“That’s the first sign you know you’re a libertarian. You see the red light. You stop. You realize that there’s not a car in sight. And you put your foot on the gas.” - Gary Johnson
Former two-term Republican Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico has been hitting the news a lot lately. This makes sense, as he’s not ruled out a possible presidential bid. Wikipedia provides this brief overview of Johnson’s history:
Gary Earl Johnson (born January 1, 1953 in Minot, North Dakota) is an American businessman and Republican politician who served as the 29th Governor of the U.S. state of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003. He is well-known for his low-tax libertarian views and his regular participation in triathlons.
Founder of one of New Mexico’s largest construction companies, Johnson entered politics for the first term by running for Governor of New Mexico in 1994. He beat incumbent Democratic governor Bruce King by 50% to 40%. He cut the 10% annual growth in the budget by using his gubernatorial veto on a record 48% of bills.
He sought re-election in 1998, winning by a ten-point margin. In his second term, he concentrated on the issue of school voucher reforms, as well as campaigning for marijuana decriminalization. During his tenure as governor, he adhered strictly to an anti-tax, anti-bureaucracy program, and set state and national records for his use of veto powers: more than the other 49 contemporary governors put together. Term-limited, Johnson retired from politics at the end of his second term.
In 2009, he founded the Our America Initiative, a 501(c)(4) political advocacy organization. Johnson has also been the subject of media speculation as a possible candidate for President of the United States in the 2012 election.
Recent media reviews are a bit interesting. A current Daily Caller interview begins with this paragraph:
“For eight years,” former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson said with a wide grin on his face, “I was a libertarian governor disguised as a Republican!” Often dubbed the “next Ron Paul,” Johnson wears the libertarian (small “L”) label proudly, though in an interview with The Daily Caller he swore he was still a Republican.
Over at The American Conservative, Daniel Larison describes a potential problem with a Johnson candidacy, which is electability in a Republican primary:
The possibility of a Gary Johnson presidential bid is an exciting one, and I say that as a New Mexican who didn’t like some of the major projects he undertook as governor. I can say that I would happily support his candidacy were he to pursue the Republican nomination. That’s part of the problem Gary Johnson faces in a GOP nominating contest: he appeals to people like me and Matt Welch, who are not remotely representative of the Republican primary electorate. For one thing, I’m not a Republican. Not even Ron Paul’s 2008 bid could make me change my registration to vote in the state primary, and I doubt I would change it for the next election.
While a lot of Republicans liked Ron Paul’s fiscal policy issues during the 2008 elections, his foreign policy views certainly hampered his ability to win a GOP presidential nomination. Johnson has been very outspoken regarding marijuana policy, which has the possibility of making it tough for him to win a GOP nomination, as well.
“Marijuana legalization, arguably Johnson’s hallmark political platform, was advertised as being a main point of the lecture, and Johnson subsequently devoted a substantial portion of his address to it,” writes Patrick Derocher after a recent Johnson lecture at Fordham University.
Over at Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government, long-time Republican political consultant Roger Stone is a bit more optimistic than I am:
A 2012 Presidential candidacy by Johnson would lead to a needed public dialog on the failed war on drugs. Prop 19 failed only because of the gross lies told about marijuana use by police groups, Senator Diane Feinstein and, get this, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Anyone who has seen “Pumping Iron” remembers Arnold puffing on a joint between heavy sets. Do as I say, not as I do, Ahhnold ?
This is not to say Johnson is a one dimensional candidate and their will be plenty of opposition to ending the prohibition of Marijuana in the Republican Party, but a Johnson candidacy would find a constituency in the early primary states, particularly “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire and would spark a national discussion that must be had.
Sarah Palin won’t run ( you heard it here first!). The race is wide open. Run, Gary Run.
Following the same vein, CNN entitled a recent article “Forget Palin, here’s Gary Johnson.” Here’s the pertinent excerpt:
Skeptics of the Tea Party note that the right never organized in opposition to the profligate spending of the Bush administration. They wonder why a movement so vocal about liberty focuses exclusively on the economic variety, and suspect that if the GOP is returned to power, government won’t grow smaller or less intrusive so much as serve different masters.
Come 2012, however, there is one Republican who’ll be uniquely positioned to win over these skeptics: former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, a long-shot candidate whose success in the presidential primary would signal, as nothing else could, that the principles espoused by the Tea Party really changed the GOP.
Certainly Johnson would provide a bridge between fiscal conservatives and the left, as E. D. Kain notes at The Washington Examiner:
That being said, Johnson’s positions on civil liberties, foreign policy, and the war on drugs dovetail nicely with my own, and are quite a lot better and more coherent than anything we’ve seen out of either traditional Democratic or Republican candidates. I’m not nearly the sort of fiscal hawk that Johnson is, preferring to keep reasonable spending levels on public education, transportation, and health, but at least he’s consistent in his approach to both civil liberties and fiscal affairs. Indeed, if the Tea Party was as coherent as Johnson, I might even join up – though my participation would be more a protest of our egregious drug policies and our failed security policies than anything. Limiting government must mean more than simply limiting taxes and spending if it is ever to become a truly coherent political force.
Johnson isn’t afraid to take on his likely competition. This clip from a recent profile piece
from The New Republic
What does Johnson make of Palin? On a drive through the foothills of New Hampshire, I ask him. Riding shotgun, he turns the question around on me. “Um, I guess some people think she’s folksy,” I say from the backseat. “Well, at first she strikes you as folksy,” he shoots back. “And then you realize: She might be running for president of the United States! And then, don’t we have the obligation to tell her what a terrible idea that is?” Cupping his hands to his mouth, he brays, “Sarah! We love you! Don’t run!” He also performs a rendition of the “deer-in-the-headlights” interview she did on “The O’Reilly Factor,” about the BP oil spill.
He’s also happy to take on the Republican establishment, as The New Mexico Independent notes:
The free-speaking Johnson also penned a critical statement on the Republican takeover of the House, on Facebook:
“After yesterday’s election I think it would be wrong for the Republicans to take the results as some sort of mandate for Republican leadership. I believe that the Republicans have an opportunity to redeem themselves for when we owned the White House and when we ran up record deficits and when we gave America a prescription health care benefit that added trillions to the entitlement liability and ran up record deficits.”
If Johnson runs, and all signs seem to indicate that he will, the Republican primary process will certainly be interesting.
“As an unabashed Johnson supporter (which is an extremely unusual place to find myself vis-a-vis a politician), my main hope has been that at least one libertarian-minded candidate make it to the GOP’s final round in 2012,” writes Matt Welch at Reason. “Though as one wag suggested to me on Election Night, why not two?”
Over at Slate, Dave Weigel noted that the process could be a lot of fun, too. Here’s the excerpt he pulled from the TNR profile, which was immediately followed by the quote at the top of this post:
“Look,” he says, “there are times and places where it would be perfectly safe to go one-forty, and there are others where it would be reckless to go fifty-five.” Within moments, he’s taking aim at stop signs and red lights. “I’m not opposed to the concept,” he allows. “But sometimes, you know, it’s 5:30 in the morning! There’s nobody on the road!”
I’ll have the advantage being able to have some face time with Governor Johnson next week, as the Samford College Republicans and the Alabama Republican Liberty Caucus (disclosure: I’m the current chairman) will be co-hosting a campus event in Birmingham where he will be speaking. We are following this up with a Liberty on the Rocks mixer right down the street, where Johnson will also be present.
While it’s far to early to begin predicting the outcome of the 2012 GOP presidential nomination process, it seems pretty safe to predict that the debate could indeed be interesting.