Gary Johnson is not a typical candidate for president of the United States. Walking into a BODO coffeeshop for a conversation with Boise Weekly, the 59-year-old Libertarian Party standardbearer was traveling solo, sans entourage.
"Ask me anything you want," said the two-term New Mexico governor, beginning a free-wheeling dialogue that included economics, the war on drugs, televised debates and the highs and lows of his personal life.
What were your dreams as a young man?
I went to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and studied political science and English. I thought I would run for political office at some point in my life.
Where did that come from?
I remember when I was a young boy, my fourth-grade teacher held a class election to decide who would become United States president someday. Out of the blue, I won.
Were there political leaders that you considered ideals?
Not really. They all seemed impressive at first, but nobody is what they appear to be. There is no Santa Claus.
But you didn't start out as a professional politician.
By the time I was 21, I started a one-man handyman business in Albuquerque. I grew that business to employ over 1,000 people.
Did you hold all of the skill sets it took to be a plumber, mechanic or electrician?
I'm the handiest guy that you've ever met.
So is that how voters first got to know you when you first ran for governor in 1993?
Actually, no. The first headlines said, "Triathlete Gary Johnson Running for Governor." I thought that was pretty cool.
How accomplished an athlete are you?
I've been the overall winner in several triathlon events. I competed in the Iron Man championship in Hawaii four times, and I've won something called the Ridge-A-Thon in Taos, N.M., where you have to hike and ski as many runs as possible in two days.
You also climb mountains.
I summited Mt. Everest in 2003. I want to climb the highest mountain of each continent.
Democrats outnumber Republicans in New Mexico two-to-one. Why did you run for New Mexico's governor on the GOP ticket?
I've always been in synch with what Republicans say they're about: dollars and sense. But I'm not a social conservative, never have been. I think the majority of Americans are fiscally responsible and socially accepting. I don't even like to use the world "tolerant." I was the most outspoken governor in the country on issues like school choice and the war on drugs.
It's my understanding that you think the war on drugs is a farce.
Absolutely. A total failure. Marijuana should be legalized and we should adopt a rational drug policy. Fifty percent of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, and that number is going up, not down. People are talking about it like never before, and I like to think that I have contributed to that.
Let's talk about the nation's economy. Both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney say that we need to cut taxes to create jobs. But it's your desire to gut the tax code entirely.
The system is rife with cronyism; both political parties are selling tax loopholes. I'm embracing the fair tax. I support a consumption tax in lieu of federal income tax and corporate tax, and yes, that means abolishing the Internal Revenue Service.
Would that mean an end to payroll deductions?
Absolutely. No more federal withholdings: no Social Security, Medicare or even unemployment. All of that would come out of the proceeds from the consumption tax.
Help me reconcile that.
Let's say you paid $1 for your cup of coffee. Embedded in that $1 is 23 cents of non-transparent taxes on the ingredients and services that made up that cup of coffee. I'm saying do away with those taxes and then implement a 23 percent consumption tax.
Why is it 23 percent?
It's a proposal.
But it must have penciled out somewhere.
Somewhere, I don't know where. But we're talking about a zero corporate tax rate, and if the private sector can't create tens of millions of jobs, I don't know what else it would take.
But that's the private sector. Meanwhile, you'll have to make wholesale cuts to hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs.
I'm promising to submit a balanced budget in 2013, which would see a 43 percent reduction in federal spending.
So let's start at the top, including the Pentagon budget.
Absolutely, a 43 percent cut in military spending. We can provide a strong national defense but we have to end nation building.
But wouldn't that 43 percent cut include significant cuts to veterans benefits?
No, we've made those commitments and should honor them. I'm talking about reducing our nuclear warheads from 2,300 to 500 and extricating ourselves from all military interventions.
Do you know for a fact that you'll be on the ballot in all 50 states or is that your hope?
That's the plan. We have a couple of states with issues, but Idaho is not a problem.
What do you know about Idaho?
I lived two winters up in Northern Idaho--skiing Schweitzer Mountain--when I was in college. I've been to Idaho many, many times.
A fair number of Idaho politicians say they lean toward Libertarianism.
A lot more people describe themselves as Libertarian than vote that way.
How will you get on the stage to participate in the televised presidential debates alongside Obama and Romney?
I have to be in the polls that determine who gets to participate. Of the 18 national polling organizations, I'm only included in three of them.
Are you saying there's an active collusion among mainstream media to keep you out of the polls and out of this campaign?
Absolutely. It's a gamed system. We're asking all of my supporters to call the polling organizations to include my name. We get into the polls and then we get into the debates.
How vibrant is your campaign?
You need two things, otherwise you're dead in the water. No. 1: You have to exceed expectations. Well, my expectations were zero. I got it covered. No. 2: You have to have momentum, which I've had since day one.
But in order to have any showing whatsoever, you have to be on the stage for the debates.
You're right. It's the only way I can win.
I know you have two grown children. Are you married?
I'm engaged to a lovely woman named Kate.
How did you meet?
Cycling. We're been together for four years.
Do you have a wedding date?
We'll have a White House wedding.