Thursday, 21 April 2011

Profile: Gary Johnson

Gary Johnson is the first Republican politician to formally declare his candidacy for their presidential nomination. He previously served as the Governor of New Mexico between 1995 and 2003 best known for his strong libertarian views and never raising taxes during his tenure.

His financial record as governor is widely seen as impeccable. He left the state with a $1 billion budget surplus after being term-limited and reduced the growth rate of state government by half. He cut taxes 14 times for both home-owners and business ensuring he retired as one of the most popular governors in recent history. 

His libertarian beliefs have similarities to those of the evergreen Ron Paul of Texas, a possible GOP candidate too, and have included social issues as well as financial. Most notably he campaigned for the legalisation of marijuana and called for the drug issue to be dealt with as a health rather than criminal one. He's also a supporter of gay rights and it his his social views that will be his biggest obstacle to overcome in convincing the conservative grass-roots to vote for him. 

Perhaps his signature issue was that of school vouchers which would allow parents to take the funding for their child's state education and use it to help pay for private school fees. His proposal included a school voucher endowment of $3500 per child. This is a divisive topic for Republicans and Democrats nationally and he ran into severe opposition in the New Mexico legislature where it ultimately faltered. 

He also became infamous for his extensive use of the line-item veto which allowed him to eliminate any part of legislation he wanted after it had passed through the state legislature and before he signed it into law. He had used this power over 1000 times when he left office which was more than any governor in the country at the time earning the nicknames 'Governor Veto' and 'Dr. No.'

There is also the possibility that Johnson runs as a candidate for the Libertarian Party should he not be the Republican nominee. Such a possibility is often associated with the aforementioned Ron Paul but Johnson has in the past gone to lengths to distance himself from parts of libertarianism and to re-affirm his Republican loyalty. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal in late 2010 he did so on issues to do with civil rights, defence funding and social security. Asked specifically if he would run as a third-party candidate he said, "I'm a Republican and will stay a Republican."

Johnson's background is in small business where he grew a one man company into a multi-million dollar construction firm with over 1000 employees by the time he sold it in 1999. Johnson is also famed for his extensive participation in triathlons and climbing Mount Everest in 2003. 

For Johnson the likelihood of his nomination will depend upon his ability to woo the conservative base. Whilst he will undoubtedly win over fiscal conservatives, as well as those of a socially libertarian inclination, it will be the social conservatives - the party's mainstream - where most courtship needs to be done. His stances on marijuana and gay rights will be unpopular with them and this is before he expresses his views on the 3rd rail issue of abortion; which would likely be pro-choice considering his libertarian values. 

Unfortunately for Johnson he may well be doomed to the fate of his libertarian forefathers, that include Ron Paul, in that he won't be the nominee. Social conservatives currently compose the majority of registered Republican mainstream and grass-roots and with their favoured politicians Huckabee, Gingrich, and possibly Palin, likely to run it would seem unlikely for Johnson to win them over despite his impressive political track record.

Gary Johnson declaring his candidacy today in Concord, New Hampshire. Photo by Jim Cole AP.

Article first published as Profiling Gary Johnson on Blogcritics. Also as 'Libertarian ex-governor is first to announce 2012 challenge to Obama' at The Vibe.