As November 6th draws closer and closer, undecided voters across the nation are contemplating their selection for President of the United States. Voters in key swing states such as Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Nevada are being bombarded by negative ads making specious and often times absurd claims about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Unsurprisingly, this barrage of negativity has left both candidates with high unfavorable ratings among registered voters.
Many voters have concluded that they will be forced to decide between two candidates that they do not like and do not agree with on several policy issues. This frustration is not only felt by independents and undecided voters, but Democrats and Republicans alike. One candidate hopes to take advantage of this frustration.
Gary Johnson is far from being a household name, but perhaps he should be. The Libertarian Party candidate for president and former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico is only polling at 5.3% nationally. Yet a review of Johnson’s record of successful governance is impressive. In his eight years as governor, Johnson cut taxes, balanced the budget, reduced the size of government, increased funding for education and built hundreds of miles of highway in the state – often while working with a state legislature completely controlled by Democrats.
When comparing the pragmatic and frugal Johnson to Mitt Romney, the creator of the forerunner to Obamacare, it would seem Johnson would have a distinct advantage over Romney among conservatives and Tea Party supporters. The former construction business owner and tri-athlete told Reason magazine in 2001, “My overriding philosophy is the common-sense business approach to state government, period. Best product, best service, lowest price.” According to the National Review, Johnson vetoed more bills – 750 – during his tenure as governor of New Mexico than all other governors combined. Despite his sterling record as a small-government fiscal conservative, right-wing talk show hosts and pundits never gave Johnson much attention, even as he was seeking the Republican nomination before his eventual move to the Libertarian Party.
But liberals also have their reasons to support Johnson. As governor of New Mexico in the 1990s, Johnson was one of very few politicians to advocate legalization of marijuana and the reform of our nation’s drug laws. He is a staunch proponent of marriage equality and has been critical of President Obama’s tepid and politically calculated support for gay marriage. “Instead of insisting on equality as a U.S. Constitutional guarantee, the President has thrown this question back to the states.” Johnson said in a statement released in May in response to Mr. Obama’s announcement that his evolution on the issue was complete. “When the smoke clears, Gay Americans will realize the President’s words have gained them nothing today, and that millions of Americans in most states will continue to be denied true marriage equality. I guess the President is still more worried about losing Ohio, Colorado, North Carolina and Virginia than he is in doing the right thing.”
Mr. Johnson also proposes cutting the military budget by 43%, making his plan for deficit reduction more balanced and responsible than current plans which treat military spending as a sacred cow. In an interview with Fox Reno, Johnson said that our military must get “meaner, leaner and smarter” and that it is the government’s duty to provide for a strong national defense, “but the operative word is defense, not offense and not nation building.”
“The majority of Americans are fiscally responsible, socially accepting. I’m in that category. That said, I’m different than the other two in several categories,” Johnson told Politico in July, differentiating himself from the two mainstream candidates. “I’m the only candidate that doesn’t want to bomb Iran. I’m the only candidate that wants to get out of Afghanistan tomorrow, bring the troops home. I’m the only candidate that’s talking about marriage equality from the standpoint of it being a constitutionally guaranteed right. Let’s end the drugs wars. Let’s repeal the Patriot Act. I would have never signed Defense Authorization Act. Let’s balance the federal budget tomorrow. Let’s abolish the IRS. Let’s eliminate the income tax, corporate tax, and replace it with one federal consumption tax. These are big differences with the other two.”
Mr. Johnson will need more than big differences between himself and the Republican and Democratic nominees to make noise on the national stage. While third-party candidates have had significant impacts on past elections, no serious political commentator believes that Johnson can win in November. The best that he can hope for is to get his message out to a broader audience. This means participating in the nationally televised debates with Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney. In order to be included in the debates, Johnson needs to poll at 15% nationally. However most polls do not include his name, despite the fact that he will appear on the ballot in at least 34 states, making this task an uphill battle. Johnson is encouraging supporters to call polling organizations and ask that his name be included in surveys.
While many voters may disagree with Gary Johnson on some issues, most will agree that expanding our national dialogue can only be a good thing. Johnson’s inclusion in the debates would bring attention to several important issues that Democrats and Republicans have for the most part ignored, such as the size and scope of the national security state, reducing America’s military footprint abroad, reforming drug policy, serious tax reform and auditing the Federal Reserve. American voters deserve to hear about these issues during election season. But without a viable third-party candidate to challenge them, Obama and Romney will prefer mudslinging instead. That is why America needs Gary Johnson.