Interview with Gov. Gary Johnson, Libertarian for president

Gary Johnson, Libertarian candidate running for president
Gary Johnson, Libertarian candidate running for president
Posted: September 05, 2012

Gary Johnson, who served as the Republican governor of New Mexico from 1995 until 2003, is running for president this year as a Libertarian.

One of several third-party candidates, Johnson, 58, is aiming to be on the ballot in all 50 states and is the first Libertarian to receive federal matching funds.

We spoke with Gov. Johnson as he was campaigning in Florida last week during the GOP convention.

Why are you running for president? What drives you to campaign?

Gov. Johnson: I think the country is in deep trouble and I'm offering up a voice that is not being heard right now.

I don't want to bomb Iran, I don't want us to stay in Afghanistan. I want to bring the troops home.

I do believe that marriage equality is a constitutionally guaranteed right. I'd like to end the drug war and legalize marijuana now.

I would repeal the Patriot Act. I would not have signed the NDAA, the National Defence Authorization Act, which allows you or I, as U.S. citizens, to be arrested and detained without being charged. That's why we fought wars.

I'm the only one promising a balanced budget. If we don't balance the budget now, we'll find ourselves in a monetary collapse. That means addressing entitlements.

I am the only candidate that would abolish the IRS and income tax and replace that with one federal consumption tax. I am advocating the fair tax, one federal consumption tax, you can read about it at fairtax.org. I believe it has 90 congressmen and women who have already signed on.

The fair tax serves up the answers to what ails the economy. We do live in an environment of crony capitalism and the main reason we do is that loopholes are for sale and both parties have their hands out through those loopholes. By abolishing the IRS and eliminating personal and corporate income taxes you issue pink slips to Washington lobbyists because they're there to game the tax code.

I am the only candidate that would abolish the Federal Reserve.

You were twice elected governor of New Mexico as a Republican. Do you still consider yourself a member of the GOP, or was that a flag of convenience? Have you been a libertarian all along?

Gov. Johnson: I've always considered myself a libertarian, while I was running for governor of New Mexico the Republicans were totally inclusive of me, the party was open-armed, but they never thought I'd win.

I delivered in a really big way, I exceeded their expectations, and think i'm still highly regarded by the GOP in New Mexico. But that was not the environment I saw running for president as a Republican.

What happened?

Gov. Johnson: I was able to participate in two debates before they hung me out to dry.

If I may give you an example, about half way through the spring debates they stopped issuing criteria on who could participate in the debates.

CNBC had previously issued two criteria to be included in the debates: a candidate had to be at 4 percent in any national poll and be registered to run for president. I was registered and had 4 percent. But the invitations stopped coming. CNBC would not return our calls to answer why we could not get a seat at the table.

We requested of the RNC that they step in and demand they give us a seat at the table, otherwise the Republican party is being dictated to by the media. The party would have nothing to do with helping me out. That was the Republican party leaving me, not me leaving the Republican party.

Why not just support Ron Paul?

Gov. Johnson: Ron Paul and I really have the same message, but in December when I decided to run, I didn't see Ron Paul winning the Republican nomination. So who would for the liberty and freedom movement. In December, I embarked on this journey and now I am that spokesperson.

Have you been in recent contact with Dr. Paul?

Gov. Johnson: I haven't been in contact, but I am in Tampa right now as a result. I did receive an invitation to speak Saturday at Paul Fest (the celebration of Ron Paul and libertarian ideals took place Aug. 25-28). I don't know how that speech could have been received any better.

Has it been a struggle to get included in polls?

Gov. Johnson: Yes. But yesterday there was a poll issued, it had me at 5 percent nationally. I can't remember the name of the poll, but If I were just reported to be at 5 percent nationally, I think the reaction to that would be "Who the hell is Gary Johnson?" And that's what I need.

Who are your supporters?

Gov. Johnson: Are you familiar with isidewith.com? (a website that helps voters pick the candidates closest to their own beliefs)

There have been 2 million people who have taken that quiz. According to people who have taken the test, I'm the next president of the United States.

(Johnson laughs).

My supporters are people who believe in being fiscally responsible and socially accepting. I think most people are in that category. Speaking with a broad brushstroke, those are my supporters.

If you were to overcome your extreme underdog status and be elected, how would you govern? How would you be able to get cooperation from an already gridlocked congress?

Gov. Johnson: That's a good one. I'm going to be more liberal than Obama and more conservative than Romney. I come at Democrats hard from the left and the Republicans hard from the right. I'm more fiscally conservative than any Republican in office. So I'm talking about social issues and dollars and cents.

How would you get your agenda passed?

Gov. Johnson: I really belive that there are consequences if we continue to borrow $1.45 of every dollar we're spending. That requires a 43 percent reduction in spending.

If everyone takes it on the chin for that, and that's what I'm proposing, all of us can and need to engage in it. The alternative is a collapsed government that can't deliver a single service.

Those are massive reductions. What about consumer safety? Social welfare? Who would agree to such draconian cuts?

Gov. Johnson: A 43 percent reduction in military spending would take us back to 2003 levels. A 43 percent reduction in other areas would take us back similarly.

Consider that the two major parties are arguing who would spend more on Medicare.

If we want to belive in Santa Claus, the Easter bunny and the Tooth Fairy, OK.

But we have to cut Medicare. There is no Santa Claus and we all know that. If we all participate in mutual sacrifice we can get through it. Or sooner or later we will experience a monetary collapse akin to Russia in the late 80s.

Is a vote for a third-party candidate a vote for Obama, a vote for Romney, or a wasted vote?

Gov. Johnson: I would say that a wasted vote is voting for anybody you don't believe in. If you believe in the third party, that's the guy you need to voice for. That's how you change things. I'm asking voters to be libertarian with me for one election.

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You're on the ballot in how many states?

Gov. Johnson: We believe that we will be on all 50. It is a process. We've overcome the worse states. Obstacles are being thrown in our way every single day. We're overcoming each one.

You had a rough time in Pennsylvania. Was that one of the worst, the most difficult?

Gov. Johnson: Very simply, Pennsylvania requires 20,000 signatures. We submitted 49,000 signatures. The Republican party challenged that. To meet the challenge you have to go through every signature and have 20 volunteers there all the time. We're managing the 20 volunteers. Other third parties couldn't muster 20 volunteers day after day. So there's an obstacle where Pennsylvania took down the Green Party and the Constitutional party.

The Romney campaign challenged us in Iowa. Until this year, Iowa has never rejected any third party, they never even held a hearing on it before us. So three days ago, they did. It was unexpected. We are on the ballot, but it took time a resources to fight in a situation where that has never been an issue in the state of Iowa. That's what we take on every single day. In Oklahoma, that's been the worst state of all, we're engaged in litigation.

Are you receiving and spending federal matching funds?

Gov. Johnson: We have received matching funds and have an application in for more.

I think that's the first time a Libertarian candidate has ever qualified for them. I don't want to say that that money allows us to compete. We're competing with a fraction of a penny compared to the Republicans or Democrats. They've garnered millions.

If elected president, I'll be the first to sign legislation banning matching funds, in the meantime it's the game that gets played. And perhaps it puts me in the position to do that.

Are you taking any corporate money? Do you have the backing of any super Pac?

Gov. Johnson: We do have some individuals who have contributed to our super Pac. And corporate money, I don't think there's been any of any kind.

Is it necessary to keep corporate money out of elections? If so, how would you get corporate money out of presidential politics?

Gov. Johnson: I think that enacting the fair tax ends up taking away a lot of the incentive to buy off political candidates, because you're buying off presidential candidates to garner loopholes in the tax system. Half that whole activity revolves around the tax system and how to game it.

What do you object to most about Obama?

About Romney?

Gov. Johnson: The worst thing about Obama is that he talks a great game, I gotta hand it to him, I agree to most of what he says but the reality of his actions is anything but.

I think politics is very status quo. The problem I have with Obama is the problem I have with all politicians: What gets said is not what gets done.

Romney, he's a smart guy. But in the second debate he said it's a no-brainer to build a fence across the border with Mexico. Based on that I don't have one molecule of brain.

He's also said we need to balance the federal budget, but we need to increase spending on the military and hold Medicare intact. The math doesn't work. That doesn't add up.

Will we see you soon in Philadelphia?

Gov. Johnson: I am not sure. I'm very trusting of my staff. I go where they point. I don't know if that's on the horizon. I was just there to have to sign documents to keep us in the hunt for valid access to the ballot. It was an unexpected trip.

For more information, visit the candidate's website at GaryJohnson2012.com


Contact staff writer Sam Wood at 215-854-2796, @inqwriter or samwood@phillynews.com.

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