The Case for Gary Johnson
Why Liberty Advocates Should Look Big Picture in 2012
by Aaron Biterman
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The important Republican Party primary process has begun and two candidates with unapologetic libertarian leanings have entered the Republican field: the elder statesman-country doctor Ron Paul and the former Governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson.
Conventional wisdom supports the notion that Congressman Paul has the organization and fan base to compete. There’s no denying that he has an impeccable ability to fundraise and a fervent fan base. Whether these items will translate to votes is a different matter entirely.
What are the differences between these candidates, who should you pick, and why?
Gary Johnson started a company from scratch in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1971. The business, Big J Enterprises, eventually grew to employ over 1,000 New Mexicans when he sold it in 1999. It is still among the largest job creators in the state. The Big J way — Gary Johnson’s approach — is simple. He lays it out in his forthcoming book, “The Seven Principles of Good Government.”
His first principle is to become reality-driven. Gary Johnson gathers data, analyzes it, and determines the costs and the benefits. While governing, it’s no surprise that Governor Johnson weighed the costs and benefits of government programs and ultimately made the tough choices that were unpopular with special interest groups and partisans, but created a period of unmatched economic prosperity for New Mexico.
Johnson’s second and third principles are to be honest to all people and always do what’s right. Numerous people have told me that Governor Johnson should simply “switch” his position on the abortion issue to gain popularity, but that would be a far cry from honest. As Governor, Gary Johnson supported legislation that banned late term abortions and allowed parental notification for minors seeking an abortion. He was not only endorsed by the Right to Life Committee, but he also signed on as a supporter to every bill supported by New Mexico Right to Life. President Johnson would appoint judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade, believing that states should make their own determinations on the controversial and personal question. He also supports a woman’s right to make a decision during the early stages of pregnancy, making him personally pro-choice — a position also held by libertarian Republican hero Barry Goldwater.
Living his fourth principle — determine a goal, develop a plan, and act — he emerged from obscurity to win the primary and general elections when the deck was stacked against him. In his recent article “The Guy That Barack Obama Should Worry About,” author Brian Ross, a journalist who was living in Santa Fe in the ‘90s, observed that Johnson won in part by going “after the old-boy political machine” — a necessary piece of the victory puzzle. Johnson introduced himself to the Republican Party, was told he had no chance to win the primary, won, and then went on to win the general election by 10 points.
He won, in part, because of his fifth principle: Communicate to your audience. A recent op-ed from a New Mexico newspaper (El Defensor Chieftain) opined, “In these times of the coached, coiffed and vacuum-sealed candidate with the entourage of handlers and spinners, the candidate who manages to be just himself is a breath of fresh air. His message will appeal to independent-minded Republicans, Independents and anybody else who’s fed up.”
This principle will help Johnson in early GOP primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire, which require candidates to actually have conversations and sell themselves to primary voters. Governor Johnson is going to take the time to meet with people one on one. He is able to connect with those he talks to and can convince people through conversation to embrace the liberty message. After all, connecting with people is what allowed Governor Johnson to succeed in business and in state politics.
Principle six for Governor Johnson goes along with his direct nature: Don’t hesitate to deliver bad news. Governor Johnson has zoned in on the debt issue and has made it his signature issue. Every speech he gives hones in on how 43 cents of every dollar the federal government spends must be cut. He hammers at the debt problem and delivers the bad news with the optimism that our economic woes can improve — with the same libertarian solutions he implemented in New Mexico from 1994 to 2003.
Gary Johnson’s seventh and final principle: Do what it takes to get the job done. Johnson has invested the last year and half to meet with liberty activists and concerned Americans all across the country. He is determined to have his voice heard in the 2012 debate and insists he would not be running if he didn’t have something to add to the race.
You’ve already met Congressman Paul. Here are Governor Johnson’s comparative advantages, as I see them:
Both Paul and Johnson have the same policy prescription at the federal level regarding abortion: get the government out of the issue. They largely agree on economic policy, with both subscribing to the Austrian school of economic thought — but there is variation. Unfortunately, Paul opposes NAFTA, while Johnson supports it. Congressman Paul is one of the most aggressive earmarkers in Congress, even while often — though not always — voting against the final versions of the bills in which the earmarks are placed. Both support auditing and abolishing the Federal Reserve, although Paul has made it his signature issue. Both candidates support the repeal of the income tax and replacing it with nothing, the flat tax, or the Fair Tax. Johnson favors term limits for politicians at the state and federal levels, while Paul does not.
Regarding foreign policy, Paul supporters have argued that Governor Johnson supports “humanitarian wars,” which I previously explored and refuted. Both candidates have opposed all recent interventions — Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya — but Johnson says we should assist foreign nations in select cases where genocide is occurring. He recently stated that he supports keeping Guantanamo open because prisoners would have to be kept somewhere else if it was closed. His statement did not discuss the treatment of those being held, despite misleading attempts by Johnson critics to insinuate otherwise. Recently, Gary Johnson clarified his stance on Guantanamo:
“- No criminal or terrorist suspect captured by the U.S. should be subject to physical or psychological torture. This includes water-boarding and other interrogation techniques that may yield inaccurate information or permanently damage a suspect. Likewise, no criminal or terrorist suspect captured by the U.S. should be transferred to foreign agents who may resort to treatment methods deemed cruel and unusual by the U.S.
- Individuals incarcerated unjustly by the U.S. should have the ability to seek compensation through the courts.
- The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba must be closed after all detainees have been tried by courts that presume innocence before guilt.”
Meanwhile, Congressman Paul is among the most vocal critics of Israel in Congress, once charging that “Israel created Hamas” on the House floor and that Gaza is “almost like Concentration Camps”. Hamas, which won election in 2006 to rule Gaza, is widely considered to be a terrorist organization, but it was in fact created by seven Palestinians as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Governor Johnson supports Israel’s right to defend itself and believes that the U.S.-Israel alliance is valuable and should be kept in tact.
It’s interesting to note that four of the aforementioned issues of disagreement — earmarks, term limits, Israel, and Guantanamo — are areas where Congressman Paul’s son, Senator Rand Paul, agrees more with Gary Johnson than his father.
The social issue and immigration policy distinctions are where Johnson scores the most points. Congressman Ron Paul recently expressed support for the Defense of Marriage Act, voted for a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, and is an advocate of removing birthright citizenship from the Constitution. Governor Gary Johnson believes gay marriage is a state issue and supports gay civil unions. As a former border state Governor, he adamantly opposes a border fence and hopes to establish a temporary guest worker program and enforce current immigration laws to secure the border. Both candidates are opposed to the War on Drugs and favor drug decriminalization.
Electoral and Governing Experience
Gary Johnson entered politics for the first time in 1994. After approaching the GOP about the gubernatorial nomination, he was told he should run for the legislature. Undeterred, he instead spent his own savings to promote his common sense, business approach to government. His platform emphasized tax cuts, job creation, halting the growth of state government, and a tough line on law and order. His campaign slogan was “People Before Politics”. He first won the primary against a state legislator and subsequently won the General Election against incumbent Democratic Governor Bruce King, 50% to 40%. Party registration in the state of New Mexico at the time was 2-to-1 Democrat.
While serving in office, Governor Johnson vetoed 200 of 424 bills put in front of him in the first six months — 48% of all legislation — and used the line-item veto on most of the remaining bills. According to former New Mexico Republican National Committee member Mickey D. Barnett, “Any time someone approached him about legislation for some purpose, his first response always was to ask if government should be involved in that to begin with.” This was not only because of Johnson’s personal principles, but also in keeping with his campaign promise of approaching government from the perspective of costs versus benefits. In 1995, he called on the Republicans in Congress to eliminate the budget deficit through proportional cuts from the entire federal budget .
Hear Johnson’s approach in this recent interview with CNN:
In 1998, Governor Johnson ran for re-election against Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez. He campaigned on continuing the programs of his first term: improving schools while cutting state spending, taxes, and bureaucracy, along with using “common sense” veto power to rein in on waste. Fielding a strong Hispanic candidate in a 40% Hispanic state, Democrats expected to oust Johnson, but he won 55%-45%, illustrating his broad support base among independents, fiscally conservative Democrats, voters of different ethnic backgrounds, and Republicans.
Johnson proposed wide-ranging tax cuts — repealing a tax on prescription drugs, cutting income taxes by $47 million, and cutting the state gasoline tax by six cents per gallon. He set state and national records for his use of veto powers, vetoing nearly 750 bills (not including thousands of line-item vetoes), gaining him the nickname “Governor Veto.” He also worked diligently in his second term to implement a school voucher system, which never occurred due to inaction from the legislature. In 1999 and again in 2000, he proposed the largest school voucher system in the country to enroll 100,000 students in its first year.
Congressman Paul has run numerous campaigns from the mid-1970s to present, so there’s no doubt he’s an experienced campaigner – having won election eleven times. In addition to losing the U.S. Senate race against Phil Gramm in the early 1980s, Congressman Paul also lost two Congressional races, one in the mid-1970s and another in the late-1970s. He has also only won election in his Lake Jackson/Victoria area district in Texas (whose district number was changed various times over the years), where citizens largely already agree with him on policy issues and the population is roughly 650,000 and far less diverse than New Mexico’s population, both in terms of ideology and ethnic background. Johnson, by contrast, campaigned in a state of 1.9 million people in a majority Democrat area and a majority-minority (non-white) state. Johnson’s electoral successes illustrate a strikingly broad appeal.
While Dr. Paul has stayed true to principle, he has been far less effective in the legislative process, i.e., his attempts to pass legislation have not been successful. He now chairs the House Subcommittee overseeing the Federal Reserve, which is a long-awaited and well-deserved recognition of the popularity of his views on the Fed resulting from the 2008 campaign.
Governor Johnson is a tested candidate, since he had to actually run the state of New Mexico. He did it with tremendous courage and conviction, proving that he can be trusted to follow through on campaign promises and is committed to principle.
Selling the Message and Growing the Movement
Who is attracted to the messages being sold by Congressman Paul and Governor Johnson?
There’s no concrete data as of yet, but Johnson has a history of attracting moderates, fiscally conservative Democrats, Republicans (of course), Independents, and white and non-white voters. This is a broad base of potential supporters.
Some of Paul’s supporters, while enthusiastic, also turn people off from their candidate by making statements which don’t really represent his positions accurately. At RonPaulForums.com and DailyPaul.com, criticisms of Israel and the Federal Reserve too often focus on Jews as the problem rather than more substantive concerns. Such conspiracy theories and attacks are not productive for the liberty movement. In fact, they hurt the liberty message and their sentiments are anti-libertarian according to Congressman Paul himself. Unfortunately, neither the Congressman nor his numerous organizations have ever put out a message to clearly distance themselves from these unappealing arguments.
The goal of both campaigns is to grow the movement (and hopefully win election). Governor Johnson is best suited to do that because most GOP primary voters and 2012 GOP debate watchers will have already heard Congressman Paul’s message. By supporting a new messenger with a different approach to selling the message, there is a tremendous opportunity to turn more people on to libertarian principles.
Additionally, who do we want to sell the liberty message at the grassroots level? Johnson can attract new and different voices, such as women, gays, and Hispanics into the Republican Party and the liberty movement. Given the growing Hispanic population in our country, this demographic will be an important factor in future electoral successes, and Johnson has a proven track record of gaining their support.
“Gary Johnson has no name recognition,” some Paul supporters chant. Neither did Ron Paul when I first became active in his campaign in January, 2007. Fortunately, the first GOP Presidential debate is on Thursday, so Johnson will have the opportunity to increase his name recognition.
The GOP debates and the 2008 campaign dramatically increased Congressman Paul’s name ID and the same can hold true for Johnson in 2012. Given the age difference between Dr. Paul — who is 75 — and Governor Johnson — who is 58 — it’s very reality-based (using a Johnson principle) to assist the former Governor increase his name identification for not only his 2012 campaign, but also for future endeavors.
Most importantly, it is key to have a leader who can run in future elections should 2012 not be the year Americans embrace our message.
In addition to the vocal conspiratorial-minded supporters who are a challenge when trying to make a dent in electoral politics, Paul also has two items of baggage which his opponents in the primary or in the general election are going to raise to attack him.
First, he has not addressed criticisms in the media about accepting money from known white supremacists like Don Black, who donated $500 to the Paul 2008 campaign. Mr. Black was the former Grand Wizard of the KKK. It seems that keeping his $500 would have been less important than sending a message opposing Black’s views by rejecting that donation. That would have been a smart move for a campaign focused on winning.
Second, the media is not on Paul’s side and they gleefully targeted him for harassment and marginalization in 2008 because of material published in the Ron Paul newsletter. Those attacks have not been answered effectively and will be raised against Paul again in this campaign. These newsletter articles appeared under Paul’s name and included racist comments which clearly do not reflect his beliefs. They implied that blacks were more likely to commit crimes than whites as well as rants against the Israeli lobby, gays, AIDS victims and Martin Luther King, Jr., who is described as a “pro-Communist philanderer.” While Congressman Paul did not write or approve the articles before they were published, it is inevitable that they will be used against him again because he has not identified the author or held him responsible.
Given that Paul’s general election opponent would be Barack Obama, if Paul makes it through the primary his general election campaign might be over before it even begins when the media starts to play up these two items of baggage.
In comparison, Governor Johnson has relatively little controversial baggage. One issue that has been brought up is that he and his wife divorced in 2005 — which is true — and his then ex-wife passed away in late 2006 of hypertensive heart disease. Governor Johnson’s two adult children both support his 2012 Presidential campaign, so there isn’t any issue here except that the Johnsons divorced. It has also been mentioned that Governor Johnson is not presently married. While true, Governor Gary Johnson is engaged to be married.
The last time a member of the House of Representatives was elected President was James Garfield in 1880. It’s more likely that a former Governor would be elected President, and someone with real business and executive experience can more easily expose Obama’s unsuitable credentials. As I noted above, early primary state voters identify with candidates who are willing to meet with them and discuss issues in a face to face setting.
Congressman Paul is in impeccable shape and his mind is sharp. However, the fact is that he is in his mid-70s. Age combined with his responsibility to his district and in Congress require travel between DC and Texas — a lot. This reality makes it less likely that Congressman Paul will campaign for weeks at a time in key states like New Hampshire or South Carolina. By contrast, Governor Johnson is invested in the 2012 campaign, is unconstrained by a current elected position, and appears to have tremendous focus on making a dent in the New Hampshire primary.
Johnson has yet to be formally introduced to the GOP electorate nationwide, but when he is, I suspect he will be considered among the most likable of 2012 hopefuls. As John Avlon writes in The Daily Beast,
“In Johnson, libertarians might have their most accomplished modern advocate — a proven vote getter with demonstrated crossover appeal, a self-made millionaire and iron-man competitor who supports marijuana legalization (and let’s be honest, that libertarian plank has always been a source of the movement’s popularity on college campuses). More importantly, he has actually reined in government spending as an executive — leaving his successor a budget in the black.”
If your first choice and mainstream Republican Party members’ second choice — a position that Governor Tim Pawlenty, “everyone’s backup choice”, seems to be holding at the moment — then Johnson can do very well in 2012. Based on likability alone, Johnson’s chances are promising given the lackluster field. Even if he doesn’t win in 2012, he could run in the future — something that would be less likely for Congressman Paul due to his age.
Having two pro-liberty GOP contenders is better than having just one. In these two men we are fortunate enough to have candidates who will not talk negatively about each other, who believe in our message, and who can speak to different constituencies.
In Governor Johnson you find a man with clear principles, integrity, entrepreneurial, and executive experience. And he even climbed Mount Everest with a broken leg.
Our government is broken and people need their faith restored in the American dream, so look “big picture” when choosing a candidate.
Which messenger can help us restore in liberty now and in the future?
I urge you to let Gary Johnson sell palatable libertarian solutions to America so we can once again be a free people.
Without support from liberty-minded activists, Johnson’s campaign won’t be able to reach these folks with the liberty message, so get involved today.
About the Author
Aaron Biterman was involved in the early stages of the Ron Paul 2008 campaign, participating in a conference call with Dr. Paul and the Republican Liberty Caucus in January, 2007 and subsequently creating the Ron Paul 2008 Facebook group that eventually gained more than 80,000 members during the campaign.
He has been active Republican politics since 2004. He is an Advisory Board member of the Northern Virginia Tea Party and writes for The Tea Party Review, the only print publication of the Tea Party movement. Send him mail.