Meet Gary Johnson, the GOP's Invisible Candidate

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Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson
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Gary Johnson is the Rodney Dangerfield of the GOP’s 2012 field. He gets no respect. Despite being a successful former two-term governor of New Mexico who shrank state government by wielding his veto pen with fervor, an entrepreneur who sold the 1,000 person construction business he built from scratch, and an accomplished athlete (who else in the field has summited Everest?) Johnson has struggled to break through – with voters or the press.

The latest insult? CNN – which saw fit to invite Herman Cain, the former CEO of a third-rate pizza chain who has never held elected office, to its debate in New Hampshire the other night – told Johnson to take a hike because he's polling below 2 percent.

That’s a shame, because in an interview with Rolling Stone, Johnson proved himself to be one of the more honest – and certainly more unorthodox – politicians in the running.

Johnson calls himself a "classical liberal," though others might prefer "libertarian." He favors legalizing marijuana (he says he toked up as recently as 2008) and prostitution and supports a woman’s right to choose, liberal immigration reform and an anti-war foreign policy – even as he’s called for draconian spending cuts and for dropping the corporate tax rate to zero as a means to jumpstart jobs creation.

Get Johnson talking and he’ll prove to you that he’s no joke. Perhaps in the next round the august political tastemakers at CNN will see fit to find him a podium – if only to subject him to John King’s incisive "this or that" questioning.

What happened Monday night? Why weren’t you on stage?

I got screwed. Running for president, I never envisioned not being a part of the debate. A former two-term governor of New Mexico…

Did CNN offer any explanation?

That I didn’t meet the two-percent threshold [in the polls]. We argued that until we were blue in our faces. But the best revenge is to be successful, and that’s the course that I intend to pursue.

Why are you running for president?  

I’m the only candidate that is talking about a balanced budget in the year 2013 and eliminating a corporate income tax as the real way to create jobs. I would get out of both Iraq and Afghanistan tomorrow. Six months after we engaged in Afghanistan we’d wiped out al-Qaeda effectively – that was ten years ago. Now we’re building roads, schools, bridges, highways and hospitals – we have those needs here in this country. Libya: I went on record immediately saying, "Let’s not do this …." There was no congressional authorization, no military threat. Where in the constitution does it say that because we don’t like a foreign country’s leader we should go in and topple the dictator?

You were a border-state governor. What would your approach to immigration be?

Because of our convoluted immigration policies we’re educating the best and brightest kids from all over the world and we’re sending them back to their countries of origin. Instead of them staying here to start up businesses that will employ tens of millions of Americans they go home and employ tens of millions of Indians. We’re doing that to ourselves.

We should make it as easy as possible to be able to get a legal work visa – not citizenship, not a green card. Just a work visa, with a background check and a social security card so that applicable taxes would get paid.

And then legalize marijuana. Seventy five percent of the border violence with Mexico would go away – that’s the estimate of the drug cartels’ activities that are engaged in the trade of marijuana. We’ve had 28,000 deaths south of the border over the last four years. If we can’t connect the dots between prohibition and violence, I don’t know if we ever will. 

Is border violence the main reason you’re for liberalizing drug laws?

I’m opposed to drug war A through Z. Half – half! – of what we spend on law enforcement, the courts, and the prisons, is drug-related. And to what end? We have the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. "America, land of liberty and freedom?" You know, that’s baloney. More than 2 million Americans are behind bars now. Communist China has four times the population and they have 1.5 million people behind bars.

Talk to me about your personal marijuana use. Why have you been so upfront about it?

I don’t smoke pot today. I don’t drink alcohol. But I’ve done both of them and I can speak with authority over the fact that there’s a big difference between marijuana and alcohol. And the difference is that marijuana is a lot safer.

You say that eliminating corporate income tax is the key to creating jobs. Why’s that?

Everyone else is parsing it in terms of lowering the corporate income tax. Eliminate it. It’s not that big of a generator of income, and it’s a double tax. Get rid of it and you would have an explosion of hiring. As a corporation, why wouldn’t you base your business in the United States – and the jobs that went along with that – with no corporate tax? The advantage to not taxing corporations would be an advantage to all of us.

But the biggest advantage would go to the best off. It would be much cheaper for corporations to pay out shareholders

Exactly. That income would get distributed to shareholders, at which point it would get taxed.

You have unorthodox takes, for a member of the GOP, on prostitution and abortion. Are you a Republican or a libertarian?

The majority of Americans are classical liberals – fiscal conservatives and social liberals – who believe that the best government is the government that rules the least and the best that government can do for me, the individual, is to allow me as an individual to make the choices and the decisions that only I can make. When that crosses over the line and I potentially can do harm to others, that’s when the government needs to step in.

And how does that relate to prostitution or abortion?

I support women’s rights to choose up until viability of the fetus. I’ve supported the notion of parental notification. I’ve supported counseling and I’ve supported the notion that public funds not be used for abortions. But I don’t want for a second to pretend that I have a better idea of how a woman should choose when it comes to this situation. Fundamentally this is a choice that a woman should have.

Prostitution? I have no intention of enlisting the services of a prostitute. But if I were, where would I want to do that? Well, I’d want to do that I think in Nevada where it’s legal and regulated. I think I would be safer in enlisting those services. I would have the least chance of contracting HIV or Hepatitis C or any communicable disease in Nevada.

Tim Pawlenty came out with his economic plan, which called for eliminating all taxes on investment income, which seemed pretty radical. What are your thoughts on that?

All of what he’s talking about is a good idea but what’s missing with all of it is this notion of slashing spending. Government in my opinion spends a whole lot of money and doesn’t make a whole lot of real difference in our lives by spending all that money.

I like to tweak the Republican Party on the notion that it is just Obama’s fault. I would like to repeal President Obama’s healthcare plan – very simply because we can’t afford it. But let’s not forget Republicans here a few short years ago,  when they controlled both houses of congress and the presidency, passed a prescription healthcare benefit which couldn’t be afforded then and can’t be afforded now. That was the largest entitlement ever passed. And Republicans did that! That’s not why I signed up to be a Republican. 

Where do you come down on the climate issue?

I accept the fact that there is global warming and I accept the fact that it’s man caused.  That said, I am opposed to cap and trade. I’m a free market guy when it comes to the clean environment the number-one factor when it comes to the clean environment is a good economy.

You don’t think there’s a policy response? It’s making people richer that would help?

Good economies results in cleaner environment. That’s been the history of the planet till this point.

Anything else you want America to know?

I have been an entrepreneur my entire life. I have paid for everything I had in my life since I was seventeen years old. I started a one-man handyman business in Albuquerque in 1974 and actually grew it to employ a thousand people in 1994. It was really high-tech, it was a terrific company. I sold that company in 1999. Nobody lost their job and that business is doing better than ever today. So I just want to add that to my background.