Inside the Capitol

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Gary & Bill for President

SANTA FE – Guess who’s talking about running for president in 2008 or 2012? If you guessed Gov. Bill Richardson, you’re wrong. He’s denying it every chance he gets.
The correct answer is Richardson’s predecessor Gary Johnson. Leslie Linthicum of the Albuquerque Journal did a profile on Johnson three months ago in which the former governor publicly revealed his plans.
Yes, Gary Johnson has a plan. The self-made multi-millionaire didn’t get where he is just on big dreams. He’s had big dreams for many years about many things, but anyone who knows Gary Johnson knows he has a way of achieving his dreams.
So, years ago, when I first heard Johnson casually mention running for president, I knew not to rule it out. In fact, not too long after that, maybe 1997, I wrote a column about Johnson and Richardson running against each other for president in 2008.
I predicted that Richardson, who had recently become U.N. ambassador, would pull off a miraculous diplomatic feat, be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and become internationally famous. And I predicted Johnson would accomplish some marvelous athletic feat that would bring him national renown and admiration.
Richardson didn’t get a chance to be U.N. ambassador long enough to do anything spectacular. He moved to the Energy Department, where his career went downhill, forcing him to take a detour through the New Mexico governor’s office, which he hopes will still lead to the presidency.
Johnson climbed Mt. Everest and then announced he would scale the highest peak on the five remaining continents. But meanwhile, he has decided that first he will win the Iron Man Triathlon in his age group, either this October or next year. As I recall, it was some sort of Olympic feat I predicted Johnson would win for his country. At age 51, that’s not very likely.
Johnson has a more common sense approach. He hopes to increase his wealth in the next four to eight years to the point he can spend $15 million of his personal money on seeking the Republican nomination for president in a year when there is no GOP incumbent.
Johnson says he really doesn’t expect to win the nomination because he intends to run as a one-issue candidate. He envisions a campaign similar to that which Eugene McCarthy ran in the ‘60s, focusing on Vietnam. Johnson wants to force a debate on drugs.
Four years ago, the Libertarian Party volunteered to make Johnson its presidential candidate, largely based on his drug position, but also because of his many other libertarian philosophies. Johnson declined the offer. One factor weighing on that decision was his two more years as governor, but Johnson also is his own man and he likes to run campaigns his way.
That was true even when he was a rookie politician in his first race for governor. His campaign advisers and Republican Party officials urged him to go negative because that had become the only way to win. But Johnson ignored the advice and cancelled negative commercials that already had been prepared and paid for.
So Gary Johnson will again do it his way, if he does run for president. He still thinks there is no bigger issue facing America today that is so fixable. He contends that spending billions of dollars and imprisoning millions of people every year is one of our nation’s biggest follies.
If the timing is right, expect Johnson to make that run. And he won’t be without supporters. In a recent column William Buckley charged that conservative resistance to change has evolved into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism. He laments Gary Johnson’s retreat to private life after advocating drug reform and longs for a presidential candidate courageous enough to do just that.
Maybe Buckley has found his man. And maybe events will work out for Bill Richardson.
The last time I mentioned the two as presidential possibilities, they feigned embarrassment. Maybe next time they won’t.


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