It's not just a two-man race

You probably don’t give a great deal of thought to Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party presidential candidate. Maybe you should. Mitt Romney certainly is.


Romney’s political cronies in Michigan have gotten Johnson kicked off the November ballot there because he was three minutes late in filing some paperwork. With polls indicating the race for Michigan’s 16 votes is a dead heat, Romney’s camp doesn’t want to take any chances that Johnson, a former Republican who served two terms as governor of New Mexico, will siphon off any of his votes.

Romney, however, might not want to start counting his new Libertarian votes yet. Johnson’s lawyers, arguing that one absurd technicality deserves another, say they’ve found a loophole in Michigan law that will keep the Libertarian Party on the ballot if they can just find some other guy named Gary Johnson to take his place.

“And fortunately, I’ve got a pretty common name,” laughs Johnson.

There are other good reasons you might want to be giving Johnson some thought.

—He’s the only candidate who will be on the ballot in all 50 states and Washington who shows no interest in bombing Iran.

—He’s the only candidate willing to violate the politicians’ version of don’t-ask, don’t-tell and say out loud what they all know, that the war on drugs is a useless waste of money.

—And he’s the only candidate promising to cut the federal budget — actually cut it, not just slow its growth — in his first year in office.

Not symbolically, either. He plans to cut $1.4 trillion in government spending. And it won’t be as hard as you think. Start with the Pentagon, where Johnson has already made a list of cuts that amount to 43 percent of the budget.

“You know how many years that rolls back our defense spending?” Johnson asks. “All the way to 2003. That’s not the end of the world. I think we can live safely within the military security we had in 2003.”

Johnson confounds political reporters because his mix of positions doesn’t correspond to their bipolar worldview, where everybody is either a free-spending, pro-civil-liberties, dovish liberal Democrat or a skinflint, lock-’em-up, hawkish conservative Republican.

(Actually, the real world of politics doesn’t correspond to that view, either — Obama killed more people with drone attacks in his first year in office than George W. Bush did during his entire two terms. And federal spending jumped 83 percent during Bush’s presidency. But let’s put that aside for another day.)

So political reporters label Johnson an unelectable crank from the fringes and ignore him. Did you know he ran for the Republican presidential nomination earlier this year? Probably not. In the early going, he was actually ahead of Rick Santorum and tied with Herman Cain in some polls. But then CNN and other news organizations excluded him from their candidate debates, locked him out of their polls, and generally reduced him to the status of an unperson. Eventually he bolted the GOP for the Libertarians.

But Johnson is actually much closer to the mainstream of American voters than he is to the fringes. Poll after poll show growing numbers of Americans are socially liberal and fiscally conservative. “I don’t think either major party embraces those values,” says Johnson. “I’m running in the same political category as most people in this country.”

They figured that out in New Mexico, where Johnson was governor from 1995 to 2003. Though the state is overwhelmingly Democratic, Johnson won a solid victory with his platform of cutting taxes and reining in spending. And in spite of facing a legislature that was two-thirds Democratic, he delivered, vetoing 750 bills and thousands of line-item expenditures. He easily won reelection, and when he left office the state had a $1 billion budget surplus.

Jobs in New Mexico grew at a faster clip under Johnson than under any other former governor who ran for president this year — five times faster than they did in Massachusetts when Romney was governor. But Johnson quickly corrects any suggestion that he “created” jobs.

“I didn’t create a single job,” he says. “The private sector did that. But I did create an environment where the private sector could flourish. And that’s what I’ll do as president.”

He might, however, create one job. If you live in Michigan and your name is Gary Johnson, send in a resume, quick.

• Garvin is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


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