Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, 59, didn't get much traction in his race for the Republican nomination for president. He was excluded from most of the debates.
So instead, Johnson dropped out and is seeking the Libertarian Party's nomination. Other reporters for the Sandusky Register have been asked to seek interviews with Barack Obama and Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum; I decided to try to snag an interview with Johnson.
Johnson served two terms as a Republcan governor, from 1995 to the beginning of 2003, winning 55 percent of the vote when he won his second term. In his current campaign, he is promising to submit a balanced budget in his first year.
I asked Johnson's campaign for an interview Wednesday morning and Johnson phoned me a few hours later. (I played the libertarian card, telling his press secretary that I'm the "token Libertarian" in the newsroom and that I'd interviewed past Libertarian candidates for president.) The appointment was for 2:30 p.m., and my cell phone shows that Johnson called at exactly 2:30. (This will not seem remarkable unless you have dealt with other politicians.)
Highlights from my interview:
Q. Do you expect to be the Libertarian Party’s nominee? How’s that looking at this point?
A. I’m the guy that would never say that anything is a done deal. But it is looking really well at this point. I do take this very seriously. And I think it’s a great process, the whole inclusion process, the whole debate.
I’m heading to Georgia for my third debate among all the Libertarian nominees.
Q. As you pointed out to Reason magazine recently, Gov. Johnson, no Libertarian candidate for president has ever gotten more than about 1 percent [of the popular vote]. How do you think you’re going to be able to reach your goal of getting 5 percent of the vote?
A. Right now, and maybe it’s not so significant that it’s my name on the ballot, but right now I am polling at 9 percent against Obama and Romney, believing that Romney is going to be the nominee.
Q. Let me ask you about some issues. President Obama has clamped down really hard on medical marijuana, in states that have legalized medical marijuana. What do you think about his clampdown, and what would be your policy as president on marijuana sales?
A. I am advocating legalizing marijuana. I have since 1999. Legalize it, control it, regulate it, tax it.
I think what’s most disturbing about Obama’s position on cracking down on these medical marijuana facilities is his explicit promise to not do that.That’s what’s so disturbing. He said he wasn’t going to do this. He said he wasn’t going to spend federal resources going in and getting way of states that either, legislators or citizens, having voted to implement the program.
Q. Governor, one of the things I did to prepare for this interview was look up the number of U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan. It’s actually gone up in the Obama administration. Obama campaigned as kind of an anti-war candidate and bragged about the fact that he opposed the Iraq war.
What would you do about Afghanistan if you were president, and what would do you about the wars we seem to be in, in places like Yemen and Pakistan?
A. I would get out. I would get out of Afghanistan immediately.
I think that initially, that it was totally warranted. We were attacked, we attacked back. But I think that having been in Afghanistan for six months, we wiped out Al Qaida. And that was 11 years ago. I’m thinking we should extricate ourselves from the conflicts we’re currently engaged in.
I was opposed to Iraq also before we went in.
When Obama announced the very highly publicized, “Hey, I’m going to take a look at Afghanistan for the next four weeks,” or whatever it was, I thought, “Man, we’re out of Afghanistan,” and he ended up doubling down.
Just a number of fronts -- marriage equality, don’t ask don’t tell, the wars -- I think he’s been a disappointment to a lot of Democrats. [Editor's note: Johnson is alluding to his stance on gay marriage. He favors legalizing it, unlike Barack Obama or any of the Republican candidates.]
Q. Governor, one of the current controversies is over the Obama administration’s decision to require insurance companies at institutions that are owned by churches to provide contraception to all employees. What is your position on that controversy, and can you kind of give me a general statement on what your policy would be toward national health care?
A. I’m opposed to national health care. I think very simply that it’s unaffordable and that it just violates what I can or can’t purchase. I should be able to make those choices.
When talking about contraceptives and requiring businesses to provide certain coverages, I’m not the guy to mandate what businesses should or shouldn’t provide.
Q. Governor, what would you do with the Medicare program if you became president?
A. I reformed Medicaid in New Mexico, and took it from a fee for service model to a managed care model. We saved hundreds of millions of dollars and we also set up better health care networks.
I believed at that time that if the federal government were to have block granted the state of New Mexico 43 percenet less money, done away with all of the strings and the mandates, that I could have effectively overseen the reform of Medicaid, that I could have effectively delivered health care to the poor.
I think as governor of New Mexico, I could have overseen the delivery of Medicare, health care to those over 65, if the federal government would had done the same thing -- 43 percent less money, and take away all of the strings and the mandates, that I could have overseen the delivery of health care to those over 65.
I think that’s the model when it comes to reforming Medicaid and Medicare nationally, the only way that we’re going to balance the federal budget.
I’ve promising to submit a balanced budget to Congress in the year 2013, and that’s the way that you do it, when it comes to reducing those expenditures by 43 percent.
I am using the 43 percent number, because that’s basically that’s what we’re printing and borrowing beyond the revenues that we’re collectiing.
Q. In other words, for every dollar we spend, 43 percent is borrowed, is that correct?
A. Borrowed and printed, with the majority of the 43 percent literally being printed. In the last year I think statistically, up to 70 percent of that 43 percent was printed money as opposed to borrowed money.
Q. Governor, let me ask you a question about space exploration. Here in Ohio, we’re marking the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s space flight. Here in Sandusky, we have a NASA installation, NASA Plum Brook Station. What is your attitude toward space exploration and would you apply the same keenly-honed budget ax to NASA that you plan to apply to many other federal government agencies?
A. I think that long term, space exploration is really important. We have to go to other planets. It’s one of the things as mankind that we need to do.
But over the next several years, I think if we don’t balance the budget, I think we find ourselves in a position of not being able to do any of that at all. I would be advocating a 43 percent reduction in NASA spending. That is to get is in a state of balanced budget.
I’m in the camp, Tom, that believes we’re going to find ourselves in the midst of a monetary collapse, because the mathematics of continuing to do what we’re is unavoidable.
Greece, as you’re probably aware right now, is at 160 percent of GDP. We’re at 100 percent.
I think we’re probably only about eight years away from being at that same number that Greece is at today. This is here, this is now. That’s the bad news.
The good news is, I think we can actually fix it. But it’s going to have to be a mutual sacrifice on all fronts. The alternative to that mutual sacrifice is just a complete meltdown.