The man who would be president

How would Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson handle the top job?



photo by Megan Berner

Gary Johnson was the Republican governor of New Mexico from 1995-2003. He’s 58 years old, and he’s running for president of the United States on the Libertarian ticket. Republicans all over the country are waging a war against him, using underhanded methods attempting to keep him off the ballots. Right now, he’s on the ballot in all 50 states but with challenges remaining in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Oklahoma. While he was governor, he got the nickname Governor Veto for vetoing legislation sent for a rubber stamp more than 200 times in his first 180 days. Somehow, when the same technique was tried here, it just earned the administrator the reputation for being a dick. One thing seems odd, though: Why is the GOP so afraid of losing votes to this man when the old-school conservative seems to be on the right side of so many “liberal” issues?

In this interview, I want to talk to you about issues. I realize you were in town not too long ago, but this will be the first introduction most people have to you. So let’s go, why should Democrats vote for you?

You know what? I’m more liberal than Obama, and I’m more conservative than Romney. I think that’s where the majority of Americans fall—into the broad brushstroke of fiscally responsible and socially accepting. OK, that being said, there are big differences between me and the other two candidates. And I am talking as someone who’s going to be on the ballot in all 50 states. There are only three candidates that are in that category: me, Obama and Romney. I want you to know that we do have issues with several states, but we believe that we’re going to resolve the issues. But anyway, in second place when it comes to third-parties being on the ballot, I believe the Green Party will be on the ballot in about 30 states. No one is going to come close to 50 states. If we fall short in one or two states, then we fall short. It’s only one or two, and we’re not expecting that to be the case.

Why should Republicans vote for you?

So let me just point out the differences between me and the other two guys: I don’t want to bomb Iran. I want to get out of Afghanistan now. Bring the troops home. I do support marriage equality. I think that it’s a constitutionally guaranteed right. I support ending the drug wars and legalizing marijuana. I would like to repeal the Patriot Act; I think we have a growing police state in this country. I would have never signed the National Defense Authorization Act allowing for indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without being charged. I also believe that we need to balance the federal budget now. If we don’t, I think we’re going to find ourselves with a collapsed government. I am also advocating kicking crony capitalism in the rear end by eliminating corporate tax, income tax, the IRS and replacing all of that with one federal consumption tax. In this case, I’m advocating the FairTax. Those are the big differences between myself and my two opponents. [Editor’s note: The FairTax is a 23 percent federal retail sales tax collected at the final point of purchase of new goods and services for personal consumption.]

What made you run as a Libertarian when you were apparently a lifelong Republican and had two terms as Republican governor?

Well, I would say that I’ve actually been a lifelong Libertarian. I registered as a Republican and ran as a Republican outside the Republican Party and got elected Republican governor of New Mexico in a state that’s 2-to-1 Democrat. So arguably, I’ve been a Libertarian all my life, kind of under the guise of being a Republican.

Does a third-party candidate have a shot at winning the presidency?

Yeah. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t have that chance or belief that it is possible. The only way that I have a chance of winning it is to be in an actual debate against Obama and Romney. Short of that, I have the opportunity here to change the national dialogue on all those issues that I mentioned earlier, and I don’t think that that is insignificant. For anybody that says they don’t want to waste their vote … I just think that wasting a vote is voting for someone you don’t believe in.

Have you asked Ron Paul for his endorsement as a Libertarian candidate?

No, and I’m not going to, but I would just like to point out that he asked me for mine in 2008, and I gave it to him. When I dropped the Republican Party, I asked everyone who was going to vote for me to vote for him, and in the second debate that I was in, I was asked, “Who on stage would be your vice president if you had to pick one from those on stage,” and my response was, “Ron Paul.” I thought that was obvious.

Running this time, I mean as a dark horse, if you don’t win, in four years, you are on the national stage. There is no way they could freeze you out.

In four years, I could well return as the Libertarian spokesman again. This is a permanent change for me. I think Republicans have really lost it, and I think I’m speaking on behalf of the majority of Republicans but, you know, like I say, I wasn’t given a real chance to air these views. I think the majority of Republicans are disillusioned with Republicans.

All right, let’s get into the issue stuff. What should America do regarding illegal immigration?

We should make it as easy as possible for someone who wants to come into this country and work to get a visa. We should acknowledge that immigration is a good thing; it’s not a bad thing. We shouldn’t build a fence, and for the 11 million illegal immigrants that are here in this country right now, I think we need to set up a grace period where we can get them working visas. That would entail a background check and a Social Security card so that applicable taxes would paid. If we adopt the FairTax, taxes will not be an issue because whether you’re illegal, legal, a visitor to the U.S., or a U.S. citizen, you’re not going to be able to avoid paying one federal consumption tax. And then legalize marijuana and arguably 75 percent of the border violence in Mexico goes away. That being the estimate of the drug cartel activities that are engaged in the marijuana trade. There have been 40,000 deaths on the border over the last four years. These are disputes that are being played out with guns rather than the courts.

I am interested in this idea. We, at the threat of Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass instruction that he might kill some of his own people or he might kill somebody else, we went halfway around the world and started killing people. And yet on our own borders, as you say, 40,000 deaths in the last four years, and there has been no threat of military action. How do you feel about this kind of cognitive dissonance?

Johnson chatted with locals at Bibo Coffee on Record Street on Aug. 7

Photo by Megan Berner

Well you know that there are politicians that want to answer the issue of guns on the border with more guns. I would suggest that the root cause of border violence has to do with the prohibition of drugs. Let’s deal with the prohibition of drugs. That’s the disconnect.

Would you expand on your policy on gay marriage a little bit?

We should adopt marriage equality. I maintain that it is a constitutional issue, constitutionally on par with the civil rights of the ’60s. Marriage equality is one of those constitutional rights we should guarantee.

What is your policy on gun ownership?

The Second Amendment could not be clearer. As governor of New Mexico in 1995, I actually got to sign legislation allowing for concealed carry in New Mexico. I have nothing that I want to legislate when it comes to gun control.

Do you have a concealed weapons permit?

No, but I will tell you that as a result of Aurora, I made a personal pledge to myself that when this campaign is over that I’m going to get my concealed carry permit.

What is your policy regarding SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act), and basically legislation to control or censor the internet?

There is nothing I want the government to control when it comes to the internet. There is nothing I want the government to fix when it comes to the internet.

So completely leave it as it stands?


What is your policy regarding indefinite detention, and while you did mention NDAA, could you expand on that a little bit?

I would never have signed NDAA, and we need to bring to an end the practice of arrest and detainment without being charged.

Where do you come down on things like waterboarding?

We should not allow torture. I think these issues are why we’ve gone to war with other countries. We’re not a country that does this.

Do you have a general policy regarding war? When is it acceptable?

Nonintervention. Because of our military intervention we have hundreds of millions of enemies to this country that except for our military intervention, we would not have those enemies.

Johnson climbed the wall at CommRow on Aug. 7.

Photo by Megan Berner

Does your drug policy extend beyond just simple legalization of marijuana?

I am just advocating the legalization of marijuana, but I think we’re at a tipping point on the marijuana issue. I think we’re going to legalize marijuana. I think the tipping point is going to be Colorado this fall. It’s on the ballot to regulate marijuana like alcohol. I think that once we legalize marijuana in the country, and it’s going to have to be 50 states that are going to have to do this, but once we do that, I think we turn our head of the rest the drug issue and clearly look at some alternatives that would start—start—with looking at drugs as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue.

So that means treatment in some cases?

I believe that 90 percent of the drug problems are prohibition-related, not use-related. That is not to discount the problems with use and abuse, but that should be the focus. The issue today with treatment is that the government is giving you and me an option when we’re arrested: You can either go to treatment or you can go to jail. Well, in a situation like that, I would hope to offer that alternative in about a hundred out of a hundred cases, but does that work? Does a forced treatment model work? No way. It doesn’t work. People are going to smoke pot. Do we really want to send these people to jail, or do we really want to put them in treatment for an issue that they don’t need treatment for? No. No. Treatment right now, as a forced model of treatment, really doesn’t work. It prevents people from going to jail but it doesn’t … the notion of preventing people from doing drugs? Come on. But now I’m back to the fact that some people really do want treatment. It’s got to start with that. It can’t be forced, but for people that want to address the issues with a fraction of the amount of money that we spend on the war on drugs—that would be money effectively spent.

What is your policy on Obamacare? If you would reform health care how would you do so, especially considering unregulated health care is what got us in the mess we’re in?

I would argue that the mess that we’re in has to do with regulated health care, that health care is about as far removed from free market as it possibly can be, and that government has restricted the availability of choices when it comes to health care, and it’s restricted the supply of health care available to us. Those would be government policies that could turn this around. I have heard, and I know that this is a disputed figure, that we’re going to have 15,000 new IRS agents to enforce President Obama’s health care plan. Where was the legislation to create 15,000 more doctors and expanding the medical schools? To me, that’s more effective use of government policy.

OK. So how about Obamacare as it was passed? What would you do?

First off, I think that it’s completely unaffordable—and I don’t want to cast Democrats as the party of big spending because Republicans just a few years earlier passed prescription health care benefit, which at that time was the largest entitlement ever passed in the country—but it’s unaffordable. I believe that if we don’t balance the federal budget that we’re going to experience a monetary collapse. I think everybody recognizes that, but somehow we think that Santa Claus is coming this Christmas, or the Easter bunny after that, and you know what? We have to fix this ourselves, and that means mutual sacrifice on the part of all of us, and the key word here is “mutual” sacrifice. And you’ve got both parties talking about who’s going to spend more on Medicare? Look, we have to spend less on Medicare. We have to slash Medicare’s spending. If we don’t, we’re going to find ourselves with no health care at all for those over 65.

You spoke to the idea of entitlements for medical reasons, but do you have an idea regarding ending entitlements for volunteer military when they end their time of employment?

That is the only area of government that I can think of where I would not advocate a reduction. These are commitments that have been made to servicemen and women that have served. Those commitments need to remain in place. But that doesn’t apply to military spending in general, which has to be, in my opinion, reduced by 43 percent, which takes us back to 2003 spending levels. I would just start with the premise that we need, and government has the responsibility to provide for a strong national defense. I would take umbrage over the word “defense.” We are anything but defense. We are offense, and we are nation building, and that needs to all come to an end.

What is your policy regarding taxation?

I think we should abolish the IRS, eliminate income tax and corporate tax, tax withholdings from your payroll check. I am specifically supporting the Fair Tax, which is one federal consumption tax. I think it really reboots the American economy. It ends up being cost-neutral. It’s really the answer when it comes to American export.

What is your policy regarding abortion?

I support a woman’s right to choose.

In all cases?

Yes. As governor of New Mexico I did sign a bill banning late-term abortion. It was a bill that didn’t attach criminal penalties to any of it. I happen to concur personally with the law of the land. The law of the land is Casey vs. Planned Parenthood, which I don’t think people really understand. The law of the land in this country is that woman has the right to choose up until viability of the fetus. The Supreme Court has defined “viability of the fetus” as being able to sustain the life of the fetus outside of the womb even if by artificial means.

What can American citizens do to end or fix the dysfunctional two-party system?

I think voting for me would be a big shot across the bow that business as usual cannot continue. We need leadership. We don’t need Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.

Why are so many uneducated and stupid people elected to public office through the two-party system?

[Laughs.] Well, it is what it is. And … I don’t know. If you can come up with the answer to that one, I want to hear it.