Backgrounder: Donald Rainwater, the Surprise Libertarian
by Margaret Menge
If you haven’t yet heard his name, you’ll probably be hearing it soon.
The Libertarian candidate for governor, Donald Rainwater, has suddenly become a contender, thanks to an online poll of likely voters in early September showing him with 24 percent support, and he’s now running radio ads on stations up and down the state after raising almost $160,000 from supporters in just seven days.
The Republican establishment scoffs, of course, at the possibility that a third-party candidate could register a pulse in a state-wide election in Indiana, much less have a real shot at winning the governor’s race.
But the amount of anger being flung at Gov. Eric Holcomb on social media is off the charts, with hundreds of people on Facebook railing every day against his shutdown of businesses, mask mandate and seeming indifference to the plight of people whose lives have been turned upside down by his executive orders.
Rainwater, meanwhile, is rushing in, laying out a vision of a different kind of state government, one that advises but doesn’t mandate, one that doesn’t collect a personal income tax or require you to get a license to dip a fishing line in a pond or to cut the hair on someone else’s head.
But who is Donald Rainwater, and where did he come from?
He’s a lifelong Hoosier and a 1981 graduate of Warren Central High School in Indianapolis. After high school, he spent eight years in the U.S. Navy and went on to manage several small businesses before going into computers and becoming a software engineer. He’s worked for a few corporations, and is now self-employed, living with his wife in Westfield, a town of about 42,000 in Hamilton County, north of Carmel.
This isn’t his first run for public office. In 2016 he ran for the state senate, and in 2018 for state representative, both times as the Libertarian Party candidate. He is 56, almost 57.
“I was going to initially run for county council here in Hamilton County and decided that, we needed to get the message out statewide and that this was a good time to do that. And so I changed my mind,” he says, “and did what I thought was best for, things overall — maybe not best for me at the time, but what was best for the state of Indiana.”
His decision to run had nothing to do with Covid-19, he says. And it really couldn’t have. Rainwater won the Libertarian Party’s nomination on March 7, the day after Holcomb declared a state health emergency and two weeks before his so-called “Hunker Down Hoosiers” order telling people to stay home and forcing tens of thousands of businesses to close their doors.
“I originally got involved back in 2016, and the thing that got me up off the couch was the idea that we were supposed to have a small-government, low-tax mentality in Indiana and they were raising taxes and they were expanding the size and scope of state government, and it got me riled up,” Rainwater says in a phone interview.
“I had quit smoking several years before,” he says. “At the time, my wife was still smoking, which means I was buying cigarettes, right, because I would stop and get my wife cigarettes. And one day on the way home from work they started talking about raising the cigarette tax two dollars. And the discussion that was being had was that they wanted to raise the cigarette tax to encourage people to stop smoking and raise money for road repair and I couldn’t help but think to myself, ‘Well, ya can’t do both.’ Because if people stop smoking, you won’t be raising revenue for road repair, because they won’t be buying the cigarettes. And if you raise revenue for road repair with an additional cigarette tax, people won’t be stopping smoking. So you can’t say you’re trying to do those two things with this tax. You’re just lying to me. And the more I looked at the way that things were presented, and the way that the government explained what they were doing or planning to do, the more frustrated I became with the lack of transparency, the diametrically opposed explanations as to why things were being done, and just the general, almost obvious disdain that state government was showing for the citizens of the state of Indiana. And the more I looked, the madder I got, the madder I got, the more I wanted to get involved.”
Of the disdain, he points directly at Holcomb saying, “That comes from the top down.”
The governor’s race this year wasn’t expected to be much of a race at all, with Holcomb getting high praise for his handling of the pandemic from most of officialdom. It must have appeared to the governor’s staff that the discontent with the shutdowns and mask mandate was confined to a small group of crazies. But the same IndyPolitics/Change Research poll taken Sept. 3-7 that had Rainwater at 24 percent also showed Holcomb with just 36 percent support, a shockingly low number for an incumbent governor, with 16 of the 36 coming from Biden voters. (The Democrat, Woody Myers, got 30 percent, and 10 percent were undecided.)
Suddenly, it’s a race. And so we thought it important to find out who Rainwater is and what he’d do if he were elected governor.
“I can tell you that I would not have mandated people staying at home,” says Rainwater. “I would not have mandated shutting businesses down, or creating classes of essential and nonessential, and some businesses are more essential than others so some can stay open and operate normally while others have to operate curbside.”
“I would not have shut churches down period, and I personally find it offensive that any government official would ever tell churches, ‘Sorry, you can’t have in-person services and you can’t practice communion unless you do it the way we specify,’” says Rainwater, “Because I think that that not only violates the First Amendment of the federal Constitution, but I believe it violates the state constitution as well.”
“I think it’s Section 3 of Article 1 basically says no law shall in any case whatever control the free exercise and enjoyment of religious opinions or interfere with the rights of conscience.
He continues quoting the law:
“No preference shall be given by law to any creed, religious society or mode of worship.”
“So to me, when you say, ‘Well, you know, you got to do it our way,’ that violates that — most clearly, in my opinion. So to me, those are just things I would not have done,” he says.
And Rainwater says he never would have mandated masks, in contrast with Holcomb who recently extended the statewide mask mandate, requiring masks to be worn even outside, when a six-foot distance from other people can’t be maintained.
“I would never mandate masks,” says Rainwater, “because every time somebody says, ‘Well, we need to follow the science,’ . . . ‘Well, can you please show me the science? Don’t just tell me that you’ve looked at it, so you’re going to tell me what to do.’ I don’t think that’s the society we’re supposed to be living in.”
“I believe that we’re supposed to be able to, as Reagan put it, self-rule. And if we can’t self-rule, how can any of us rule everybody else?”
I ask him if he’s a fan of Ronald Reagan, because it’s not every day that a Libertarian quotes Reagan.
“I’m a fan of many of the things that he said,” he replies.
“I’m not going to say that every decision he made was correct or perfect. I believe that many of the Founding Fathers were flawed human beings, just like the rest of us. Actually, they all were flawed human beings, right? But what they said and what they wrote has merit.”
Rainwater is also fond of quoting Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge.
“The things that these men said have merit. And if we believe in the intent of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States and the constitution of the state of Indiana, then we have to make a decision: Are we going to be a nation of laws, are we going to be a nation of limited government based on constitutional constructs? Or are we just not? And, . . . I choose to follow the Constitution.”
The issue of abortion keeps most conservatives from seriously considering Libertarian candidates, and in fact, the national Libertarian Party does not believe government should be involved in prohibiting abortion, stating in its party platform that while the party recognizes that it’s a sensitive issue, it believes in “leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.”
But Rainwater calls himself a “pro-life Libertarian” and says on his website issues page: “I have come to believe that abortion violates the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP), which is one of the cornerstones of Libertarianism” but that he doesn’t believe it violates this principle “in emergency situations where the mother’s life is in jeopardy or when the mother has been sexually assaulted.”
As to public funding of Planned Parenthood, he says it should be zeroed out.
“I personally disagree with the government funding of any private charitable organization. Period,” he says. “I don’t think the government should take money from people and decide which charities get it and which don’t. I think the charities should be able to fundraise from people privately.”
Perhaps the candidate’s most daring pledge — one that Adam Krupp, former head of the Department of Revenue, said he once entertained but never ran with – is the elimination of the individual income tax in Indiana.
“I believe first of all, when I talk about eliminating the individual income taxes – I’m not talking about corporate – that would eliminate the income taxes for small-business owners, because the majority of them pay their business taxes through their individual income tax,” explains Rainwater.
“And I believe that with the economic crisis that we’re faced with today where small-business owners were, in my opinion, given a much more difficult burden to bear by the governor than corporations were, that this would give them some ability to help them recover. You can never eliminate what was done to them. You can’t go back and erase it. But giving people the knowledge that they’re not going to have to pay individual income tax to the state – though I’d love to get rid of it at the federal level, too, that would not be my purview – but I believe that that allows people in today’s economic crisis the peace of mind of knowing, I can go out and generate income to pay my bills, take care of my family and I don’t have to worry about, Am I gonna have to file taxes on this money.”
What He Would Do if Elected Governor
It’s probably fair to say that a Libertarian candidate in Indiana or almost any other state is not really expecting to actually find himself serving in office. But Rainwater sounds as though he’s put some thought into the possibility.
“I believe that as governor I need to go down, sit down with the Secretary of State and say look, ‘What Hoosiers really need is for us to come together, go to the General Assembly, and let’s get some really common-sense reforms, deregulating all of the paperwork requirements and unnecessary burden on small businesses in Indiana.”
“I believe that licensing for most things – and here again, I’m not going to say that we want a complete and utter dismantling of all of the Indiana professional licensing agency. But I believe that many things, for example hairdressers, they should have their own private industry association that sets their standards and the government doesn’t need to be involved in it,” says Rainwater.
“And if I want to go – and of course I have no hair – but if I want to go get my hair done by somebody who doesn’t have that association’s approval, that’s my choice as a free citizen, to say, ‘Yes, I know these people are licensed by the Indiana Association of Private Hairdressers and this person is not, but I’m going to go ahead and I’m going to get my hair cut by that person,’ that should be my choice, and government should have no purview in it. That’s my opinion.”
He says he doubts that there is really a need for fishing licenses, either.
“As far as fishing licenses, having grown up fishing, I would prefer that we not have fishing licenses,” he says, “and one of the things that I reference all the time is, if the state can say, ‘Here are days during the year where you can fish without a license,’ then it must not be the end of the world if people fish without a license. So why do we have them, other than to generate revenue for the government? And that’s not a good reason to do something.”
And he doesn’t believe you should be charged a yearly tax to drive a car.
“I would like to convert vehicle registrations to a one-time deal,” he says. “So you register your vehicle when you buy it. You pay sales tax when you buy the vehicle. And that’s it, you’re done. You don’t have to pay excise tax every year. You don’t have to get a new sticker. There’s no reason for that, other than to have something else that the police can pull you over for. And I don’t think there’s any need for that.”
He says when you move, you report the address change, as you would to the county elections department.
“But as far as charging people every year to keep the so-called privilege of driving, I don’t agree with that,” he says.
Who would he hire?
But if elected, who would he hire to staff his administration? Would it be a Libertarian administration? Or a mostly Republican administration headed by a Libertarian? Neither?
“First of all,” says Rainwater, “I believe that on Nov. 4, we will have to engage in a vigorous campaign of interviews. And . . . people will have to sit down with me and we’ll have to have candid and difficult conversations. Because I believe that if I’m elected governor, it will be because people want change. They don’t want the status quo. They don’t want the same government that they’ve had. They want better government, not bigger government. And, I will sit down and talk to anyone who wants to have the conversation about what that means. And we’ll figure out who the right people are to lead that effort. But I can say with absolute certainty that anyone who has a history in Indiana government and believes that what’s been going on for the last eight years with the expansion in the number of state employees, the increase in the number of state agencies, the addition of new cabinet members to the governor’s cabinet . . . Anybody who thinks that that’s all good stuff, is probably not going to want to work under me as governor of the state of Indiana. Because frankly, I believe very strongly in innovation, in being more interested in doing things efficiently and well than just keeping the status quo. I also believe that it’s very important that what I would consider the promises made to individual citizens are kept. So, a lot of people automatically say, ‘If you’re going to cut taxes, you’re going to cut entitlements.’ Well, I have no intention of doing that. What I have an intention of is cutting all the fraud, waste and abuse and corruption in state government. And there’s a ton of it, and I believe that everybody knows there’s a ton of it. They just don’t want to call it out.”
People might reasonably ask whether Rainwater has the kind of people in his orbit he would need to advise him.
“I am not a fiscal expert,” he says. “But I have the names and phone numbers of many.”
He says he’d include people he’s spoken to, and others who he considers “the people in the room that are smarter than me.”
Working with smart advisors, he says he would “collaborate on the right way to eliminate the unnecessary spending, the pork, if you will, and get down to a smaller size and scope of state government.”
For now, Rainwater’s staff is all-volunteer. His campaign manager, Sam Goldstein, runs an insurance agency. His volunteer coordinator is a 19-year college student from Vincennes.
“I couldn’t afford to pay anybody right now if I had to,” says Rainwater.
And he can’t yet afford to campaign fulltime, so he’s still working his day job and campaigning in the evenings and on weekends.
“I think the reality is that with our current funding, our ability to use good old fashioned grassroots word-of-mouth, coupled with the digital mobile device being as prevalent as it is today, I think that we have done some pretty remarkable things and that if we can get the appropriate funding to get out there into the mainstream radio and television markets, I think that we have a very good chance on November the third.”
Voters will have a chance to learn more about Rainwater when he debates both Holcomb and Myers during two debates, on Oct. 20 and Oct. 27. Both debates will be held at the television studios of WFYI-TV. TV stations across the state are expected to broadcast the debate live starting at 7 p.m. (8 p.m. Central Time).
Margaret Menge, a veteran journalist now residing in Bloomington, has reported for the Miami Herald, Columbia Journalism Review, InsideSources, Breitbart, the New York Observer and the American Conservative. She also worked as an editor for the Miami Herald Company and UPI. Menge wrote this for The Indiana Policy Review.