Interview with Gov. Gary Johnson

On Saturday, July 21, 2012, Libertarian presidential nominee and former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson held campaign events in North Carolina. There was a 5K Liberty Fun Run at The Park in Huntersville, NC at 9:00 a.m., followed by a fundraiser lunch at Fox and Hound in Charlotte, NC at 12:00 p.m., a speech at the Conservatives Against Unconstitutional Wars rally at 2:00 p.m., and a fundraiser dinner at Raintree Country Club at 7:00 p.m. I attended the first three events, and caught up with Gov. Johnson for an interview at 4:00 p.m. The interview videos can be found here and here.

MATTHEW REECE: My name is Matthew Reece, and I am here in Charlotte, North Carolina with the 2012 Libertarian nominee for President of the United States, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson. Gov. Johnson, thank you for joining me.

GARY JOHNSON: Hi Matthew, you bet. Thank you.

MR: When you were governor of New Mexico, 750 vetoes, thousands of line-item vetoes, but two of those were overturned. Tell me about the two that got away.

GJ: One was…I can’t even tell you what it was, it had to do with establishing bed quotas for Medicaid facilities, delivering Medicaid services. Really, it was a Republican bill and I think more than anything it was just to show me that they could override a veto. Well, I didn’t learn anything from that lesson. And then the last veto was actually the budget of my final year where Republicans came to me and said, “Look, you’re gonna be out of office, you’re not gonna have to deal with these problems, we are. So, we’re gonna override your veto because you’re not gonna have to deal with it.” Well, I don’t ascribe to that philosophy, but that’s what happened.

MR: OK. Speaking of the line-item veto, the President does not have that power. Would you seek that power, and if so, how do you go about getting it?

GJ: Well, I would, but I wouldn’t count on getting it. I don’t think there is any reason that Congress is gonna give me that power, given my propensity to veto. So I would just be vetoing whole pieces of legislation. If legislation does have earmarks in it, I’ll just veto the legislation and I’ll let Congress override.

MR: To follow that, if you are elected President, do you foresee a potential problem in that Democrats and Republicans in Congress may choose not to work with you on anything because you are not one of them?

GJ: You know, I view it the other way around. I view it as a real opportunity to challenge Democrats to get better on civil liberties. Repeal the PATRIOT Act. I mean, they should have never sent the National Defense Authorization Act in the first place with the provision that you and I can be detained without being charged. Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Let’s bring about marriage equality. Let’s end the drug wars. That’s to Democrats. Challenge Democrats. Republicans…I’m going to challenge Republicans on spending. They all spend too much. Out of our national debt, $8.5 [trillion] of our national debt is caused by Democrat administrations; $7.5 trillion of it is caused by Republican administrations. Who is worse on spending? Democrats, but not by much!

MR: Your budget calls for the elimination of 43% of federal spending. Why that specific amount, instead of less or more?

GJ: Well, 43% represents the $1.4 trillion deficits that we currently have. So that’s the amount of money that we are currently printing and borrowing to cover our needs. So, $1.4 trillion reduction in federal spending balances the federal budget.

MR: Without a tax increase.

GJ: Without a tax increase.

MR: Mitt Romney has said that cutting the federal budget by $1 trillion would cause a recession or depression. This is an example of the broken window fallacy that Frédéric Bastiat described. Could you point out some other economic fallacies that you believe Obama and Romney are committing?

GJ: Well, Obama gets on television the other day and he gives us a little bit of a lecture about Europe, and the fact that European countries that spend more money than what they take in are in trouble, but European countries that live within their means are doing pretty well. So, Europe is a mixed bag. But the United States, he goes on to say, we have some real difficulties in the municipalities and in the states because federal money has dried up, and so they have had to lay off firefighters, teachers, and policemen. Well, the municipalities and the states don’t have the tools at their availability that we do, and so we need to help them. Well, that’s code for borrowing and printing money. That’s code for spending more money than what you’re taking in, exactly opposite of what he had said just minutes earlier regarding Europe. Romney…Romney says its important to balance the federal budget, but that we should increase spending on military and that we should hold Medicare in check. Well, I graduated from the second grade and the mathematics that went along with the second grade education. It doesn’t add up. It just doesn’t add up. So, I want to point out that what we need to have is mutual sacrifice here by all of us, and if we don’t do it, we’re gonna find ourselves with nothing. And I’m afraid that we’re gonna find ourselves with nothing because of not dealing with these issues now, and it will never be easier to deal with these issues than now. Is it going to be difficult? Is it going to have mutual sacrifice? Yes. But never easier than tomorrow, never easier than tomorrow.

MR: President Obama recently said in a speech, “If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own,” and, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” As someone who has built a business from the ground up, how do you respond to that?

GJ: Well, this is just somebody speaking who has no concept of what it is to start and grow a business. I, having started and grown my one-man handyman business to 1000 employees…I was the glue. I was the glue, just plain and simple. And it involved a lot of really wonderful, hardworking, dedicated people. So, back to Obama’s statement. In that context, no, I could have never made it without those hardworking, dedicated, committed people, but I was the glue. They wouldn’t have been in the unit if it wasn’t for me. So really overall its just a statement that’s just a complete disconnect from reality.

MR: You are on record as a supporter of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But every state except Vermont has such a provision in their state constitutions, and many of them just ignore it. So might that be a waste of time?

GJ: Well, the trouble with a Balanced Budget Amendment…and, so, I’m not espousing a Balanced Budget Amendment because what I see with a Balanced Budget Amendment is just kicking the can down the road. “We’ll pass a Balanced Budget Amendment for 12 years from now. And here’s what has to happen.” Well, nobody wants to pass a balanced budget that’s gonna happen two years from now. And I want to be on record as saying I support a balanced budget next year, that that’s what we should be embracing. So really, kick the can down the road, don’t ever deal with it…we’re gonna find ourselves in the midst of a bond market collapse. And by the way, it will be a bond market collapse that causes all of this, and that’s not gonna be anything that the government is going to announce. “Two weeks from Thursday there will be a monetary collapse, so go take all the money that you have and spend it all, because two weeks from Thursday it won’t be worth a thing.” They don’t do that. It just happens and our money isn’t worth anything.

MR: Do you see that arising out of some of the towns and cities, like in California that are now declaring they are bankrupt?

GJ: Well, their inability…they’re gonna have to deal with these issues because of balanced budgets. And I will just say that states have balanced budget amendments, but what happens with states is they always under-appropriate, they always underestimate for Medicaid, and then they end up with problems that they pushed down the road. In New Mexico, that was something that I recognized very early on, after my first year in office, and so all those vetoes, more than anything, had to do with freeing up money that was gonna have to go to pay for Medicaid, an entitlement with no cap, that wasn’t gonna have to come back in and raise taxes or wasn’t gonna have to come back in some sort of an emergency kind of situation. I took the emergency out of funding.

MR: Your have said that we should audit the Federal Reserve and curtail many of its activities. Do you think it would be bad to end the Fed immediately?

GJ: No, I would sign on to abolishing the Federal Reserve. If Congress passed a bill saying, “Abolish the Federal Reserve,” Gary Johnson signature, President of the United States. Abolish the Federal Reserve.

MR: Part of your platform is rejecting the idea of bailouts. Do you come at this more from an Austrian School anti-Keynesian perspective, or a cost-benefit analysis?

GJ: Well, really just from a free market perspective, that there is an unintended consequence to everything that government does. I think everybody right now is pointing at GM as a successful bailout. I would argue that we have a mechanism for failure and that’s bankruptcy, and that if General Motors would have entered into bankruptcy, that maybe it would have emerged as nine different car companies. Maybe it would have emerged as one car company; who is to say? But I dare say that today the company would be run drastically different. It was the equity holders and the debt holders were wiped out with General Motors, and now they’re back as Government Motors, and I just think its a re-inflated dinosaur that’s gonna…we’re gonna see this played out again.

MR: On education, your platform includes reducing or eliminating federal involvement in education. To clarify, reduce or eliminate?

GJ: Eliminate. Every state receives about 11 cents…

At this point, my camera stopped recording unexpectedly. Fortunately, Tim Doran, Gary Johnson’s state campaign coordinator for North Carolina, recorded a few more questions and answers for me.

MR: Let’s go to foreign policy. You are a vocal opponent of foreign aid, but you have also said that you would hate to say “never.” Give me a case in which you would consider the payment of foreign aid to be justified.

GJ: (Part of his answer was not recorded.) …but if we’re borrowing and printing money to the tune of 43 cents out of every dollar , then we’re turning it around and giving it away? I have a hard time understanding how we can do that in the first place, and that it is going to have consequences down the road. And the consequences are gonna be a monetary collapse; we are nothing to any country.

MR: You have said that you want to reduce our nuclear arsenal to 500 weapons. Why do you choose that specific amount, instead of less or more?

GJ: This was a conference call with the Cato Institute, with a bunch of guys who do this for a living. And that was their number that they came up with to assure us that we would have nuclear strike capabilities and retaliatory strike capabilities. But its obviously a very significant reduction from 2300 to 500.

MR: Many libertarians consider NATO to be the sort of entangling alliance that Thomas Jefferson advised us against. Would you be in favor of leaving or disbanding NATO?

GJ: As I sit here right now, I am thinking…or, I am going to submit a budget to Congress that will have a 43% reduction in NATO spending, perhaps getting it back to its roots, which doesn’t have us in the back seat of the bus; it has us driving the bus, that diplomacy does have its role in the world, and that diplomacy, our dollars better spent than Tomahawk missiles.

MR: You have said that marque and reprisal is the way to deal with someone like Joseph Kony. While this is better than involving the U.S. military in another undeclared war, why get involved at all?

GJ: Well, my understanding of Joseph Kony is that this is the worst, this is the Lord’s Resistance Army, Sudan, Uganda, three African countries (Note: There are four countries in which the LRA operates; he couldn’t remember the Congo or Central African Republic), anyway, it is my understanding that this is the worst terrorist group that has walked the planet over the last 20 years; that they may be responsible for 400,000 deaths, murders, maimings, rapes; and that these three African countries, they’re not in one country, they’re in three countries, so I don’t know if you could declare this as a civil war, but that three countries asked us to intervene to stop this guy. This legislation, the President signed it. I think I would have signed it, but perhaps I would have used letters of marque and reprisal to deal with it, or I would have asked for volunteers to go in. And maybe that was the case, but that’s the way I would have publicized this.

MR: We are currently imposing sanctions on Iran, and have them surrounded by our military bases. Do you believe this explains the motivation for their actions? Are they seeking a nuclear weapon for self-defense?

GJ: If we were in that position, would we not be seeking a nuclear weapon, looking at our own self-defense? I think, just reverse the roles and I think you begin to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. And, if the United States were to embark on loosening trade, free trade with Iran, what would the consequence of that be? Would that not be a safer planet? I think that it would be.

MR: Sanctions have been in place against Cuba since October 1960. But 52 years and 10 U.S. presidents later, the Castros are still in power. Is it time to end the embargo?

GJ: I would say that it is time to end the embargo. I would say that it is time that you and I ought to be able to get on an airplane and fly into Cuba and visit.

Tim Doran: Last question, we have to wrap up. (Gov. Johnson had to get ready for a fundraiser dinner.)

MR: What would you say to supporters of other third party candidates, such as Green Party nominee Jill Stein or Constitution Party nominee Virgil Goode?

GJ: Well, I would say to supporters, vote your conscience, that’s how you change the world. I would say to the people of the United States that although there are other third party candidates, there is only going to be one third party on the ballot in all 50 states, and that is going to be the Libertarian Party. So, that actually ends up being a choice that you can conceivably achieve victory, if you will. And with the Green Party, with the Constitution Party, I think they’re only going to be on the ballot in a handful of states. And I mean handful. Ten states. Less. We’ll see what it turns out. (Fact check: The Green Party is currently on the ballot in 21 states, and the Constitution Party is currently on the ballot in 17 states.)

MR: Gov. Johnson, it has been a pleasure.

GJ: My pleasure. Thank you very much.