Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson is a third-party U.S. presidential candidate who is more conservative than Mitt Romney and more progressive than Barack Obama, and he is finally attracting attention. Digital Journal got an exclusive interview.
In August 2011, a CNN/ORC Poll showed Gary Johnson ahead of Rick Santorum and tied with Herman Cain. Nevertheless, he was excluded from all but one GOP debate thereafter and not included in any further polls. With the benefit of hindsight, Republican voters may now wish that the GOP leaders had not ruled out this eminently viable candidate so quickly. Compared to the current front-runner, Mitt Romney, Gary Johnson has a better conservative record. As a two-term Republican governor of an overwhelmingly Democratic state, Johnson cut taxes 14 times and vetoed 750 bills that called for expenditures to exceed revenue. He may have vetoed more legislation than any other governor in U.S. history. At the end of his term, he left the state with a billion-dollar budget surplus.
Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union awarded Johnson the highest rating in a contest between all the GOP candidates and the President. Johnson's humane immigration policy, his positions against torture, indefinite detention, and illegal surveillance, and his defense of gay marriage and reproductive choice have earned him a much higher score than Obama, who by signing the NDAA has abandoned human rights, heretofore a defining value of the Democratic party.
In addition to being one of New Mexico's most popular governors, Gary Johnson is also a successful businessman, an exemplar of old-fashioned, American roll-up-your-sleeves and get-it-done work ethic. Just out of college, he started a small business, Big J Construction, which soon became a multi-million-dollar company with 1000 employees. In interviews and debates, Johnson is a capable speaker, well-infomed and open-minded. On all accounts, Johnson is a solid candidate who can challenge both Romney and Obama. He is currently seeking the Libertarian nomination for President, which he will very likely get at the party's convention in Nevada in early May. The Libertarian candidate will be on the ballot in all fifty states and on the debate stage with the Republican and Democrat candidates.
Meanwhile, Ron Paul supporters hold their collective breath hoping for a brokered convention in Tampa, which, according to Paul's campaign advisor, could allow Paul to pick up a majority of the delegates. Whatever the outcome, Paul's campaign has swelled Libertarian Party numbers, and it is now the largest third party in the U.S.. In a recent interview on MSNBC, Johnson points out that "80% of Americans are saying they would consider voting for a third-party candidate." There is hope yet, especially if the other third-party candidates can agree to disagree about their differences and rally behind a single candidate. A leading progressive candidate, Rocky Anderson (Justice Party) has said he hopes to form a coalition among all third-party candidates, including Johnson, Jill Stein (Green Party), and Buddy Roemer (a Republican now leading on Americans Elect) to overcome the dysfunctional, corporate-controlled two-party system currently in place. If the status quo continues after the 2012 elections, it will not be because there are not qualified, capable candidates vying for the office of President. It will be because the election has been stolen by corporate money's influence on the media and because the American people do not believe they have the power to fight it by voting third party.
On April 22, 2012, Governor Johnson met with this Digital Journalist for an interview in New York. When asked whether or not he could appeal across party lines, he replied,
Libertarians challenge the Progressives to be more progressive, to protect civil liberties, and challenge Republicans to actually cut spending. I think the ACLU report card is an objective rating. If there were an objective rating for dollars and cents, I think I would get the highest rating there too. I would submit a balanced budget in 2013. I am not afraid to veto legislation where expenses exceed revenue. The majority of Americans describe themselves as fiscally conservative and socially tolerant. That is the Libertarian message.
DJ: You propose cutting spending by 43% across the board, a figure you choose because we're currently borrowing or printing 43 cents on every dollar. I understand that this is a bipartisan decision, but aren't you tempted to cut the most out of military spending like your fellow Libertarian Ron Paul?
JOHNSON:With a 43% decrease, military spending would go down to 2003 levels. (I don't like to call it "defense" spending. It's military spending. Defense is affordable.) I propose 1.4 trillion in cuts, which is .4 trillion more than Paul. So I'm actually proposing to cut more military spending. Veteran's benefits would get a flat increase. The Federal Government has a responsibility to take care of veterans.DJ: As President, you would want to eliminate corporate tax, income tax and payroll tax and replace them with a progressive Fair Tax on consumption, starting at 0% for the poorest Americans and capping out at about 23%, a figure that represents what most people currently pay, on average, in combined taxes. I did the recommended reading on FairTax.org as your campaign website suggests. I like the fact that Fair Tax doesn't favor types of income--capital gains over wage--and also gets undocumented workers paying in as well, but I found that the increase in tax percentage jumped quite a bit between spending levels of $45,000 and $60,000, about 3.8%, and went up only slightly from $1 million to $2 million, about .3%. Is that fair?
JOHNSON:As long as Fair Tax is up for discussion, the limits and figures can be adjusted. What people don't understand about the Fair Tax is it's actually price neutral. A cup of coffee has corporate and payroll tax as hidden costs. So the price of coffee wouldn't go up 23% with the Fair Tax. It would go down, probably more than 23% first, before the 23% tax would be added.
The Fair Tax is also my answer to China. Cutting corporate taxes would create tens of millions of jobs.
DJ: Cut taxes for small corporations, since big ones like GE and BP aren't paying anything now anyway. The tax code is ridiculously complicated and benefits those who know how to take advantage of loopholes and exemptions, but wouldn't it be easier to get rid of all exemptions (except maybe charitable donations)? Fix the system rather than replace it?
JOHNSON:It started out simple in 1913 but didn't stay simple.
DJ: What do you mean when you say that you would make "common sense" changes to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security? With your Libertarian leanings, don't you have a desire to end these programs completely?
JOHNSON:Social Security can be fixed easily compared to Medicare. Fix Social Security by changing the escalator from being based on wage growth to inflation, raise the retirement age and have "means testing." If you pay in a certain amount, are you always entitled to get more back? While you should get back what you put in, you may not be entitled to more, if you don't need it.
If we apply common sense to Medicare, end-of-life costs could be controlled. When there are no costs to the patient, some people may request medical treatments in the last few months of life that they otherwise would not because it would be too much of a financial burden on the family. There needs to be a limit to how much the state should have to pay for me.DJ: For the third organ transplant that the doctors believe has a low chance of success?
JOHNSON:Yes. The Federal government should be out of end-of-life decisions. Some of the inefficiencies of Medicare and Medicaid could be eliminated by giving the states a block grant with no strings attached. We could have 50 laboratories of innovation working out how the lines get drawn.
DJ: When Democrats hear, "deregulation" they think, "more money for greedy corporations."
JOHNSON:I don't know how to fix that. Regulations are actually made to favor big corporations, those that can afford the regulations. When people criticize the problems created by the "free market," they are really talking about problems created by government interference in terms of subsidies, picking winners and losers. The insurance industry is the best example of what happens when you eliminate the free market.
JOHNSON:Yes.DJ: What about subsidies for green energy?
JOHNSON:The price of natural gas has dropped with the discovery of the Marcellus Shale. The price of oil is expected to drop too due to the North Dakota reserves. The green energy sector will not be able to complete. That's a reality-based energy program. Wind energy and solar energy are not cost-effective or energy efficient yet. There is a lot of energy invested in the manufacture of the equipment. For now we will have to get by with traditional energy sources until alternative sources become more efficient.
Energy efficiency does not need a government central planner. Energy efficiency is cost efficiency, and people have an incentive to cut costs. DJ: Do you trust consumers?
JOHNSON:Yes.DJ: But they watch reality TV and play video games all the time.
They need to learn to take responsibility.
What about thorium nuclear power? Why isn't that being explored more? It's cleaner, safer. Uranium was chosen because it was related to weapons research. DJ: Not all decisions are economically rational. Can I ask you about CEO salaries? The Dodd-Frank Act gives shareholders a say on pay. Will this help?
JOHNSON:That is non-binding. Shareholders have always had a say on CEO salaries. I don't know why some decided to pay such high salaries. John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO, doesn’t take a salary. He has stock options and benefits directly from the productivity of the company.
DJ: Do you think that is the new direction for corporations?
JOHNSON:It could be.DJ: I want to talk about privatization, an approach not favored by many Democrats. When I first learned that you had worked to privatize the prison system in New Mexico, I was appalled to think that profits were being made off incarcerating citizens. What if the private prison wants to reduce the quality of the meal for larger profits?
JOHNSON:That's a real concern, but the Federal courts monitor the services. If there are violations, which do you think is easier to shut down? The public prisons are unionized and politicized. As Governor, I found the private sector could provide the same services at two-thirds the cost. To give an example, the state requires guard towers and guards, which are expensive. The private sector doesn't do guard towers. They use electronic monitoring. There are inefficiencies built into the bureaucratic system.DJ: Federal Department of Education?
JOHNSON:Eliminate it. It costs money for the states to take Federal money. Out of every dollar it spends, the Department of Education grants the state eleven cents, which has sixteen cents worth of strings attached. States lose five cents for every dollar to pay for federal mandates and regulations.
DJ: I'm in favor of public education, but, unfortunately, it just isn't working. It depends too much upon centralized control, and the teachers are not treated like professionals. In the district where my son went to school, the cost per student is around $17,000, and the average student scores about 35%. I now homeschool my son with four other families in a co-op. If we had some of that money, we could hire tutors, buy books, or go on field trips. We could do a lot with very little.
JOHNSON:As Governor I fought hard for a school voucher system. Public education is now doing less with more. We can either choose to continue down the path of higher costs, poorer results, and top-down thinking, or challenge the status quo by using what actually works rather than what we wish would work. Putting funds in the hands of the people who use them would give parents and students a vote.DJ: That would work for me.
Throughout the 2012 primaries, discussions have focused on which candidate appears to be "winning," and consequently voters fall into the trap of wanting to vote for the winner, not necessarily the best person for the job. Governor Johnson, like other third-party candidates, may not be winning media popularity contests at present, but he did win the ACLU's highest rating for protecting civil liberties. In these times, when our freedoms have been signed away by the ones who were elected to uphold the Constitution, the ACLU's distinction could be the most important one by which to judge a candidate. Johnson's fiscal conservatism and strong desire to make entitlement programs work rather than get rid of them makes him a candidate with wide appeal.
More information can be found about Governor Johnson at www.GaryJohnson2012.com.