If asked to guess which national political party affiliate was the first to elect a transgender person to its executive board, most people probably would not think of the Libertarian Party of Oklahoma.
But maybe they should.
Norman resident and University of Oklahoma (OU) political science student Traci Baker made history when she was elected as Libertarian Party of Oklahoma secretary. She is the first and only known transgender executive of any recognized political party branch.
Baker, 20, said the distinction is an honor but her state colleagues seem more interested in her capability as a leader than in her transgender status.
“There’s very few people who take issue with me being trans in the Libertarian Party,” Baker said. “At the national level, there’s more of that. It’s kind of strange, but in Oklahoma, I haven’t really run into that.”
The Libertarian Party is one of the most popular third-party organizations in the United States and carries a platform based on minimal government and promotion of civil liberties. Any hesitancy to accept Baker into their national fold might stem from a lack of familiarity. Baker, a former high-school debate champion, speaks more deliberately and efficiently on public policy than most people her age.
Prior to attaining her current status in the Oklahoma Libertarian Party, Baker twice ran for Norman City Council, first in a 2017 election and then again a year later when she moved into a new ward. Baker said it was not her intention to run again so soon, but when she heard the council incumbent in her ward was not seeking reelection, she decided to throw her hat back into the ring.
Running for city council taught Baker a lot about the people of Norman, politics and economics. But it has affected her in other ways as well.
“It’s definitely helped me grow as a person,” she said.
For a long time growing up, it was Baker’s dream to become an architect, not an elected public official. But when the Edmond native got involved in her school’s debate team, it helped lead her to a new life passion.
“When I realized I had a particular talent or gift for communicating my ideas, I realized that was something I wanted to do with my life,” she said.
Baker might be considered part of a larger youth movement within the state’s political parties. Twenty-four-year-old Anna Langthorn was elected as chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party in July. In an interview with Oklahoma Gazette following her election last year, Langthorn said she views her relatively young age as more of an asset than a deterrent.
“I think my age, if anything, is a help,” she said. “I’ve got a lot of energy, and I have more time than someone who has a whole career they’ve built or has a family that they have to take care of.”
Similarly, Baker said age is not a great indicator of one’s capacity to lead and present ideas. Running for Norman City Council, she was often able to at least earn the respect of her doubters.
“Lots of people came up to me after the city council debates and said I clearly had impressive — if not the most impressive — command over the issues facing Norman,” Baker said. “I thought that I had good ideas and that I would be a good person to serve in that capacity.”
Baker ran her city council campaigns primarily advocating for storm water utility fee reform. She said Norman has long faced flooding problems and has done little as a city to address them. Baker also ran on a number of other issues, including the establishment of a police oversight board and opposition to a new planned OU basketball arena and entertainment district, known as the University North Park Entertainment District, to be built with city funds.
Her city council runs were also motivated by a desire to give OU students more of a voice in municipal policy.
“There’s a big anti-student culture amongst a lot of people [in Norman],” Baker said. “I thought it was important that students have a voice representing them in local government.”
While Baker does not view age as an indicator of preparedness for city council, the past two years have shown her that the city’s voters tend to disagree.
“Norman is a city that really rewards loyalty,” she said. “The people who won both times are both longstanding members of the Norman community. The people who win these other city council elections in different wards are also people who have been around Norman for a long time.”
Baker, currently a senior at OU, would like to eventually run for city council again, but maybe not for a few more years.
Before registering as a Libertarian a few years ago, Baker identified as a Republican due to her conservative fiscal leanings. But she was repeatedly frustrated with the mainstream party’s stance on social issues like interactions with the police, LGBTQ rights and abortion. She eventually moved to the Libertarian Party as a better overall fit.
Baker has found a welcoming home within the state Libertarian branch. She has not noticed many ideological outliers within the party and enjoys the people who are active within the community.
“The culture of the Libertarian Party of Oklahoma is something I very much enjoy,” she said. “It’s not very weighted in favor of economic or social issues. There’s a good balance between them.”
Baker is critical of the apparent stranglehold the Republican and Democratic parties have on both national and local political office.
“The way we handle electoral politics in America is very protective of the two-party system,” she said. “That’s due to deep corporate influence of those parties in government.”
Baker believes many Americans are ready to split from the dominant two-party system. Many other democratic nations have multiple political parties that represent a range of views and interests. Baker said a two-party system sometimes leads to backdoor politics, corporate structures and political nepotism.
“I think it’s time we not just move to let the Libertarians participate in the electorate and be considered a major party,” she said, “but to a multi-party structure — things like the Green Party and the Constitution Party, et cetera.”
Baker expects the Libertarian Party to become more of a force as younger generations continue to grow and get more politically engaged.
“Young people are overwhelmingly rejecting Republican and Democratic politics,” she said, “especially after 2016, where we saw some pretty bad candidates [for president] at the top of the ticket for both parties.”
For the state party to continue growing, it needs to keep putting forth candidates for office and steadily build upon its membership base. Baker thinks things could eventually snowball over time.
“As membership goes up, we keep campaigning, keep retaining ballot access and maybe eventually we’ll win an election,” she said. “Once we win that first election and just pass that one threshold, I think we’ll see a series of victories as a party after we realize we can win.”
Going forward, Baker’s biggest goal is to attain elected office. She is not sure which office that will be just yet, but she is driven to one day cross that remaining threshold.
“I would just like to affect positive change,” she said. “I have very strong opinions on what that change should look like.”