman has a choice.

In my own perfect world, I would rather no one get abortions, I would never ask my wife to get one. I would be against it, if she ever wanted to get one. Anyone I know I would tell them they should not. I am just not prepared to use force on a woman during the first two trimesters when I am not sure it is a viable human being.

Third trimester I believe one hundred percent that it is a viable human being, and unless the woman’s life is actually in danger, there should be no abortion.

LB: How do you view the LP currently? What, if anything, does it need to improve upon?

Sharpe: That is a great question. I am happy with the Libertarian Party right now in general, because 2016 was a very good turning point for us in many ways. Number one: we got more press and more people saw and heard of us than ever, so that was a good thing.

But not just that. I think we actually got people to stay in place. Which is one reason I am so happy with Austin and myself that we’re still here. We haven’t left. In the past, many people have simply gone through the election, seen the failure, and walked away. That is not happening with us, and it is not happening throughout the country. There are a lot of people saying, “You know what? I’m going to step up and try this. I’m going to try to run. We are becoming a real party.

The part I am a little bit unhappy about is  that we still spend a lot of time fighting each other. We still have a lot of people who have been accustomed to forty years of defeat, forty years of failures, so it breaks their morale. They blame people; they fight; no one’s pure enough. . . There is a lot of that. But I do think that is changing.

People are noticing how that doesn’t work. So there is actually a backlash against the backlash —  which is a positive sign. I am hoping that people are going to see in the coming years that infighting is not helpful  — that discussion and debate is valuable, but infighting is not. I do want us to have those discussions and debates. I just don’t want us fighting to the point where we stop talking to one another.

We are the biggest tent party in the world. There is no one bigger than us. We just haven’t figured that out yet. So we have to understand that if we just open our hearts and minds to others who don’t want to use force,  that is what this party is about. It is about not using force, it’s about self-ownership, and private property. And if we get those three things, there are a whole lot of people who can join us. And I think people are getting closer to getting that. We are growing as a party.

We are understanding the communication is more important — that we’re already correct. We don’t have to prove that, anymore. We now have to get people to hear us.

LB: I think it may be fair to see that there is something of a dichotomy between pragmatists and the more radical wing of the party. The late Dr. Marc Feldman attempted to bridge the gap with his now famous “I’m that kind of libertarian” speech. In my view, the pragmatists won the day with the Johnson-Weld nomination. I don’t think anyone would argue that Bill Weld is a radical, abolish-the-state, libertarian. Where do you see yourself as fitting on that libertarian spectrum?

Sharpe: It’s a tough place to go, because I just feel that we are so far away from any type of libertarian society, that division is almost useless. We are literally facing oligarchy, autocracy, tyranny. We are marching directly towards it. We are not there yet. But we are absolutely on our way, facing it directly and marching right toward it. And we’re worried about how far towards a libertarian society we want to be. It’s a moot point.

I want to turn the ship around first. We are talking about something that does not have much real value. Let’s turn the ship around first. If we get the entire ship pointed in the right direction, we can then decide when we want to stop, and how fast we want to go.

I want to turn the ship toward liberty I am not concerned with how far or how fast we go. It is like deciding what course the ship is going to follow while the ship is sinking. I want to patch the ship up first. I guess I would put myself on the minarchist train. Is that helpful?

LB: Yes, it is.

I can say from personal experience that your social media presence is quite extensive. Hardly a day goes by when one of your videos does not show up in my news feed. But if there was one place that you would direct people who are not familiar with you to find out more, where would you tell them to start?

Sharpe: Without question, it is the Facebook page “Larry Sharpe, Libertarian.”

LB: Thank you for your time.

Sharpe: Thank you.