Gary Johnson, Libertarian presidential hopeful, on pot, pride and Jon Stewart

Categories: Politics

Big photos below
Former Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson, who is now running for president as a Libertarian, stopped in Denver yesterday for Pridefest. He took a break from schmoozing with potential voters to chat with Westword about his campaign, the Libertarian Party, marijuana, gay marriage and his ongoing battle to get the mainstream media attention he needs to actually make some waves in the national race.

Earlier in the year, we talked to Johnson, who was formerly a member of the Republican party, about the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act and how he thinks Colorado could be a leader in ending pot prohibition. And yesterday afternoon, he stepped out of the hot sun and his Pride booth on 14th Avenue to sit in the shade with Westword and discuss his hopes to poll above 15 percent, which would allow him to participate in the national debates. If he gets that far, he said he is confident he would be able to take votes away from both Romney and Obama -- maybe even enough to win.

Here's our Q&A:

Gary Johnson 1.JPG
Sam Levin
Gary Johnson at Pride Fest yesterday.
Westword: Do you want to start by telling me how you got into this race under the Libertarian ticket and why you're taking this route?

Gary Johnson: First of all, there's nothing that I'm saying that's any different. The message is unchanged, and speaking with a broad brush, I think the majority of Americans describe themselves as fiscally responsible and socially accepting, and I'm in that category myself. Well, who represents that? I think Democrats, for the most, represent socially accepting, for the most part -- civil liberties. For the most part, I think Republicans have been about representing fiscal responsibility. I don't think either of them do so well in either category, but that's what a Libertarian is. So as a candidate running for president of the United States, I come at Obama hard from the left. Civil liberties...repeal the Patriot Act. I would've never signed the National Defense Authorization Act. I really believe in marriage equality. I really believe in ending the drug war. I'm the only candidate that doesn't want to bomb Iran. I'm the only candidate that wants to get out of Afghanistan immediately. And then, on the other side, Romney. Look, balance the federal budget and do it now, because if we don't do it, I believe that we're going to find ourselves in a monetary collapse and that's going to be horrible, horrible. Life as we know it is going to cease.

WW: What do you think are some of the most misguided assumptions about what you do and what the Libertarian Party offers?

GJ: Gosh, I just think it's been so undefined. You have a lot more people in this country that describe themselves as Libertarian than vote Libertarian. Libertarian is not a moniker that anybody is shying away from.... "Republicans/Libertarian" -- somebody that has that attached to them, they're not shying away from that. Democrats, it's kind of the same thing.... You can be a Republican and have Libertarian leanings or you can be a Democrat and have Libertarian leanings. How about just being a Libertarian? This is the pitch here. This is terribly refreshing to not have to deal with prejudices that exist on both sides. How would a Libertarian president make a difference? How would you work with Congress as a Libertarian president? Well, imagine a Libertarian president challenging Democrats on civil liberties and imagine a Libertarian president challenging Republicans on, really, do what you say you're gonna do. Spend less money, in the context of saving the country.

Sam Levin
Gary Johnson at his Pride booth.
WW: Why do you think now is a time that your candidacy, and the Libertarian route, is something this country really needs?

GJ: People really do recognize that we're in a heap of doo-doo. And I think people are really frustrated on all those fronts. Marriage equality -- I think there's a lot of frustration. I think there's a lot of frustration when it comes to wars. C'mon, what are we doing? We're killing ourselves....The drug war, I think there's a tremendous amount of, this has got to end. I think the spending. There's a tremendous amount of discontent over the fact that we're going to lose it. We're going to lose it, unless we fix it, and nobody's talking about fixing it. Romney says we need to balance the federal budget, but we need to spend a little bit more money on defense. I hate to use the word "defense," because it's war. But spend more money on defense and hold Medicare harmless. Well, I finished second-grade math. It doesn't add up.

WW: What do you think is going to be your biggest obstacle to polling above 15 percent?

GJ: That is the obstacle. If I poll at 15 percent, and right now, depending on the poll, it's anywhere between 6 and 9. Probably the biggest ingredient to my polling in that range is that I'm simply the third name, which is also really important in all of this, too. There are going to only be three candidates on the ballot in all fifty states. Me, Obama and Romney, which is really significant.... If I'm in the national debates, I could crash and burn.... Or I could actually win the election. That's the possibility that exists, if I'm in the debates. And I've got to be at 15. So the biggest obstacle to the 15 is just being in the polls. They poll constantly without including my name.

WW: So what do you have to do to get that to happen?

GJ: Well, so this article right here reaches more people than I'm going to reach all day long.

WW: Jon Stewart had you on his show recently. Why do you think Jon Stewart has interest in you versus other mainstream media at this point?

GJ: Well, it's interesting that he does. And that [Stephen] Colbert does too. And as [Stewart] said to me before we went on air, "I wanted to have you on".... I think people are genuinely Libertarian-leaning. I think you'd have to be deaf, dumb and blind to not see the differences between me and Obama and Romney. It's one thing to be Santa Claus and say, "Here's what we need to do, and everything's going to be terrific." I think you've got to have a resume to suggest you can do this job.... There's nothing in my resume to suggest that I can't do this, and in fact do a better job.

Sam Levin
WW: How important is it to get mainstream media attention at this stage in the game?

GJ: CNN cast this entire thing in stone for me when I was in the Republican primary. They excluded me from their second debate. And they said, "We're excluding you from the debate, because you're not at 2 percent in A, B and C polls".... I wasn't in A, B and C polls. And then, CNN included me in their bi-weekly poll -- this was about ten months ago -- for the first time, and in that poll, I was at two percent, which put me ahead of [Rick] Santorum and [Jon] Huntsman and tied me with [Herman] Cain. After that, they dropped my name from every poll...with no explanation as to why...I have been excluded. It's been a boardroom decision. I can't tell you why. I can come up with 200 guesses as to why -- all of them just as outlandish as what may ultimately be the reason, and I'll never know that.

WW: How frustrating is that for you?

GJ: Well, that's really frustrating. That's really frustrating to not be able to compete. I thought at a minimum, I'd be able to compete.

WW: Does that seem surprising to you?

GJ: This is completely by surprise, totally by surprise. Given the fact that what I'm saying is really identical to what Ron Paul is saying. I think by Ron Paul's own admission, his candidacy has come to an end. It's not come to an end because of the convention in Tampa. But when that goes away, where is the spokesperson for liberty and freedom and what I think is the fastest growing segment of American politics today?.... You, as a young person, have been screwed and it's politicians that are screwing you. It's your parents who are saying that you've got to pay for this. We're not, but you are.

Page down to see more photos of Johnson and read the rest of our interview.

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