Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is a man with little baggage, political or otherwise.
The Libertarian presidential nominee travels light, two carry-ons, no fees. He has no entourage, opening his own hotel room door at Paris Las Vegas on the Strip when a reporter arrives Friday to conduct an interview.
A trim man in a gray suit and blue tie, the 59-year-old Johnson skis, rides bikes and likes to climb mountains – four of the seven highest summits on the world’s seven continents so far, including Everest.
And like many White House hopefuls before him, Johnson has written a new book, laying out his “Seven Principles of Good Government,” to promote his ideas on the campaign trail.
They sound more like rules your mother might post on the refrigerator door, if she were a student of Taoism.
■ Become reality based.
■ Always be honest and tell the truth.
■ Always do what is right and fair.
■ Determine a goal and set a plan for reaching it.
■ Make sure everyone who should know your goal does.
■ Acknowledge mistakes immediately.
■ Love what you’re doing; if you don’t, find something else to do.
Yet the former Republican also has a strong record as a two-term governor in the 1990s. He slashed the New Mexico budget and vetoed 200 bills during his first six months in office, intent on eliminating wasteful spending.
Johnson said his goal in running for president is to win. He’s one of three candidates who will be on all 50 states’ ballots Nov. 6, along with President Barack Obama, the Democrat, and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
The reality is no Libertarian presidential candidate has ever won more than 1 percent of the national vote. And Johnson’s spartan campaign can’t compete with the billion-dollar behemoths behind Obama and Romney.
The truth is, Johnson knows he has little chance of winning, especially if he isn’t allowed to debate Obama and Romney in the fall. Johnson needs to reach at least 15 percent support levels in national polls to qualify.
So he’s trying to raise his profile, traveling the country to attend conferences like the “Freedom Fest” meeting of conservatives and libertarians in Las Vegas, where he’s speaking today at one of the sessions at Bally’s. He’s also doing lots of radio, print and TV interviews, and appearing on shows like Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” a popular late-night program among political junkies.
Johnson said he loves promoting libertarian ideas, which are socially liberal and fiscally conservative. That means he’s running to the left of Obama and to the right of Romney. For example, he thinks government should recognize gay marriage and legalize drugs, including marijuana. And he believes the federal government should balance its budget immediately, which would mean cutting spending by 43 percent his first year in office.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal talked with Johnson for half an hour. Here are some of the exchanges:
What makes you different than the other presidential candidates?
I would be the only candidate proposing a balanced budget in the year 2013. I would be the only candidate that would get out of Afghanistan immediately, end the war. I would be the only candidate that wants to end the drug wars. I would be the only candidate advocating abolishing the IRS, income tax and the corporate tax.
I’d be the only candidate, I think, that really would be talking about marriage equality from the standpoint of it being a constitutionally guaranteed right. I think I would be the only candidate that doesn’t want to bomb Iran. And I know we haven’t bombed Iran yet, but there sure is a lot of saber rattling. And I’m not rattling a saber at Iran.
How would you balance the budget?
I like to start by talking about Medicaid, Medicare and military spending. I would be proposing a 43 percent cut in military spending.
Would you cut the budget 43 percent across the board?
Some areas I would eliminate completely. Other areas. I think you always want to keep an open mind. Perhaps government is spending money wisely somewhere. I’m not aware of it, but perhaps it is.
Can you really cut Medicare much since it’s such a hot-button political issue?
If we don’t balance the federal budget, I am in the camp that believes there is a consequence to continue to borrow, spend and print money to the tune of 43 cents out of every dollar that we spend. And the consequence is going to be a monetary collapse.
What about people like you who may retire in a few years and are counting on Medicare?
What about my kids? My kids can’t retire – ever – because they’re going to pick up the tab for all this. And then if you want to add on President Obama’s health care plan, that is a plan that is dependent on healthy people paying for those that aren’t so healthy. … So young people have got it coming at them from all directions.
And how fair is that. They’re getting screwed. If I were a young person right now, I would be openly in revolt.
What do you think about the Supreme Court upholding the health care law as constitutional?
I just think it’s a horrible precedent that the government can tell me what I can and can’t buy.
What do you think of the Arizona law the high court partly upheld that allows police to ask immigrants for proof they’re in this country legally?
States should have the right to be able to pass legislation that they think can help themselves out. But in the case of Arizona, much as they should be empowered to do that, I would have vetoed that legislation if I would have been governor of Arizona. I line up with all the negative criticism that gets heaped on it. It just leads to racial profiling.
What should be done about the 11 million illegal immigrants in this country?
I think we should make it as easy as possible for someone that wants to come into this country to work to get a work visa – not a green card, not citizenship, but a work visa. And for those 11 million in the country right now, I think we need to set up a grace period where we can document them, give them a work visa. Would immigrants stand in line to get a work visa to come into this country if the line were moving? I think they would.
Many of your ideas might be popular with the public, but are they politically realistic?
I did serve two terms as governor of New Mexico with the same mind set then that I do right now. And I’m going to argue that was a Libertarian bent. And I don’t know as I’m not going to get elected. … I don’t know if Americans really understand that we are in deep doo-doo and that neither party, neither Republicans or Democrats, are going actually to offer up the solutions, the medicine, that goes along with how ill we are.
What do you think of Obama?
I listened to Obama four years ago when he was running for office and he was saying some really favorable things about gay rights. I thought he said some very favorable things with regard to the war on drugs. I thought he said some very favorable things about American military involvement and our military interventions. (Now) he doubles down on Afghanistan. He’s raiding medical marijuana facilities in California and Colorado when he said he wasn’t going to do that. And then the whole marriage equality thing. He’s just taken a cop out on that.
What do you think of Romney?
Romney says he wants to balance the federal budget but he wants to increase spending for defense. And he wants to hold Medicare intact. I finished the second grade and the mathematics that went along with that and it doesn’t add up. So are either candidate really talking about the solutions that go along with the problems? No, I don’t think so. They’re talking about what the other ate for breakfast and the gaseous smells that resulted from the poor breakfasts they ate.
Which man would be better for the country in the White House, Obama or Romney?
I think this is tweedledee, tweedledum. What you’re going to give up with Obama is he’s a little bit better on civil liberties. He’s horrible on dollars and cents. Romney is horrible on civil liberties and he’s a little bit better on dollars and cents. I think I’m better than Romney on dollars and cents. I think I crush Romney when it comes to civil liberties. I think I crush Obama when it comes to dollars and cents. And I think I do a lot better on civil liberties than Obama.
What will you do if you don’t win?
I have a goal to climb the highest mountain on each continent. I have three of those to go.
What does mountain climbing teach you?
Life is really about the moment. You need to enjoy the moment and you need to make the most out of all the time that you spend. Mountaineering, when you have to concentrate on being warm, or you need to cool off, or you need to eat, or you need to relieve yourself. You know it’s very, very in the moment. Life’s a journey. It’s not a destination. But if you make life a destination, you’re going to be disappointed.
Contact Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.