Two candidates face off in historic Libertarian primary

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

In a first in Michigan history, two Libertarian gubernatorial candidates will battle on the ballot for their party's nomination for governor. 

John Tatar and Bill Gelineau will compete against each other in the Aug. 7 primary, the first time the Libertarian party has participated in the nominating election. And they both have far-reaching proposals, from Tatar's desire to eliminate the state Senate to Gelineau's desire to pardon all prisoners incarcerated on drug offenses who haven't committed violent crimes.

The former Livonia teacher and the Lowell insurance title examiner owe their historic runs to 2016 presidential candidate Gary Johnson, whose 3.6 percent of Michigan's votes not only earned a third-place finish but got the Libertarian Party a spot on the primary ballot this year.

The attention that the contested primary has generated for the Libertarian Party has been a boon, said party chairman Bill Hall.

“There are a lot of people who really are without a choice in that election,” Hall said. “They’re disenfranchised if they want to support a candidate who isn’t as extreme as some of the offerings of the Republicans and Democrats.”

With little in the way of campaign finances and nearly zero visibility, the party’s performance in Tuesdays'sug. 7 primary will be “uncharted territory” for Michigan, said Bill Ballenger, a former Republican state lawmaker who now writes the Ballenger Report.

While Gelineau has a stronger presence in the Libertarian Party, Ballenger said the fact that Tatar shares a last name with Red Wings player Tomas Tatar could pick him up some votes.

“Nobody really knows what’s going to happen,” Ballenger said.

Both men have been Libertarians since the 1980s, but their platforms are unique.

 “It’s important for me to convey both parts of what libertarianism is about: It’s about not only rights, but responsibilities,” said Gelineau, 58, a longtime leader in the party.

John Tatar

Tatar, 69, is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, a retired teacher who taught for more than 30 years in Livonia schools and a semi-retired home builder. He said he was tired of the two-party system’s lies and taxes.

“The transparency in Lansing is pretty dismal,” Tatar said. “We have a government that hides behind whatever they can to get away with whatever they can.”

Tatar supports the end of gerrymandering, wants localized school districts, would rein in spending in Lansing, argues smart meters may be affecting people’s health, advocates for a part-time legislature and urges the elimination of the state Senate.

“Every time they get together, you’ve got to hang on to your wallet,” he said.

Tatar, a divorced father of two grown children, said the Libertarian primary is giving voters an idea of what’s possible.

Much of what Tatar has spent on the campaign has been his own money, he said. He has yet to purchase any ads on television or radio but may do so after the primary election.

Gelineau worked in the restaurant industry before buying his own restaurant in Grand Rapids at the age of 29. He owned the restaurant for about a decade before starting work for American Title Insurance.

Now the owner of Abacus Title Agency, he said his work has allowed him to spend more time with his six children.  

Gelineau has held various positions within the Libertarian party, including two stints as chairman. He compared the two-party system to a  government operated by gangs.

Bill Gelineau

“Gangs create a lot of chaos, they protect each other, they don’t really care about anyone else,” Gelineau said.

While his and Tatar’s distaste for the two-party system is apparent, Gelineau is focused on different issues from his primary opponent.

Gelineau would like to legalize marijuana; put an end to the Michigan Strategic Fund, which pays for the state’s Pure Michigan tourism campaign; and lower the cap on property taxes.

Other priorities would be to require increased insurance coverage for companies handling toxic substances; begin a discussion on “death with dignity” or assisted suicide; and reform prisons. especially the treatment of inmates incarcerated for drug offenses.

“I would pardon anyone convicted of a drug crime who was not also convicted of a violent crime in connection with that crime,” Gelineau said.

Gelineau has raised a little more than $50,000, he said. He has run some radio commercials and plans to invest in more, but said he likely won't run many in the Detroit market because of the elevated cost there.

“The game here is to get past August,” Gelineau said.

The Libertarian Party of Michigan is not endorsing a specific candidate, said Hall, the party chairman, but plans to invest some time and money into the November general election to maintain the party’s spot on the ballot.

The Libertarian nominee for governor will have to win at least five percent of the total votes for secretary of state in November to secure a spot for the party in the 2020 primary.

“That’s what makes the governor’s vote so important for us,” Hall said.

The real crux of the party’s popularity and chances for future involvement lie not only on the ballot, Ballenger said, but also in the nominee’s ability to participate in campaign staples such as advertising and televised debates.

“There’s every chance that he won’t get five percent and then they’ll be knocked off the ballot again,” Ballenger said. “This might be their one chance in the sun. They have to try and build on this.”

(517) 371-3661

Bill Gelineau

Age: 58

Hometown: Lowell

Family: Wife Donna, six children

Professional experience: Former restaurant owner, worked as insurance title licensed examiner for various agencies, now owner at Abacus Title Agency.

Political experience: Has not held an elected position; ran for State Representative in 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2016, State Senate in 2006 and 2010, and U.S. Congress in 2012. He also ran for Kent County clerk in 2008.

John Tatar

Age: 69

Hometown: Redford

Family: Divorced, two children

Professional experience: Retired lieutenant colonel for the U.S. Reserve, retired teach from Livonia Public Schools, semi-retired home builder

Political experience: Has not held an elected position; ran for State Representative in 1996, 1998, 2000, and U.S. Congress in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014.