“Legislators will legislate anything and everything in the name of safety,” Gary Johnson told a meeting of the N.C. Republican Liberty Caucus yesterday. The New Mexico Republican has considerable experience dealing with this penchant. He vetoed more than 750 bills and issued thousand of line-item vetoes in his two terms. Few of his vetoes were overturned.
“I have paid for everything I have owned since I was 17,” Johnson said. He grew a handy-man business he started into the largest construction company in New Mexico based on a simple philosophy: show up on time, do what you say you are going to do, and even do a little more.
Johnson took that work ethic into the governor’s mansion and applied the principle of cost benefit analysis to every bill that came across his desk. “Everything for me was a cost benefit analysis: what are we spending and what are we getting,” he said. “It was always about getting the best product and the best service for the best price.”
“I said no to billions of dollars of new spending. I said no to growing government. I said no to all sorts of things,” he said. “I would like to think I brought about a principled discussion on a whole range of issues.”
Johnson, who’s considered a potential candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, began his political career as a novice. First he won the Republican nomination in a primary against candidates backed by the party’s establishment. Then he unseated the incumbent Democratic governor in a state with a two-to-one Democratic advantage in voter registration.
He attributes his success and re-election to his adherence to this principle. “What Democrats saw was good stewardship of taxpayers dollars,” he said. “What everybody saw was this notion of government for everybody, not government for a selected few individuals and corporations who were connected politically.”
Johnson said he gained national notoriety for his views on school choice. “I believe that the only way to improve public education is to bring competition to public education,” he said. He proposed that every student in the state get a school voucher.
For six years, Johnson said he took the debate everywhere he went. The proposal never was enacted But he said that when he started 65 percent of New Mexicans opposed the idea and when he left office 54 percent supported it.
Johnson also gained a national reputation as a Republican who advocates the legalization of marijuana and opposes the war on drugs, a position he arrived at after approaching the issue using the cost benefit analysis philosophy.
“We’re spending $75 billions a year on law enforcement, the courts and prisons, and what are we getting for it,” he said. “We are arresting 1.8 million people a year.” He believes legalized marijuana should be regulated just like alcohol and that drug use and abuse should be treated as a health problem, not a criminal issue.
When he left office because of term-limits, which he supports, Johnson said he was perfectly happy to return to private life. He returned to public life last year because he said he’s outraged about what’s happening in the county.
“That outrage stems from the fact the we are bankrupt, that 43 cents out of every dollar we’re spending is borrowing, that spending is out of control,” he said. “I want to put a voice to that outrage.”
Johnson created the Our America Initiative to give shape and form to his ideas. “There is no ‘they’ out there who are going to come to our rescue,” he said. “There is you and there is me.”
He said that he was encouraged by growing awareness that America is not about entitlements and security but about liberty and freedom and the personal responsibility that goes along with that.
“We need to cut spending 43 percent just to get our revenues in line with expenditures,” he said.
To address the insolvency of entitlement programs, Johnson suggested consideration of some unpopular and controversial ideas, including means testing, raising the retirement age and privatizing social security. He also proposes moving from a defined benefits system to a defined contributions system.
“A big shoe to drop is the fact that 50 states are underwater when it comes to entitlements.” He called Federal and state entitlement programs Ponzi schemes, promises made that should have never been made which are unsustainable.
Johnson on …
Iraq and Afghanistan
“We are building roads, schools, bridges, highways and hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan and we’re borrowing 43 cents out of every dollar to do this. This is insane.”
The Department of Education
“The Federal Department of Education gives each state about 11 cents of the dollars they spend for education, but it comes with about 16 cents worth of strings attached, so it’s really a negative to take federal money. Just give education back to the states and see 50 states engage in an innovation race; you would see some truly ‘best practices’ emerge.”
National health care
“I don’t think there is any industry that could be further removed from the free market than health care. It is as controlled and regulated an industry as there is in this country. The government can do a lot to improve health care simply by removing impediments to health care entrepreneurs.”
“You can address 75 percent of the border issue by simply making it easy for immigrants to get a work visa.”
“Immigration is about work not about welfare.”
“Amnesty has never been about citizenship, never, and shouldn’t be. But amnesty, or what I call a grace period, needs to be set up whereby illegal immigrants go get a work visa.”
“Any tax reform is really about raising taxes. The focus should be on slashing spending.”