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Someone was missing from last week’s Republican presidential debate, and that’s too bad. He’s an announced candidate who was a two-term governor of New Mexico, and he makes a case for strongly limited government.

Who is he? Gary Johnson. He was left off the platform because the sponsors say he didn’t meet their criteria: an average 2 percent showing in at least three opinion polls.

But I grilled him for an hour on my Fox Business show because I think people might want to hear from him.

When he was governor, he vetoed 750 bills and shed a thousand state jobs. That made Republican and Democratic politicians mad, but in a state with a two-to-one Democratic advantage, this Republican was re-elected.

“I got re-elected … by saying no to the government,” he told me. “I was a penny-pincher.”

His political philosophy comes down to this:

“The government has a role to protect me against individuals that would do me harm – whether that be property damage or physical harm. The federal government has an obligation to protect us against foreign governments that would raise arms again us. But beyond that, government does way too much.”

What about education?

“The number one thing that the federal government could do to improve education in this country would be to eliminate the Department of Education (and) give education back to the states – 50 laboratories of innovation …”

Johnson is not a social conservative, which leads some political observers to say he has no shot at the GOP nomination – ever. He doesn’t buy it.

“I respect the views of social conservatives,” he said. Yet “I think that 60 percent of Americans describe themselves as fiscally conservative and socially liberal. I would argue that perhaps it’s not socially liberal – that it’s really classically liberal, which is the notion that less government is better government, the notion that (the) best thing that the government can do for me is to let me be the individual that I might be.”

He takes a position on the drug war that differs from most Republicans, though it’s not fully libertarian.

“I would legalize marijuana. … When it comes to all of the other drugs, we should look at the drug problem first as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue.”

Johnson believes the country is “just two years away from being at a tipping point” on marijuana.

“I have smoked marijuana. I have drunk alcohol, although I don’t do either today,” he said. “The big difference between marijuana and alcohol is that marijuana is a lot safer.”

And what about foreign policy?

“I was opposed to Iraq from the get-go,” he said. “I did not see a military threat from Iraq. … I think that military intervention in Libya is unwarranted. Where was the military threat from Libya? Where was the congressional authorization to go into Libya? Where in the Constitution does it say that because we don’t like a foreign leader we should go in and topple that foreign leader? (We) need to look at the unintended consequences of these actions we take. … We do all of these good things in the name of liberty, and the consequence oftentimes is much different.”

On trade and economics, Johnson is a true libertarian. He opposes tariffs and other government interventions.

“I believe in free markets,” he said. “There is a magic to free markets. Department of Commerce might be a good one to eliminate. … What we do in this country is pass laws that advantage corporations, individuals, groups that are well-connected politically – as opposed to creating an environment where we all have a level playing field … access to the American dream.”

Nor is he a fan of stimulus spending and bailouts.

“Banks that made horrible decisions were bailed out at all of our expense. They should have been allowed to fail.”

I’m glad Johnson is in the race, along with Ron Paul. I don’t hear a consistent limited-government message from Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty or Newt Gingrich. We sure didn’t get one from George W. Bush or John McCain. I’m eager to hear more from Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain. I plan to give them full hours soon.

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