On Dec. 10, 2009, Gary Johnson unveiled his new political advocacy committee, Our America (1), leading to speculation that he will be running for President in 2012.
Johnson, a former two-term governor of New Mexico, is a self-made millionaire. He founded Big J Construction in 1976 and turned it into a multi-million dollar company before selling it in 1999. (2) He is a graduate of the University of New Mexico in political science. He is also a triathlete and mountain climber, who climbed Mt. McKinley in 1993. (3) (He also climbed Mt. Everest in May 2003. (4) )
Before the 1994 election, Johnson approached the state Republicans about running for Governor; the party was “polite but dismissive, telling him that as an unknown businessman he couldn’t win.” Disagreeing, he invested $500,000 of his own money to win the Republican primary, and went on to defeat incumbent, three-time Gov. Bruce King in the fall, 50% to 40%. (5) He was re-elected in 1998 with 55% of the vote. (2)
During his two terms in office the Johnson administration:
- Reduced taxes by $123 million annually.
- Cut the rate of government growth in half.
- Eliminated New Mexico’s budget deficit.
- Downsized the state government by 1200 employees (without firing anyone).
- Left the New Mexico government with all-time-high bond ratings.
- Enacted major welfare reform, which cut state welfare spending by 30%.
- Shifted state Medicaid to managed care.
- Brought the state government and the Navajo nation leadership together to resolve century-old disputes over water, gaming, and other issues.
- Privatized half of the state prisons.
- Repealed the Little Davis-Bacon Act, allowing non-unionized labor to be employed in construction of new schools and other public works.
- Oversaw the construction of 500 miles of new, four-lane highway (designed, financed, built, and guaranteed by the private sector).
- Vetoed campaign finance legislation.
- Vetoed over 750 bills in total (earning himself the nickname, “Governor No”). (6)
In 1999, Johnson came out publicly for the legalization of marijuana, prompting controversy. Bill Clinton’s drug czar called his position “preposterous,” “astonishing,” “embarrassing,” “pro-drug,” and “a terrible message” (7). Two years later, Johnson told Reason magazine (which ran its interview with him under the title of “America’s Most Dangerous Politician”): “No politics in my future. I have effectively pulled the pin on my political career with my stance on drugs, and I recognize that up front.” (5)
After being term-limited out of office in 2003, Johnson did stay out of politics for the next five years. What brought him back in was the Ron Paul rEVOLution. He endorsed Paul for President in January, 2008. (8) That September he spoke at the Rally for the Republic, the founding convention of Paul’s Campaign for Liberty, in Minneapolis. (9)
At the Rally, Johnson began musing about running for President himself in 2012 “as an antiwar, anti-Fed, pro-personal liberties, slash-government-spending candidate — in other words, a Ron Paul libertarian.” The following April, he told American Conservative that he was he was “keeping his options open for 2012.” (10)
Supporters quickly set up at least two unofficial websites to promote his candidacy, Gary Johnson 2012 and Johnson for America. (11), (6)
By December, online newsmagazine Politico was already hailing Johnson as “the next Ron Paul.” (12)
Politico adds that Johnson may be even “better positioned to ride the populist wave than the longtime Texas GOP congressman. For one thing, the anti-establishment energy was not at the fever pitch then that it’s nearing now. And, unlike the unlikely Paul, a 73-year-old who got interested in elected politics when Richard Nixon abandoned the gold standard in 1971, Johnson is telegenic, is media savvy and, equally important, has twice been easily elected to statewide office.”
There are, though, some potential weaknesses in a Johnson candidacy (should he decide to run). Josiah Schmidt, the administrator of Johnson for America, is remarkably candid in discussing them:
Gary is fundamentally a conservative: he believes in limited government, fiscal discipline, personal responsibility, and a secure homeland. However, he boldly takes these beliefs into areas where many other conservatives have not yet extended them. For instance, Gary has the courage to point out the fiscal irresponsibility and unsustainability of our government’s limitless commitment to nation building in the Middle East. He departs from the party line on the issue of Drug Prohibition, pointing out how prohibition goes against the principle of individual responsibility for one’s self, and more importantly, how prohibitions breed organized crime that threatens our national security. And while, at heart, he is a conservative when it comes to social issues, his limited government beliefs lead him to a position of strict federalism when it comes to things like abortion and gay marriage (i.e. he believes these issues are the reserved domain of the 50 states, not the federal government). He will have to take care to point out the consistency in his conservative philosophy, and not let other Republican candidates paint him as a “liberal”. (13)
Ron Paul Rally For The Republic: Gary Johnson
Photo: Former Governor Gary Johnson at Campaign for Liberty event, Feb. 2010. Photo by Gage Skidmore. Licensed CC-BY-SA-2.0, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
(1) Our America: The Gary Johnson Initiative (accessed Jan. 10, 2010).
(2) “Gary E. Johnson“, Wikipedia (accessed Jan. 10, 2010).
(3) “Governor Johnson says what’s on his mind“, New Mexico Business Journal, Jan. – Feb. 1995.
(4) “Former governor scales Mount Everest” (AP) Lawrence Journal-World, June 8, 2003.
(5) Michael W. Lynch, “America’s Most Dangerous Politician: New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson”, Reason, Jan. 2001.
(6) Johnson for America (accessed Jan. 10, 2010).
(7) Jacob Sullum, “General Consternation“, Reason, Dec. 1999.
(8) David Weigel, “Gary Johnson for Ron Paul“, Reason Hit & Run blog, Jan. 21, 2008.
(9) Matthew Reichback, “Ex-N.M. Gov. Gary Johnson speaks at Ron Paul rally in Minnesota,” New Mexico Independent, Sep. 3, 2008.
(10) Bill Kaufman, “The Republic Strikes Back“, American Conservative, Apr. 2009.
(11) Gary Johnson 2012 (accessed Jan. 10, 2010).
(12) Jonathan Martin, “Ex-gov. emerges as next Ron Paul“, Politico, Dec. 17, 2009.
(13) “Interview: Johnson for America“, Jumping in Pools, Jan. 9, 2010.