Editor’s Note: Gary Johnson is the presidential nominee for the Libertarian Party and a former governor of New Mexico. The views expressed are his own. Watch CNN’s Libertarian Town Hall with Gary Johnson and Bill Weld on Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET.
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate
Johnson: Americans are fed up with politicians for whom being elected and re-elected are ends in themselves
What does it say about the level of discontent in our country that a professional salesman can launch a presidential campaign with a promise to build our very own Great Wall of China and a vague promise to “make America great again” – and become the Republican standard-bearer?
And the Democrats? It is long overdue that we have a woman as a legitimate contender for the White House. But Hillary Clinton is the definition of the establishment so many are determined to reject.
What does all this tell me? It tells me that America may finally be ready for a presidential candidate who believes in the free market, but rejects crony capitalism. They may be ready for a candidate who actually governed a border state…and DOESN’T believe that a Great Wall is a substitute for immigration reform that today’s politicians cannot summon the courage to enact.
Of course, I finished my second term as governor of New Mexico more than a decade ago – back in 2003. And when I left office, I was done.
I had been elected governor when everyone said I didn’t have a chance. A businessman who had never sought or held elected office, running as a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. My prospects for success were dismissed by pretty much everyone.
But I worked hard, and told New Mexicans what I would do if elected: Reduce the size of the government, cut taxes and apply businesslike common sense to the job of governing. My state elected me, I did what I said I would do, and they re-elected me by an even bigger margin. After that second term, I walked away to resume what was – and is – a pretty good life.
I have had the good fortune to be able to climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. I have enjoyed the freedom I had gained from building a successful business from scratch, making some money and creating the lifestyle I wanted.
As for being governor, I did what I said I would do. I told people the truth, and I tried to run the state the same way I ran my business, and my life: Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Deliver what you can on time and under budget. And most of all, don’t waste anyone’s time or money. I vetoed bills we didn’t need nor couldn’t afford – 750 of them. To this day, some call me “Governor Veto.”
And the result?
I cut the growth of government in half, and reduced the number of state employees by more than 1,000, without any mass firings or layoffs. We cut taxes. We shifted Medicaid to a managed care system and cut costs. I scrutinized regulations to be sure they were truly needed and not unnecessarily burdensome for individuals and businesses.
I enjoyed being governor. I didn’t enjoy the politics, but it was satisfying to make a difference in people’s lives, force debates on issues that needed to be discussed, and put the principles of smaller government and greater freedom into practice.
After my service as governor was finished, I largely stayed away from politics. I went home, pursued my passions for skiing and cycling, climbed Mount Everest, built my dream house and enjoyed my freedom.
But there was a big problem. I found I could not sit on the couch and watch as the politicians in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike, ran up trillions in debt, sent our young men and women into harm’s way to fight ill-advised wars, and turned our government from a protector of freedom into a threat that is intruding into virtually every aspect of our personal and financial lives.
I couldn’t stand by and do nothing. I had my freedom, and I had my comfortable life, but I couldn’t accept the fact that the politicians were making it increasingly difficult for my kids and millions of others to achieve their dreams as I had achieved mine.
So, in 2012, I ran for president. But it became clear rather quickly that the system wasn’t ready for my kind of classical liberalism. I tried to run as a Republican, but didn’t fit into the mold demanded by the Republican primary gauntlet. I couldn’t evangelize about family values that may be wonderful personal values, but that are frankly none of the government’s business. I couldn’t talk about increasing defense spending at a time when we are broke. And I had to tell the truth about entitlements that must be reformed if we are ever to balance the federal budget.
So I went home to the Libertarian Party. Libertarians, broadly speaking, are fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Running as the candidate who could unapologetically advocate those principles was, well, liberating. I didn’t win, but I garnered more votes than any Libertarian candidate in history.
Along the way, I learned a lot about the American people. Americans are fed up with politicians who lie, who don’t really want to change anything, and for whom being elected and re-elected are ends in themselves.
Millennials – who will soon be a full one-third of American adults – may be especially ready to become engaged in politics with a candidate who wants to give them a government that will leave them alone and get its finances in order so that they don’t inherit an economic collapse.
But all Americans who are rightfully and deeply concerned that a feckless foreign policy is allowing the likes of ISIS to not only threaten our safety, but humiliate us, may be ready for a candidate who will pursue reality-based foreign and military policies that actually fulfill government’s most basic responsibility to keep us – and our freedoms – safe.
So … for those who are asking “Why am I running for president in 2016?” the answer is simple. I believe America might be ready for something – and somebody – different.