Libertarian-leaning conservatives may be happy to hear that Rep. Ron Paul is getting some additional company on the national stage trying to influence the GOP toward true smaller government tendencies.
Republican former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is making the rounds representing his group, the Our America Initiative, and promoting small government issues before GOP and tea party organizations (and even appearing recently on "The Colbert Report"). But he's not just preaching to the choir, calling for less spending and lower taxes; he's also challenging some conservative views by calling for the end of the drug war, as well as cuts in entitlements and defense spending, areas many Republican politicians fear to tread.
Gov. Johnson supports Proposition 19, the California ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana use in the state. He was in San Bernardino last weekend to speak at a Prop. 19 panel at the Cypress Hill Smokeout festival, a concert and medical marijuana expo. Before heading over to the event, he took the time to sit down for a quick interview about his views and his future.
Johnson is not a California resident, but he has high hopes for Prop. 19's influence on the politics of the rest of the nation.
"I just see this potentially as being the domino that creates rational drug policy nationwide," he said. Johnson argues a position similar to Prop. 19 on a national stage. He believes marijuana should be legal, but regulated and taxed by the federal government. He argues that drug use is a health issue, not a criminal issue, and should be treated as such, freeing up law enforcement and the courts to address more important crimes.
A number of Republican leaders have been criticized for talking about cutting government spending, but backing off when it comes to actually addressing America's biggest expenses, entitlements — like Social Security — and military spending. Gov. Johnson is not afraid to say the country needs to spend less on Social Security and even Medicare and Medicaid. He quickly discussed a number of ideas in these areas, means testing benefits, raising the retirement age, giving Social Security contributors more options on their money. He said it's important for people to understand that they're getting more entitlements out of the system then they are paying in, which is not sustainable and is leading to the bankruptcy of the nation.
Gov. Johnson's name has been tossed out as a potential presidential candidate for 2012. Regulations involving his non-profit issue group prohibit him from campaigning for office while he is involved, so he can't actually answer questions about whether he'll run. Given that he's crisscrossing the country to talk about these issues, addressing both traditional Republican groups as well as Tea Party gatherings, it would not be a surprise. There's also been discussion about whether Rep. Paul might decide to run again. If so, that would be two GOP candidates with strong libertarian leanings. Would they help push the party in that direction, or would they end up splitting supporters' votes, weakening them both?
"It wouldn't be bad to have a couple of guys saying the same thing instead of one," Johnson said.
That would be an excellent outcome if it happens. The Republican Party could stand to stop saying that it's the party of smaller government and actually be the party of smaller government. Frankly, they only seem to support small government when they are not the ones in power.
We wish Gov. Johnson luck in bringing more voices of libertarian policy theories to the national GOP (and the Tea Party movement). We can only hope the presidential race in 2012 contains actual debate of substance and not a parade of candidates whose campaigns pretty much just consist of explaining that they're not Barack Obama.