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Tea Party On

Santa Fe in no place to launch a conservative uprising—or is it?

March 3, 2010, 12:00 am

Meet the new face of the Republican Party in northern New Mexico.

The face is engraved on a silver coin that is available for a $50 donation, but worth approximately $15 melted down.

The face is smiling. The face has a neatly trimmed beard. The face belongs to a man wearing a necktie. He stands beneath the Statue of Liberty. His rolled-up shirtsleeves reveal tattoos on each forearm. One says USMC. The other says IVAW, which stands for Iraq Veterans Against the War.

The arms hoist a banner that says “R3VOLution.”

The face on the coin belongs to Adam Kokesh. He is the underdog in a race to unseat Democratic US Rep. Ben Ray Luján, son of the speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives and, to conservatives, the personification of what’s wrong with politics.

Sitting in a plush chair, under a portrait of himself in uniform, Kokesh catches the coin bearing his face, flipped across his office by a visiting reporter. Seeing his own face on a coin, he says, has been the strangest experience of his campaign. More than a fundraising gimmick, the coins carry a symbolism for those in the know. The 1-ounce silver pieces were minted by a Texas company, the American Open Currency Standard, which promotes the hoarding of precious metals as a hedge against the declining value of the dollar.

Kokesh belongs to a nationwide group of so-called “liberty candidates.” These are candidates who are affiliated with the anti-government Tea Party, yet who are running as Republicans, the party in control of the White House for 19 of the 28 years Kokesh has been alive. The “R3VOLution” slogan is borrowed from the 2008 presidential campaign of US Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.

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Colleen Hayes

Adam Kokesh got his “Enjoy Kokesh” banner autographed by libertarian hero US Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.

What is this promised revolution? Kokesh calls his philosophy “voluntarism,” but his views, like Paul’s, are better understood as radical libertarianism. Both men believe membership in the United Nations threatens US national sovereignty.

Both question the constitutionality of the federal Department of Education. Both doubt the future of the Federal Reserve’s “fiat currency”—better known as the US dollar.

“I keep my savings in gold and silver,” Kokesh says. “Within our lifetimes, we are going to see the end of the dollar as we know it. I can promise you that.”

If it seems strange that Kokesh has based his campaign in a city as famously liberal as Santa Fe—where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 4-to-1—think again. The perceived impotence of President Barack Obama, combined with the perceived corruption of New Mexico’s Democratic leadership, presents an opportunity for unorthodox Republicans like Kokesh.

Among his admirers is Asenath Kepler, who led a vigorous mayoral campaign in the race that ended March 2 with help from local Tea Partiers and fellow Republicans.

“I like Adam a lot because what he is doing is asking big questions. He’s not just walking in lockstep with the Republican Party,” Kepler says.

Indeed, she thinks “Young Turks” like Kokesh are redefining the party as one more focused on financial issues, like taxes, than on social ones, like abortion.

Perhaps the highest-profile exponent of New Mexico-style Republicanism is former Gov. Gary Johnson, who occupied the Roundhouse from 1995 to 2003. Reflecting on his time in Santa Fe, Johnson tells SFR it is a city not of liberals, but of “undiagnosed libertarians.”

If that seems dubious, consider the improbability of Johnson’s re-emergence. A decade ago, his anti-establishment views put him at odds with national Republican leadership. Now he’s touring the country in what looks like the early stages of a presidential bid.

“What’s changed is that people are genuinely outraged,” Johnson says. “I happen to be one of those that are angry.”

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