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Behind Curtain No. 3

Libertarian Robert Sarvis talks about the free market, legalizing pot and what sets him apart from Virginia's other candidates for governor.


  • Scott Elmquist

He's the only candidate running for governor in Virginia who wants to lower taxes and legalize marijuana.

Robert Sarvis is 34, Libertarian, and — having recently garnered the requisite 10,000 signatures across the state — officially on the ballot. For voters sick about the idea of choosing between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli, Sarvis might just be the antidote.

A native of Northern Virginia, Sarvis lives in Annandale with his wife and children. He's owned a small business, taught math, worked as a lawyer and made smart-phone apps. He comes without experience in elected office, but he has a long résumé, including degrees from Harvard University, Cambridge University, New York University School of Law and George Mason University.

During a visit to Richmond last week, Sarvis stopped by Style's office to talk about his campaign.

Style: I want to start with a really basic question — how do you define libertarianism?

Sarvis: Libertarianism is just a presumption that people should be left free to live their lives as they see fit. There is a role for government, but you should be able to pursue happiness as you define it without interference as long as you're not hurting other people. The government's role should really be about protecting rights and making sure that you're not hurting other people.

Was there a moment when you first realized you were a Libertarian?

No, I was a Libertarian before I heard of the term. When I read "Capitalism and Freedom," [a classic Libertarian text], I didn't think it was a very special book because the ideas were kind of like, just — "duh." But somewhere in high school and college, I really just developed an identity and that had a lot to do with just enjoying freedom. I appreciated the fact that living on my own gave me both freedom and responsibility and thinking the two are very linked together, and you can't have one without the other.

Can you give us a rough outline of your platform?

On the economy, jobs and taxes, I want to keep taxes low and get rid of the special treatment some groups get, try to institute the rule of law in economics, in business, and focus on supporting free, competitive markets rather than particular businesses. I think that will create an environment in which people will want to come here and start businesses and create jobs and raise incomes.

I think that the Republican and Democratic parties are both part of the problem. There's a lot of crony capitalism, there's a lot of interest groups that get special treatment on both sides, and I think that government keeps growing. There's no prioritization of spending so that when we need more transportation infrastructure, we just raise taxes.

So you've got the hard-core conservatives covered there. And then it seems like from what I've seen, your support of issues like marriage equality and legalization of marijuana — it's easy to see where you could win over some more liberal Virginians as well. Can you talk about that side of the platform?

On gay marriage, I think it's right to do from a standpoint of equality and the fact that marriage and how we view it and what it stands for has changed. And I think that given Virginians have changed their attitudes toward it — even since 2006 the support for it has flipped on its head so now it's 50 percent in favor — I think it's time to have a vote on that again and repeal the ban and recognize same-sex marriage.

On drug reform, I think drug reform is a really important issue because it touches on so many other issues: High incarceration rates and the costs that go with that. You know, breakdown of families and communities — especially in the black community. Giving people criminal records for marijuana possession and making them difficult to employ and all the problems that come with that. Fathers outside of the home because they're incarcerated and whatnot. And violent crime — before we talk about gun control, let's talk about the reduction in violent crime that would come from ending the drug war.

Have you smoked marijuana?

I have. … It was an interesting experience. I've done it fewer times than the number of fingers I have on my hands, and not in a long time. But it was an interesting experience and it's not one that I would want to throw people in jail for.

Any other past drug use we should know about?


OK, let's quickly talk about the other guys. What's your favorite thing about Ken Cuccinelli?

Well … my favorite thing about Cuccinelli? [long pause]

Something you can tolerate about him?

Well, if what he said matched his actions on certain issues, like maybe taxes. … But I think that when he is on the right side of an issue, he can be a strong advocate. … So, pushing back against certain federal programs — he's done a decent job. The only problem is, he's been inconsistent on other issues. For example, he wants to federalize the definition of marriage. He supported a federal constitutional amendment. … I think he's too ready to foist his own ideology on the rest of us.

And Terry McAuliffe. Do you find yourself agreeing with any of the tenets of his platform?

I guess my problem with him is it's hard to know what his platform is. It's kind of really wishy-washy. He's not willing to stand up for anything. On economics, he's just terrible.

And if we're going to leave our readers with one thing they definitely should know about you when they consider who to vote for, what would it be?

I think I'm very open-minded, and I think I would represent Virginia and the future of Virginia much more than the other candidates. I think in terms of diversity. I'm mixed race. I'm in a mixed-race marriage. I'm invested in community because I'm going to be sending my kids to school in the next 18 years. And I just want to represent all Virginians and create a Virginia that's open-minded and open for business. S

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