‘Most Americans are fiscally responsible and socially tolerant, and I am for sure,’ former N.M. Gov. Gary Johnson told NMPolitics.net in explaining why he believes his long-shot Libertarian bid for president might actually work.
In his recent book, The Righteous Mind, author Jonathan Haidt writes in part about “why we vote the way we do.”
Haidt offers the following:
“Here’s a simple definition of ideology: a set of beliefs about the proper order of society and how it can be achieved. And here’s the most basic of all ideological questions: Should we preserve the present order or change it?”
Although the early days of American politics granted some success to having more than a two-party system, it has been many years since a real threat has been made to that entrenched structure. Today financial constraints, party politics and a strong media bias about allowing anyone beyond the “chosen” two – the candidates of the Republican and Democratic parties – makes it nearly impossible for anyone to get recognition.
Did you even know that there are at least 16 other announced presidential candidates for other political parties for the 2012 election, ranging from Stewart Alexander of the Socialist Party to Jack Fellure of the Prohibition Party (they’ve been running candidates for years, by the way).
As the Green Party candidate in 2004, Ralph Nader created quite a stir by getting a lot of mainstream media attention and then drawing about a half-million votes in the general election. A result of this was an increased effort to keep parties other than the two dominating parties off the ballots (it is difficult for a “new” party to get on the ballot in New Mexico). But that has not deterred them from fighting.
‘I’ll have appeal to both sides’
The Libertarian Party, which was founded in 1971, has had some success at electing candidates to state and local offices in several states including Alaska, Utah and Georgia over the years.
This year, at their national convention, they chose former N.M. Gov. Gary Johnson as the party’s presidential candidate. Johnson originally sought the Republican nomination, his party of choice while governor of our state from 1995 to 2003, but was virtually ignored by the party bigwigs and the press during the recent primary season. He withdrew in December.
Governor Johnson was kind enough to partake in a brief phone interview recently, from a respite in Napa Valley before he hit the campaign trail again. He maintains a home in Taos and is also active in mountain biking. He will be competing in the Leadville (Colo.) 100 MTB race later this summer.
“I’m enjoying my last days off in Napa Valley,” he quipped when asked where he was calling from. “After this it will be full-time campaigning.”
I asked Governor Johnson if he thought he would appeal to liberal voters, since he has been a longtime Republican and just recently switched to the Libertarian ticket, which is often seen as have a bend to the right.
“I think that I’ll have appeal to both sides,” he replied. This is how he elaborated:
“For the Republicans, it will be about dollars and cents (Johnson was noted for his budget handling activities while governor) and, looking at 2013, I am the only candidate talking about budget reform now.
“And for liberals and Democrats, I’m the only candidate who doesn’t want to bomb Iran, would immediately withdraw the troops from Afghanistan, agree with marriage equality as a constitutionally given right, and ending the ‘war’ on drugs, which has failed.”
“Most Americans are fiscally responsible and socially tolerant, and I am for sure.”
Albuquerque pollster Brian Sanderoff agrees that Johnson may win some liberal support. In a recent Albuquerque Journal article, he was quoted as saying, “Some Republican voters may be attracted to Johnson’s conservative positions on taxes and economic issues. Some Democrats may be attracted to Johnson’s positions on social issues and foreign policy. And Gary Johnson is from New Mexico and may have developed friendships and preferences among certain New Mexicans regardless of their political philosophy.”
Ballot access and media attention
One of the major challenges Johnson faces is getting on the ballot in all the states. Libertarians have had good success with this in the past, but it is always an uphill battle.
“I believe we’ll be on the ballot in all 50 states,” Johnson offered firmly but modestly. “There will probably only be three party’s candidates on all of them, especially after the exit of Americans Elect. We’re on 30 ballots now.”
He’s having some problems getting on the ballot in at least one state: Michigan.
Americans Elect sought to have a non-partisan election with “a presidential ticket that answers directly to voters — not the political system” by using the Internet to allow everyone to have a voice to choose candidates. However, in mid-May the effort came to an end, as there was not a clear candidate receiving national support.
Among those receiving the most support were Buddy Roemer, another former governor (Louisiana), himself a former Republican presidential candidate who was ignored by the system; Rocky Anderson, ex- Salt Lake City mayor and a rarity for that state, a liberal, who is now the candidate of the newly formed Justice Party; and human rights activist Michealene Risley.
Another possible issue that Johnson and the Libertarians need to overcome will be inclusion in the national debates that will be coming up later this summer and fall.
“The criteria are that you must be polling at 15 percent or more, according to the Presidential Debate Commission. And that changed because of Ross Perot (a strong third party option from the past). Presently, we have between 6-9% in the polls, and that should increase as the focus becomes on the three candidates for all 50 states. Also, with Ron Paul (a former Republican and Libertarian candidate himself) ending his campaign, where does the support for him go to?” Johnson asked, adding:
“CNN excluded me from the first debates (in the Republican primary), because you had to have 2 percent in the polls, even though I had that in ABC polls.
“There was never any explanation for that, and it was certainly manipulation of the system. There are probably 150 different reasons, but your guess is as good as mine. It was all done in the board room.”
A recent poll of New Mexico voters from Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates (conducted for a group called Patriot Majority) had Johnson reaching 12 percent in the state as of May 31. Another poll, from Public Policy Polling and conducted in April, had Governor Johnson at 6 percent nationally. Larger news organizations such as ABC and Fox News had him at between 1 and 3 percent nationally.
It is interesting to note here, however, that most major polling organizations often don’t offer interviewees options other than Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. One smaller survey, conducted by Rasmussen Reports, lumped all the other candidates, such as the Green Party’s perceived nominee Dr. Jill Stein, Governor Johnson and everyone else into a category called “some other candidate.”
Catching the attention of some would-be Obama supporters
Johnson has caught the attention of some voters who would normally be Obama supporters, sometimes for the reasons Johnson offered earlier.
Las Cruces resident Bob Peticolas owns Lorien Woodwork, a custom cabinet and furniture business in Las Cruces. Politically, he considers himself an independent.
Peticolas shared his reasons for looking at Johnson as a candidate:
“Despite the heated rhetoric on both sides, I feel Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have very similar positions. They generally agree on foreign policy. They agree on the drug war. Although Mitt Romney says he would like to repeal ObamaCare, he concedes he would re-enact the most popular portions of the bill.
“Gary Johnson, on the other hand, agrees with most Americans that we should stop building infrastructure in Afghanistan and Iraq and take care of our own infrastructure here in the U.S. He also recognizes the fruitless and expensive nature of our war on drugs. In short, I think he is willing to make spending cuts neither President Obama or Mitt Romney will even consider.
“My principal disagreement with Johnson is on health care. He wants to repeal ObamaCare, but has no plans to enact any other insurance reforms. He also wants to block grant Medicare to the states. I don’t see how creating 50 Medicare systems is better than reforming the one we have now. Still, given my disagreements with the major candidates, I would seriously consider voting for Gary Johnson.”
On the other hand, Las Cruces resident Michael Walsh, who says he is “happily retired and happily married to the same woman for 39 years,” explained why he wouldn’t support a Libertarian candidate:
“I’m not fond of Libertarians. To them, liberty and individualism are sacred values, so much so that they want everyone to bow down before their own whims/beliefs/values. To me, at least, they have a vision which is based simply on these two principles (liberty and individualism), which they adhere to as rigidly as religious people do to their belief in the ever-so-empirical afterlife.
“As a result, I think Libertarianism is one of the most utopian philosophies out there. As practiced by the rank-and-file Libertarian, Libertarians think they should get to choose which side of the road to drive on.
“As the famous conservative English political philosopher Edmund Burke, put it, ‘the restraints on men as well as their liberties are to be reckoned as among their rights.’ Libertarians forget the part about restraints. It is a fatal flaw.”
‘We would outflank them both’
Johnson’s running mate is Judge James Gray, who was on the California Supreme Court and remains an outspoken critic of current U.S. drug laws.
“I’ve known him since 1999, and found him to be someone who would fit the scenario. He is an ex-federal prosecutor and ran for U.S. Senate as a Libertarian in the past,” Johnson shared.
If Johnson were to somehow win the election, a huge challenge he would face would be how to handle a Congress that might be even more hostile than it is now. Not an easy fix, but Johnson said, “my election would be the people of the U.S. speaking as one voice, and I would have the wind at my back. A Libertarian president would be challenging Democrats on the left and Republicans on the right, and we would outflank them both.”
Johnson is not about to give up the idea of becoming president.
“I’m not going to drop out of the race, because what we have to say is gaining momentum and I am going to continue to work seriously as a Libertarian,” he said.
Jeff Berg is a Las Cruces based freelance writer who would like to thank the people who donated to NMPolitics.net for making this article happen!