Home » U.S. Politics » People » Gary Johnson (Former Governor of New Mexico)
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Who is Gary Johnson?

Gary Earl Johnson, an American businessman and politician, was born on January 1, 1953 in North Dakota. He served as the Republican governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003, but ran as a Presidential candidate on the Libertarian ticket in both the 2012 and the 2016 races.

Johnson has a background in both blue collar work and in academia. He attended the University of New Mexico, during which time he worked as a handyman. He would grow this business into a successful construction company before entering politics at the age of forty-one.

Johnson saw much success as the governor of New Mexico, and he originally sought the Republican nomination for president in 2012. However, many of his “liberal” viewpoints on political hot topics prevented full support from conservatives.

In 2011, he switched to the Libertarian Party. He would then run in 2012 and in 2016 for President of the United States.

He has won the most votes ever given to a Libertarian candidate in the 2012 race, but he made some notable errors during the 2016 campaign which caused many not to take him seriously. He would run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2018.

Today, Gary Johnson is still somewhat politically active; he offered to assist Tulsi Gabbard in February 2020 when she mentioned she would entertain running for president as a third party candidate. However, Gabbard later renounced the idea.

Personal Life

Gary Johnson came from humble means, working his way through college before opening his own business in 1975. He had no real background in politics before running for the governor of New Mexico in 1994.

Gary’s mother worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and his father was a school teacher. Gary was on the track team in high school; even today, Gary is an avid runner, competed in triathlons whenever possible.

Gary married his first wife, Denise Simms in 1977; they met while he was attending the University of Mexico. The couple had two children. Although Denise, or “Dee” as she was known, supported Gary in his burgeoning political career; the two would divorce in 2006.

Johnson’s Career before Politics

Johnson worked his way through college as a door to door handyman. He did this for about a year before he was given the opportunity to land a contract with Intel to expand its Rio Rancho location. His company was known as “Big J Enterprises,” and he was able to expand his business exponentially.

When Johnson began working as a contractor, he was the sole employee of Big J Enterprises. Later, his business would have more than 1,000 employees before he sold it in 1999. He sold the company in 1999 after becoming governor of New Mexico.

Political Career

Johnson wanted to run for governor in 1994, but was advised by more experienced Republican politicians to run for a state legislator position instead. Johnson used his own money to fund his gubernatorial campaign, and provided “a common sense business approach” to the governorship.

With the campaign slogan, “People before Politics,” Johnson defeated New Mexico state legislator Richard P. Cheney to win the Republican nomination. He went on to defeat the incumbent candidate, Bruce King.

Johnson operated under the idea of small government. He vetoed nearly half of all the legislation sent to his office within the first six months of his governorship. He worked to cut taxes, and he advocated school vouchers.

Johnson won a second term in 1998 against Martin Chavez. He was the first governor of the state to win two consecutive terms. He continued to use line-item veto power against a growing budget.

In 1999, he began to support the legalization of marijuana. He believed that drug abuse was a health issue rather than a criminal one, and he garnered a lot of support from conservatives to the authors of Rolling Stone magazine.

In 2000, Johnson went toe-to-toe with New Mexico Democrats regarding school vouchers and other educational funding matters. This almost led to a government shutdown, but, worked with Democratic leaders later that year when a fire devastated the state.

Political pundits recognized that Johnson kept his campaign promise to decrease the size of state government and produce a surplus in the budget while keeping taxes low. He never sided consistently with one party or another; he vetoed as many Republican pieces of proposed law as he did Democratic.

Initially, Johnson didn’t jump into the presidential race. However, in 2008, he endorsed Libertarian candidate Ron Paul as a third-party candidate. In 2009, after Barack Obama won the general election, Johnson began entertaining the idea of a run.

Johnson told reporter Bill Kauffman that he was interested in the 2012 presidential race; however, at that time, it was still assumed that Johnson would be a Republican candidate. In October 2009, Johnson formed the Our America Initiative, which promoted the idea of small government. Johnson would also use this as a means of gaining campaign funds.

Johnson announced his initial presidential run on April 12, 2011.

Governor of New Mexico – First Term

During Johnson’s initial term as governor, he quickly gained a reputation for staying true to his campaign promise of limiting the government. It was said that when discussing political policy, he would often ask if the proposed legislative issue required government involvement.

He vetoed a record forty-seven percent of the bills brought to his office for gubernatorial signature. If Johnson did not veto the entire bill, he would often use line-item vetoes to slash what he considered policy that was government overreach.

He initially did not run on the issue of school vouchers, but, when Democratic legislators offered a huge increase in public spending, he countered with the proposal of school voucher programs.

Governor of New Mexico – Second Term

During his second term in office, Johnson gave legislators more of the same opposition as before. He became more vocal about the legalization of marijuana, and he saw many drug convictions as an issue that might be more tied to mental health rather than criminal behavior.

When Johnson left office, there was a $1 billion surplus in the budget. He managed to do this without increasing taxes and cutting spending wherever possible.

2012 Presidential Race

In spring 201, Johnson announced via Twitter that he would run for the office of President as a Republican candidate. He participated in the very first presidential debate among many other Republican candidates. He was not allowed to participate in the three debates that would follow, so he made YouTube videos that would have answered each question. This led to some notoriety and name recognition.

He participated in a debate hosted by Fox News in September 2011; his infamous line from the night was “my next-door neighbor’s two dogs have created more shovel ready jobs than this administration.” By late 2011, he had withdrawn as a Republican candidate and re-declared as a Libertarian candidate.

Johnson garnered a lot of support from college-aged voters; he stated his goal was to win at least five percent of the presidential vote so that the party would have access to federal funding in the next election cycle. Johnson won 1,275,971 votes, or just one percent of national vote.

2016 Presidential Race

Johnson said as early as 2014 that he was considering another presidential run in 2016, and he did become the Libertarian candidate in 2016. In fact, he was on the ballot in all fifty states, quite an achievement for a third party.

Johnson was well-received until his gaff regarding the Syrian city Aleppo. His “what is Aleppo?” comment made him appear ignorant of problems on the world stage, although when the reporter clarified the question, Johnson gave a succinct and intelligent answer.

This was not the only misstep on the part of Johnson. He was caught on camera at least two more times saying or doing something that made him appear aloof or out of touch with politics. He was not invited to participate in any of the presidential debates.

2018 Senate Race

Although Johnson had stated he would not run for office again, he did decide to run in the 2018 Senate race in New Mexico. Johnson was endorsed by Rand Paul as well as Republican Eric Brakey of Maine. Johnson was defeated by the Democratic incumbent, Martin Heinrich.

Gary Johnson’s Political Positions

Johnson has always promoted small government, fiscal responsibility, and a lack of military involvement in foreign affairs. He wishes to see the tax code simplified and, at the same time, an overall reduction of taxes. He would repeal the federal income tax and have a twenty-three percent tax rate on consumption of all non-essential products across the board for all citizens.

He is not a supporter of the idea of climate change; he believes the government cannot enact legislature to make changes to the environment. He has advocated for free market solutions to climate change problems, however.

Johnson has said in the past that he favors cuts in social programs such as Medicare and Social Security. He has called Social Security a “pyramid scheme.”

Post-Governorship Activities

Johnson works as a member of the Advisory Council of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which is a student-led organization working toward reforming the current drug policy. He is also a member of the board of the Students for Liberty. He wrote a book Seven Principles of Good Government.

Our America Initiative

Johnson founded the Our America Initiative in 2009 to raise funds and promote the idea of a limited, small government. He asked Ron Nielson to help form the organization as a 501(c)(4) political advocacy committee. When this happened, many political experts began to throw Johnson’s name around as a possible 2012 presidential candidate.

Stated Purpose:

“OUR America Initiative seeks to broaden the parameters of the public policy debate of current topics in the national arena. We look to enlighten the population about civil liberties, free enterprise, limited government, and traditional American values. It is our aim to increase the amount of discussion and involvement regarding all-important issues.”

Cannabis Sativa Inc.

Johnson took over as CEO of Cannabis Sativa in 2014. He left the company in 2016 when he announced his run for the presidency.

Libertarians for National Popular Vote

The Libertarians for National Popular Vote have noted that a third-party candidate is not only something desired in the United States, but one that is often highly ignored. Gary Johnson won the most ever votes for a Libertarian candidate in 2016, with 4.5 million votes going to the party and his candidacy.

Key Takeaways

Gary Johnson brought a voice to many that were fiscally conservative, but, in many ways, socially liberal. His bravery in speaking out for those moderate folks has brought much attention to the idea of a third party in the United States.

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