Election Q&A: Benji Milanowski’s third-party bid for Lafayette mayor
Benji Milanowski, a Libertarian challenging five-term Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski, says he’s mostly interested in getting voters to know third-party options exist.
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Election Q&A: Benji Milanowski’s third-party bid for Lafayette mayor
Benji Milanowski’s main goal in his challenge of Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski fairly simple.
He wants voters to have choice rather than another unopposed run for the five-term. And he wants people to notice, or even join, third-party movements in the next election cycle.
Milanowski, 39, is a Purdue graduate originally from Valparaiso. He’s a public health nurse with the Tippecanoe County Health Department and a Ph.D. student in nursing at Purdue, who also is a hobby woodworker who concentrates on using hand tools to make Shaker-style furniture.
Here, Milanowski talks about why he’s running, what changes he’d like to see in Lafayette City Hall and why he says his place on the Nov. 7 ballot isn’t really about the job Roswarski is doing.
Question: Why are you running? And why now?
Benji Milanowski: Certainly, part of it is just one of timing. Part of it is I've been more and more active with the Tippecanoe County Libertarian Party. I've now lived in Lafayette since 2017. Previously, I was here as a college student in West Lafayette, but there's some time in between. But I've been here since 2017, I have a sense of the layout, I’ve just grown a lot, I understand a lot more. I feel like I could do this. So, that's the “why now.”
The other aspect is really that I want to raise awareness of third parties. Libertarians, we're socially liberal and fiscally conservative – we try and stay out of your bedroom and out of your wallet. If you're, like, Oh, that's not me or my alignment, go find your alignment. Go join your party. So if you’re the Green Party, go meet with your Green Party. I assume they meet at Whole Foods, I don't know. But, go find your party and join them. If you're a progressive Republican, make Teddy Roosevelt proud and bring back the Bull Moose Party. You know, that type of thing. I've just encountered so many people that are, well, I'm voting Democrat, because I don't want the Republicans to win. Or I'm voting Republican, because I don't want the Democrats to win or vice versa. They're voting against a party, not for something. I want people to vote for something. Honestly, I'm just here to give you another option. As I stated before, Mayor Roswarski has done, I think, an admirable job. If he gets the election for another four years, I'm not going to be upset. I'm not going to demand a recount or anything. It will be fine. But it's one of those things where here's an option. Let's give an option.
Question: What is that option in your case? What are you offering?
Benji Milanowski: Being Libertarian, my goals would be what's the minimum effective dose. When we’re talking about medicine and nursing, that type of thing, if you're on any medications, they don't give you 100 milligrams of something. We give you 10. If that's what the dose is, we don't overdose you. We do need the government. But what's the minimum effective dose of government? Right now, if you were to go into West Lafayette, and you want to raise chickens in an urban environment, you're allowed to. But here in Lafayette, you can't? Why is the government interfering in such a way to prevent that? I mean, is it for a public health reason? I can't come up with a good one. Chickens wouldn't spread any more diseases than, say, a pet cat or pet dog. Is there some type of animal welfare reason? Feasibly, but again, if you're capable of taking care of a dog or cat, you should be able to take care of raising chickens and doing that type of animal husbandry. So, why is that a regulation?
Another thing I would like to look at is, right now, the town is growing. And I think that's wonderful. But I think there are certain impediments to it. For example, a property value or property tax doesn't really incentivize you to improve your property, because you're going to be taxed for that improvement. Whereas, if we had something like a land value tax, it doesn't matter what's on the land, it gets taxed equally, because the land is the commodity. And so that would encourage you to improve what's there. And you already know what that tax is going to be – it’s going to be the value of the land. That's also the type of thing where it's going to help with some of our housing prices to eliminate slumlords. They would have no incentive to keep it derelict because there's other places that would have a similar rate because you know what the land value would be, so it would encourage that improvement. Moreover, the land value tax is one of those things where you see Republicans, Democrats, socialists, Libertarians all encourage it. So why not give it a try here?
Question: So, are you thinking that people who have the same quarter-acre lot with, say, a 4,000-square-foot house would be taxed the same amount as someone who has like a bungalow-style, two bedroom house that has, say, 1,200-square-feet on the same sized lot?
Benji Milanowski: Yes. The value of that quarter acre is what has the value The house has a separate value. But that's not what we're going to be taxing. The land is what's the valuable thing.
Question: Do you see this, then, bringing in less money or redistributing who pays what share? And in this case, would this also affect the schools, the libraries, the county and every other entity aside from the city that also have property taxes? How do you see that working?
Benji Milanowski: An assessment would have to be done as to what the land value is. So that also would be my plan. In nursing, we have a process where you assess, you diagnose, you plan, you intervene and you evaluate. How did that thing work? That's the evaluation. So we would have to make all of those assessments. But it's just one of those things where I look at, you know, why did I pay what I pay in property taxes versus someone else? I think it's an easy thing to hide behind, as far as this home isn't worth that much. Or, oh, we're not going to make these improvements. Or, yeah, I'm sorry that you're living in this in this slum. But you know, we can't do anything. And I think this is one of those that helps address that. And it makes it fair.
Question: You talked about the right dose. What is the right dose of what the mayor should control or that city hall should control?
Benji Milanowski: I would like to see as much privatization as possible or allow that to be a thing. I would like to get out of the way, so that people can bring in private enterprise. For example, we have city waste. That's fine. If you want that as an option, please use the city to take care of your waste. But we have private companies, as well. There are people outside of the city that use them. That's the type of thing where we can look to those types of cuts – anything where we can allow private enterprise to take over is the type of thing I would like to see.
Question: Do you think that would be more expensive, though, in the long run for consumers? One of the advantages of city sanitation hauling is that we all kind of chip in, and I know every Wednesday I can put my trash and recycling bins out.
Benji Milanowski: That is an option. That's the type of thing, though, where I'm not going to get rid of sanitation. Let me be perfectly clear on that. But it's the type of thing to look at. Great example is this, and I think this is a counter example to what most libertarians say: I like paying taxes for roads. This is an infrastructure that we all use, even if you don't drive or ride a bicycle on it. You get your mail delivered, you get packages from Amazon, that type of thing. You are using the roads. That is a wonderful use of the government to have roads. And I know that roads are also bigger than a municipality, like Lafayette, that it would be a state and federal issue. Whereas, there are other times when the government is involved, where it’s, did we necessarily need this involvement or this measure? Could a third party be a better option? Could a private party be a better option and lower cost to consumers? Is there something that maybe we're not all using that would be a better use? I would have to look at all of our programs and go from there and figure those types of things out?
Question: How are you getting this across to people? What’s your campaign been like? Or is it more of just making sure your name is on the ballot?
Benji Milanowski: My campaign has mostly just been that there's awareness that I'm on the ballot, and that there are third parties. … We have other people running. Josiah Eller, for example, is on there (for Lafayette City Council in District 4). And we try and get people on our ballots when we can, again, just to encourage voting and to make it known.
Question: What would be success for you, if you’re telling me you’re not campaigning? What would be a successful run?
Benji Milanowski: I don’t know that it matters. For me, what’s successful is the fact that people have talked about it. And people have said, Oh, there's someone running. I saw on one of the social media sites, Next Door, someone commented, Well, I'm going to go ahead and run against Tony Roswarski next election. Which is defeatist for me – they already know I'm going to lose. But fantastic for them, that they go, I'm going to get my papers filed so that I can run against him next election. Again, it's not even an attack on Roswarski, as much as it's just that we have this community, be involved with it, participate. If you don't like what I am offering, that's fine. Find your people who do align that way and get involved.
Question: What’s your take on the Indiana Economic Development Corp. talking about taking water from Tippecanoe County for the LEAP District project in Boone County?
Benji Milanowski: My take is that, obviously it's already been decided before it was even announced to us. I will always back the science. If the science says that the aquifer will refill at a reasonable rate and we're not going to lose out, then that's fine.
Right now, my question is that the only science that I've seen has been coming from those who are doing the LEAP project and not an independent geologist or other hydrologic sciences. So, I do question that. There's lies, damned lies and statistics. What statistics are we getting? Are we getting just those from the agency itself? Or is this actually the science? I'm pretty sure in the 1950s and ‘60s, there were tobacco scientists that were saying tobacco is pretty perfectly safe, but the rest of the scientists were saying no. So, I would like to see that.
But if the aquifer can support it, then I'm actually not opposed to it, because it would bring industry. Now that said, I would rather see that industry come here to Lafayette, but that doesn't change the fact that they're still going to use that much more water. I see people argue, Why isn’t the industry coming here? Well, that still doesn't change. Can we still support that large of an industry or not? If we can, great, we should bring them here. If we can't, then it's a problem, regardless.
Question: Let’s say something happened and you got elected. Four years from now, what would be the measure of a successful administration for you?
Benji Milanowski: The things I'm looking at are getting the government out of the way, reducing government spending and looking at measures that are going to give us a good return on investment. Again, I'm not about, let's cut everything and have no governance.
Question: Are there services or city personnel you see that aren’t necessary, going in? How much of government is in the way now?
Benji Milanowski: Right now, I mostly see it in some of our regulations that I'd like to see rolled back. I will be evaluating our government programs to see are we duplicating things? Could things be combined? Is there something that we need to get rid of and start anew?
Question: What regulations do you see locally, that a mayor could handle, that you’d like to see rolled back?
Benji Milanowski: It's just a lot of small things that I've seen being complained about on social media. Things were like, why do we have a license for garage sales? Why are there other regulations with certain improvements to buildings? If it's one of safety, then sure. We want to make sure things are built to code, so that something's not going to collapse. But if it's a minor improvement project, why are we having people pull permits for that type of stuff? Honestly, it's a lot of smaller things.
Question: Are there any projects you’d like to see done or things that need to be improved in Lafayette?
Benji Milanowski: Green energy for our government buildings is certainly going to be one of them. The other thing is, we have so many homes that are in dereliction, what do we need to do to get them purchased and available to people. We’re talking about a housing crisis. Is it just because people are sitting on it and waiting for the market so that they can sell? Is it because the property tax means you don't want to improve it? Is it just because we have slumlords that have just no scruples to do something? What is going on there? I'd like to see more of our homes turned over so that we could be available to our citizens.
Question: Is there an argument that Libertarians would think that's fine, because people are doing what they want with their property? How do you balance that against your idea about doing something about it?
Benji Milanowski: I'm not going to do anything to take a home or force someone to do something with the home. It's a balance of carrot and stick. Can I incentivize you, in some capacity, to revitalize your home to open it up to others? Would eliminating a property tax for land value tax incentivize you for that? That's what I would look at. I think a lot of times, you see Libertarians just go to an extreme of, Oh, we want no government or just to the brink of anarchism. And that's not what I am. I'm a moderate Libertarian. We do need government. We do need rules and regulations. But what's our minimum effective dose that we need?
Question: What do you expect to see when you wake up on Nov. 8, the day after the election? What’s a success for you, all in?
Benji Milanowski: All in, honestly if I got a few votes. I know that’s such a low bar, considering I’m going to be voting for myself. But that’s what I want to see, just people going, OK, hey, I heard about the Libertarian Party, I looked into them, I learned something. Or, you know, the same thing, except, I looked into it and now I’m still going to vote for Tony. I want people to vote. I would love to see it growing, more and more people get involved with local politics.
ABOUT THE NOV. 7 ELECTION
WHERE TO VOTE AHEAD OF NOV. 7: Here are the remaining voting times and sites set up between now and Monday, Nov. 6.. Voters should bring a valid ID.
8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 1-Friday, Nov. 3: Tippecanoe County Office Building, 20 N. Third St., Lafayette
Noon-6 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 2-Friday, Nov. 3: West Lafayette City Hall, 222 N. Chauncey Ave.; Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds, 1406 Teal Road, Lafayette; First Church of the Nazarene, 3801 Union St., Lafayette.
9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4: West Lafayette City Hall, 222 N. Chauncey Ave.; Tippecanoe County Office Building, 20 N. Third St., Lafayette; First Church of the Nazarene, 3801 Union St., Lafayette.
8 a.m.-noon Monday, Nov. 6: Tippecanoe County Office Building, 20 N. Third St., Lafayette.
ON BALLOTS: Incumbents are noted with an asterisk. Candidate Q&As, when available, are linked to the name of the position on the ballot.
Mayor: Tony Roswarski*, D; Benji Milanowski, Libertarian
Clerk: Cindy Murray*, D.
Council District 1: Jerry Reynolds*, R.
Council District 2: Eileen Hession Weiss*, D; Mary Fisher, R.
Council District 3: Perry Brown*, D.
Council District 4: Lauren Ahlersmeyer*, D; Josiah Eller, Libertarian
Council District 5: Melissa Weast Williamson*, D.
Council District 6: Bob Downing*, D; Perry Barbee, R
Council at-large (3 seats): Kevin Klinker*, D; Nancy Nargi*, D; Steve Snyder*, D.
Mayor: Erin Easter, D.
Clerk: Sana Booker*, D.
City Judge: Lori Sabol*, D.
Council District 1: Aaron Abell, R; Laila Veidemanis, D.
Council District 2: Michelle Dennis, D.
Council District 3: Colin Lee*, D.
Council District 4: Larry Leverenz*, D.
Council District 5: Kathy Parker*, D; James Waters, R.
Council District 6: Jeff Brown*, R; Stacey Baitinger Burr, D.
Council at-large (3 seats): James Blanco*, D; Iris O’Donnell Bellisario, D; David Sanders*, D; Brian Russell, R; Patrick Flannelly, R.
West Lafayette Community School Corp.
Property tax referendum renewal question: “Shall West Lafayette Community School Corporation continue to impose increased property taxes paid to the school corporation by homeowners and businesses for eight (8) years immediately following the holding of the referendum for the purpose of retaining and attracting teachers and staff and funding academic programming and operating expenditures with the renewal of the current maximum referendum property tax rate of $0.37? The property tax increase requested in this referendum was originally approved by the voters in 2017 and if extended will increase the average property tax paid to the school corporation per year on a residence within the school corporation by 46.2% and if extended will increase the average property tax paid to the school corporation per year on a business property within the school corporation by 41.8%.”
Here's a link to a primer on the West Lafayette schools question, which would renew a property tax rate first approved in 2010 and again in 2017.
Town Council (choose five, all independent): Vickie Beavers, Marc Buhrmester*, Leah Copas, Ron Koehler*, Jen Manago*, Rocky Richards, Carla Snodgrass*, Joy Tischer
Clerk-Treasurer: Bridget Cadwallader
ELECTION DAY POLLING PLACES: Polls will be open 6 a.m-6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 7. Registered voters in Tippecanoe County may use any vote center.
West Lafayette Wellness Center, 1101 Kalberer Road
Faith West Community Center, 1920 Northwestern Ave.
West Lafayette City Hall, 222 N. Chauncey Ave.
Evangelical Covenant Church, 3600 S. Ninth St., Lafayette
Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds, 1406 Teal Road, Lafayette
Northend Community Center, 2000 Elmwood Ave., Lafayette
Christ United Methodist Church, 3610 S. 18th St., Lafayette
First Church of the Nazarene, 3801 Union St., Lafayette
Gathering Point Church, 7201 Wesleyan Drive, Dayton
CHECK YOUR VOTER REGISTRATION STATUS AND THE CANDIDATES ON YOUR SPECIFIC BALLOT: Go to the Secretary of State’s portal at www.indianavoters.com.
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