While Wenke said he would love to win, he added that a more realistic goal is to capture enough votes to provide a strong base locally for the party moving forward.

Wenke said he would continue to advocate for the party after the election.

Im not going away, Wenke said. I plan to invest money and time and resources into building the Libertarian Party.

After years as a Republican, serving both in the state House and on the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners, Wenke, 69, announced in April that he was joining the Libertarian Party.

Wenke said he has long felt alienated by a large segment of the GOP after he was one of three Republican state representatives to vote against placing a question on the 2004 ballot that would ask voters to amend the Michigan Constitution to place a ban on gay marriage. The ban was approved.

I said its discrimination and I wont put discrimination in the Constitution of Michigan, Wenke said, while recalling his thoughts at the time. Then (Republicans) turned it into a crusade and I was on the outside of that.

Still, Wenke said his views of limited government and social assistance led him to remain with the GOP for another 12 years. But his support for gay marriage and LGBT rights continued to develop and strengthen until this spring when he began looking to split from the GOP.

Wenkes support for gay rights and limited government spending is consistent with the Libertarian Party platform. But there are areas in which he deviates considerably, such as offering government-subsidized birth control and his openness to increasing the states gas tax to provide additional funding for roads.

Wenke dismissed the idea that hes not a true Libertarian by pointing out that not all Republicans and Democrats necessarily share the exact beliefs of their fellow party members.

Buzuma also said Wenkes ideological deviations are a non-issue.

We try to be a large tent, Buzuma said. We understand that not everyone is going to agree 100 percent with the platform and we accept that as long as theyre basically for individual freedom and the human rights and constitutional rights.

Stampfler, meanwhile, declined to disclose his previous party affiliation other than to say he hasnt always identified as a Libertarian. He said he has recently drawn similar conclusions about Democrats and Republicans, referring to the two parties as Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

I think my experience over 30 years shows both parties are essentially of the same ilk on so many issues, Stampfler said. Its more or less a conclusion that I drew that you really need a different set of voices to at least counter the two predominant themes and try to revive kind of the spirit in the democracy that should be there.

Stampfler, 63, developed a no-nonsense reputation as Portage city manager from 1985-2005. Later, Gov. Rick Snyder appointed him emergency manager in Pontiac, a position he held for 15 months.

But after losing out as a finalist in 2013 to become Bay Citys next city manager, Stampfler said he began considering running in the 61st District, which covers Portage and the townships of Oshtemo, Texas, Prairie Ronde and Schoolcraft.

It gives people a third choice, Stampfler said of his decision to run. I just think its a perfect scenario, too, after a long time considering it.

Buzuma said the party is excited to have two high profile candidates in Kalamazoo County, especially after the partys Southwest Michigan affiliate folded in 2012. It was reestablished earlier this year by Portage Libertarian Jason Brandenburg.

John Clark, chairman of the political science department at Western Michigan University, said the Libertarians can capitalize on some voters disenchantment with the two major parties.

Folks look to Washington and say nothing is getting done there, and its not just the Democrats or Republicans, its all of them, Clark said.

Brandenburg, who said he used to be a right-wing Republican until becoming disillusioned with the party while former Republican President George W. Bush was in office, agreed with Clarks assessment.

The Libertarian Party is the only realistic outlet that the modern day voter has to show their dismay for the establishment, said Brandenburg, a native of Michigan who moved back to the state in 2008 after living in South Carolina.

However, Clark cautioned against assuming this means the momentum for third parties will carry over to future elections. He noted the American public has experienced similar bouts of dissatisfaction with Republicans and Democrats before.

What often times happens when a minor party is successful championing a particular set of issues, the major parties take notice and try to tap into that momentum, Clark said.

Clark said the fact that Stampfler and Wenke are known quantities locally does set them apart from the typical third-party candidate.

They have a level of name recognition that is fairly unusual, Clark said.

Clark said the impact the Libertarians will have on the major party candidates in their races remains to be seen.

In some ways, who they hurt depends on what the salient issues are to voters, Clark said. Libertarians tend to be similar to Republicans in taxes and government spending and they tend to be similar to Democrats in social issues.

If youre a voter that really focuses on issues of taxes and spending, then you sort of have a choice. If you really focus on social issues with a liberal or progressive approach, then you have a choice.

Buzuma said the party will absolutely look to capitalize on the momentum built by Wenke and Stampfler, an effort she said begins on Nov. 5.

Were always going to be working towards 2016, but also we have a number of people who are interested in running locally, which happens in 2015, Buzuma said, adding that those races will help keep Libertarians in the public conscious until the 2016 election.

A lot of people are tired of the status quo here and they want to have a voice, Buzuma said. Thats why were here.

Alex Mitchell covers county government and taxes for the Kalamazoo Gazette. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or follow him on Twitter.


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