Goodbye Ron Paul, Hello Gary Johnson

Now that the old news about Ron Paul is getting a new hearing, libertarians like Tim Lee are peeved.

I think I might have a solution.

Remember Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico? In 2004 there was a minor, or rather microscopic, Johnson-for-president boomlet. Some New Mexicans I knew in college considered him a dunderhead, but of course these were bien-pensant types. I’m curious as to what our own Daniel Larison thinks of him. “reason” gave Johnson room to pontificate in 2001.

Most successful pols spend their salad days engaged in political hackery, always making sure their “future political viability” is kept safe from harm. Johnson was on another plan altogether: He spent years smoking dope a couple times a week, competing vigorously in athletics, and then, with his wife of 24 years, building a construction business called Big J Construction. (Though the rental car workers suggested the name referred to his pot smoking days, the governor denies it stems from anything but the first letter of his last name.) In the mid-1990s, Johnson decided it was time to dabble in public service, and he approached the state Republican Party about running for the top statewide office. The Republicans were polite but dismissive, telling him that as an unknown businessman he couldn’t win. He thought otherwise, and he spent $500,000 of his own money to saturate the state with his message of a “common-sense business approach to politics.” When the ballots were tallied in 1994, he’d won with 50 percent of the vote in a three-way race. He increased his share of the vote in 1998 by 5 percent, making him the first governor in New Mexico history to be elected to two consecutive four-year terms.

As one of my best friends just said, “And they replaced that guy with Bill Richardson? It’s a long way down from that guy to Bill Richardson.” My guess is that Dave Weigel feels much the same way.

There’s more to Johnson’s appeal.

I talked with Johnson in his Santa Fe office for about an hour in mid-August. We spoke of his accomplishments: no tax increases in six years, a major road building program, shifting Medicaid to managed care, constructing two new private prisons, canning 1,200 state employees, and vetoing a record number of bills. Says Johnson, “Every time you pass a law it is a little bite out of freedom.” But we spent the majority of time focusing on the two issues that have put the governor in the national spotlight—issues on which he hasn’t achieved anything close to success: drug legalization and school choice.

But frankly, the pothead vote alone gets you pretty far. And let’s not forget the votes of America’s would-be legit pimps and prostitutes. I’m not a libertarian, but I’d seriously consider voting for Johnson myself.

How about The Gary Johnson Revolution?