For this week's cover story on the local Tea Party movement, SFR interviewed former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who seems to be running for President
, although he says it's "not part of my horizon."
Read the full interview after the jump.
(And in case you missed them, check out related interviews with New Mexico Militia leader Bob Wright
and Congressional candidate Adam Kokesh
Johnson: I was expecting your call.
SFR: I'm working on a story—it's sort of multifaceted—one part of which is what it's like to be a conservative in liberal Santa Fe, another is, what's happening on the right wing, particularly with the Tea Party movement. I know you spoke at their rally at the Santa Fe Plaza last year; I was hoping to seek out your thoughts on what that movement stands for and where it's come in the last year.
Well, talking about the Tea Party, I'd just consider myself one of those people in this country that is absolutely livid over spending. Spending, the deficit, the fact that promises have been made in this country that should never have been made, and I'm talking about the entitlements: Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare. The estimated cost of the unfunded entitlements are $55 trillion. Wow.
So the issue isn't one for our kids or our grandkids, it's an issue for us right now. There is no tomorrow regarding this issue. It's here.
Where was all this anger about spending during the Bush years? He was indisputably a big spender himself.
With me, there was that frustration and anger when he was in office. I had that same frustration and anger. Um, it's just that now I think we've ratcheted that up by at least double—I think it's more like quadruple.
You mean with the bailouts?
Yeah, with everything. With everything right now, we're looking to double the national debt in the next 10 years. And instead of moving—so there's all this frustration over Bush and his spending. What I heard from Obama was that we needed to control the deficit. Well, I couldn't have agreed more. What I've seen is moving even to more spending, and significantly more spending.
So this isn't a Democrat or a Republican issue. This is an issue for those individuals that are in office that are spending money like there's no tomorrow. And I would like to count myself in the group that is outraged over what's happened.
And you'd say that would be the Tea Party?
Yes I would.
I'd say the Tea Party outlook is a little more libertarian than it is East Coast Republican. What has changed that this philosophy is getting a wider hearing—or at least more traction at the national level?
What's changed is that I think people are genuinely outraged. I'm going to say that 50 percent-plus of this country is genuinely outraged at the moment.
Do you think that Democrats dug their own hole, here? [With] Obama coming in promising change, hiring a bunch of Clinton people?
I don't see this as 'Democrats.' I see Republicans going hand-in-hand with this. Going back a couple of months ago, when the health care debate was raging, Republicans ran ads that said, 'Democrats are looking to cut your Medicare.' Well, yes: Medicare has to be cut. Medicare has to be reigned in. And Republicans are using that as a scare tactic.
Well, where's the blame there? There's blame on both sides. There's no shoving blame off to the Democrats with a strategy like that.
As a former elected official, do you see the Republicans trying to co-opt the anger in the Tea Parties? I've heard that concern from some people in the movement.
I can't say that it's not—but it's certainly not happening.
It's not getting co-opted?
Right. The Tea Party is not being co-opted.
I've talked to some, I guess '90s-style militia types who are affiliated with the Tea Party; I've talked to more socially conservative Republicans who are attracted to the Tea Party; I've talked to Adam Kokesh-type young Republicans who are attracted to it; and I wanted to bounce something off of you, because this occurred to me: During the Obama campaign, there were a lot of people who said he's popular because he's a blank slate that people could project a platform onto. Do you think there's a certain amount of that going on with the Tea Party right now?
Um, no, I think the Tea Party is defined. I think the definition of the Tea Party has to do with uncontrolled spending—inability to come to grips with entitlement spending.
This last week I've hung out with—what's the group? Young Americans for Liberty? But it's not Young Americans for Liberty—it's—the Campaign for Liberty.
The Ron Paul group?
Yeah, but it's the—young adults in that category.
I'll look it up.
Well, they're—I've hung out with them during this last week a bunch
. And they're so upset. They're not going to pay this back. They're not going to pay this back. This isn't fair. This isn't fair to those—and this is what they're saying: They had nothing to do with this. Take your government and shove it.
Is that a dangerous attitude? Do you see this anger boiling over?
Well, I'm speaking now, young adults, like 25 and younger, and I'm not talking about a handful of them here—I'm talking about a really big movement. If you look at CPAC, there was a bigger presence of these young people at CPAC than ever before. I mean noticeably a presence.
And they're not going to pay this back. They're not going to pay this back. They're absolutely angry. And, again, I'm talking about a large group of—I'll call them kids—that are becoming very, very active. What's the effect of that? I don't know. But I have never seen it before.
I was just talking to John Grubesic, who spoke at that rally at the Plaza with you. And he was recounting how the crowd booed him down, and he doesn't think that maybe they heard 75 percent of what he had to say. And he was a little rattled by that, and he said he got some anonymous, heavy-breathing-type phone calls later. But he said that you seemed a little upset by that, too, by the crowd's reaction to him—
Well, I thought at the time—first of all, I'd never really witnessed a reaction like that to anyone speaking, politically. I mean, it was vociferous, and it was—it wasn't pleasant at all. I was surprised by that. But what I was witnessing, Corey, I was witnessing the first, really the first time I've witnessed this kind of reaction that has now become very, very commonplace. So what surprised me was just how angry it was. That's what surprised me. I'd never seen that before. Since then? I'm seeing it everywhere.
As you tour the country?
Where you surprised in particular to see it in a place like Santa Fe, where Republicans are outnumbered like four to one?
Yes—and keep in mind, we're talking like 18 months ago. That was a long time ago. A lot has happened since then. First, an election's happened since then. The current economic crisis has happened since then.
Well, arguably been building for a few years, right?
So you think this anger is directed at both parties, and rightly so, because both parties share blame?
Are you at all nervous that—has this anger ever been directed at you, or do you fear that it might be?
[Laughs] No! I happen to be one of those that are angry. No, this hasn't been directed at me!... I'm arguably the penny-pinchingest governor that ever served. No, I'm
angry. I'm angry. Is it directed at me? No, it's not.
So this isn't an indiscriminate kind of—
No, it's not indiscriminate at all. It's not indiscriminate. That isn't to say a new movement isn't going to start up tomorrow that is going to marginalize penny-pinchers. I might be first on that vilification list.
The word socialist is getting thrown around a lot lately, particularly when it comes to some of the President's policies. At the same time, he came out in the State of the Union and talked about cutting capital gains taxes, among other things. Do you think Obama is socialist?
Well, OK. So he talks about cutting capital gains, but it doesn't happen. He talks about cutting health care costs, but it doesn't happen. So the actions are socialist. The words aren't necessarily socialist, but the actions are.
OK, I'll take that. It's a pretty straightforward answer. And this 'Our America Initiative'—could you tell me a bit about what you're doing with this?
I am, uh—it is an advocacy committee. I am the chairman of the committee. It's a 501(c)4, which allows me to raise money and speak out on the issues of the day. And the issues of the day start out with spending, taxes, the deficit, the need to cut entitlements.
Is this a profile-raiser for a Presidential run? I think a lot of people would assume so.
Well, as part of the 501(c)4, this is not a political platform organization. It's an issue organization. And I sure don't want to get sideways with the rules around the 501(c)4.
In other words to get sideways with the IRS.
Well, I think it's again—it has to do with the laws concerning a 501(c)4. It allows me to advocate. It's an issue organization.
Well, Our America aside, let me put the question a different way. There's been a lot of talk about you running for President. Is this—
Right. Of course I hear it. But it's not anything, in my position, that I can—I can't say that that's any sort of—It's not part of my horizon. My horizon is as a part of an issue organization.
You talked about being one of those people who was upset with Bush's spending practicies, and we talked about the Tea Party adopting some traditional libertarian views—not emphasizing social issues, instead emphasizing taxes and spending. Is this the new face of Republican Party?
I think it could be. I think the majority of Republicans actually believe in this whole notion of freedom and liberty as opposed to entitlements. But rather than sit on the couch, I'm actually putting that to the test. I'm out here talking about these issues and seeing just how much support there is for what I've got to say.
Since we are a local paper, I am looking at what this Tea Party movement looks like in Santa Fe, and what it's like to be more right-leaning in a city like this. Let me ask you about your time here. Did you find it hard to be a libertarian, conservative-leaning person when you were living in Santa Fe?
Not at all. My experience, Corey? My experience is that people are really like closet libertarians—they don't even know it.
When you start talking politics, I've found that if a person has to label themselves, more times than not, they find themselves leaning—or even falling over—libertarian, but don't realize it. Kind of like, undiagnosed.
So I'm looking at the latest voter registration statistics for Santa Fe County. And it's not uncommon in a lot of these precincts for 'decline to state' to be twice as popular as Republican as a registration choice. Now, you think a lot of those people [are] undiagnosed libertarians?
Yeah. Independents? The rise in registration is independents. Yeah. You got it. You got it. This is—it's not Republicans: There's no migration to the Republican side. There's a migration away from the Republicans and away from the Democrats into the independent category. And that independent category is really first and foremost about common sense.
Just—where's the common sense? What's happening with this country? The inability of elected officials to actually address the problems that we have. More of the same. All it is is more of the same. I'm saying right now, on a regular basis, that the Congress and the President need to wake up tomorrow and say, 'We're going to become leaders, we're going to address the problems this country faces'—and with the notion of not getting reelected. That's what we need right now.
As I've been reporting this story, I've been using a couple of litmus test issues, and I'm not sure these are issues a pollster would use, but they just make sense to me to figure out where somebody's at, when they talk about the importance of liberty and the Constitution and things.
Where do you stand on 'Don't ask, don't tell'?
That it shouldn't exist. Gays in the military that are putting their lives on the line should be acknowledged as who they are. They're no less patriotic. They're equal human beings.
Here's another one. The Tea Party people talk a lot about the Constitution, and this is something I think about every time I get on an airplane: What do you think about the TSA?
Well, first of all—I think that, if you will, safety as an issue is going to be better and better. And it's going to become—it's going to take place because of technology.
There are a lot of issues with the TSA. The issues with the TSA are—I watch it. You're in line. They break down the baby carriage and the kids and the stuff the kids are carrying, and they break down the woman in the wheelchair. And I gotta tell you, from what I understand, there's some real scientific evidence out there that would suggest that that's a waste of time. That's just a waste of time.
Do I feel any safer? I don't really feel any safer at all. Because I recognize any time they test the system with their own people, they're able to thwart the system. Every single time. So, I think it's more for travel psychology than it is actual safety. Do I think it's going to improve going forward? I do. But it's going to have to do with technology.
That's pretty clear as well, but does it raise any Fourth Amendment issues for you, when you see someone apparently randomly getting pulled aside, even a granny in a wheelchair?
Well, the Fourth Amendment, which—what Amendment are you?
Well, the one about searches and seizures.
Well, uh—in other words, you're saying everyone needs to be treated equally, or otherwise you're going to violate the Fourth Amendment, searches and seizures without due process?
Yeah, I don't know about that one. All I'm saying is that there's a real science to profiling. That there are those that fall itno a category of little or no risk, and you can see it from the incidents...you know, they're not kids in baby carriages. So, I don't know. I don't see that coming to bear.
If in the category of profiling, and I say profiling—If in the category of young virile lookg men, as a 57-year-old, I fall into that every single time I went through.
— then everybody is getting treated equal, with regard to the profiling.
I don't know. I've never heard it before, and I'll think about it. But I have nothing to add to that, I don't think.
So you're in Portland, Oregon, now [Feb. 23]?
Have you done your speaking engagement yet?
Well, it was at a reception last evening, and I have one that will start this afternoon at four o'clock. It'll be a reception this afternoon for anybody that wants to come, and I think we're expecting 50 people.
What was the event last night?
It was a Reason Foundation-sponsored dinner
Is there any question I should've asked?
Nope. I have to say, you're—I wouldn't have anything to add, based on what we talked about.
Governor, thanks a lot.
Absolutely. Thank you. Bye.