Op-Eds Speaking Truth to the Powers-That-Be
Former Republican Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson announced his intention to run on the Republican ticket for President in 2012 to a crowd estimated at 18 people. Here’s why Barack Obama should be good and scared of this dark-horse candidate.
I was in the sports news business working out of Santa Fe, New Mexico, when Gary Johnson was the governor of the state. A rancher from the Northern part of the state, he went after the old-boy political machine run by the Spanish who have run things in New Mexico since the conquistador Don Juan de Oñate marched into the area that became Santa Fe in 1598.
As governor, Johnson was a strong fiscal conservative, and a social moderate. He had broad appeal, even amongst centrist Democrats, many of whom crossed party lines and voted for him. He was laid back. He shunned the Governor’s mansion and the entourage which were a hallmark of Bill Richardson’s tenure as governor of New Mexico. In fact, on a Sunday, more often than not you could find the Gov sitting at a table at Bagelmania in Downtown Santa Fe, reading the paper and having breakfast with his wife. He took the time to say hello, and even asked about your kids.
That belies the toughness with which he ran the ship of state in New Mexico. The legislature there only meets for a few weeks each year. Johnson routinely used his veto powers to threaten the legislature into coming to terms with tough issues when the partisanship fractured the Round House.
National political analysts still mislabel Johnson as your Dr. Paul fringe candidate. True, Johnson has been an advocate over the last year for the legalization of Marijuana, a controversial stance which even President Obama has shied away from, which definitely alienates him from many in the fundamentalist religious base of the national GOP. It does, however, open the door for him with many liberals who are dissatisfied with Mr. Obama, and many independent voters, and he approaches the issue from a tax-dollars bottom line, which might even find a few libertarian and fiscal conservative adherents.
Johnson is making the calculation that the pack of ultra-Right partisans with their hat in the ring or putting their toe in the water may have what it takes to appease various fragments of the extreme wing of the party that runs from the Tea Party to the Birthers to Corporate types like the Koch Brothers. What most running don’t have though right now, is electability in a general election.
Mitt Romney, arguably the front-runner in current polls at around 16%, is a fatally-flawed candidate. Religious zealots don’t like his Mormonism. He will not easily explain away Romneycare to the Health Care bashers. He would almost certainly have to run to the far Right to get the nomination, then spend the next year running away from everything that he just said to win the general.
Johnson is going to have a tough time surviving the primaries, particularly navigating the crazy waters of the fractious Tea Party. His tough, common-sense, low-key style worked in New Mexico, though, at a time when that state suffered from much of the same kind of partisan divide that the federal government experiences now.
His downside is that his style, his business acumen as a rancher, and his limited experience in the bigger shark tank of party politics may play well to folks who want more outsiders in government, but may make it very difficult for him to raise money, get much media attention, or even run a country controlled by insiders if he beats the deck stacked against him and succeeds.
Still, he is going to win converts. If he makes it to the general election, he has enough expertise at wooing skeptical independents and even fiscally conservative liberals into taking a serious look at him.
And he’d get Bill Maher’s vote for the pot position.
My shiny two.