3:44 pm Jan. 24, 2012
"I only have one issue with Mitt Romney," said Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico and onetime Republican presidential candidate who is now seeking the Libertarian Party's nomination. "I have no idea where he stands on the issues."
As for Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker: "One of his big ideas was the death penalty for the possession of marijuana" procured from outside the country with intend to sell.
"That was in 1996," Johnson said. "That was one of his big ideas. The death penalty. And he smoked marijuana."
(So has Johnson, after a paragliding accident in 2005, he has said.)
Johnson served as governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003, when he was term-limited from office. In his official bio, he repeatedly says he was called the country's "most conservative governor" and vetoed more legislation "than all other governors combined," earning him the nickname "Governor Veto."
He's also an avid skier, which is why he lives in Taos, N.M. today. It's the best skiing in the country, he told me.
He's been in New York City for the last few days, meeting with reporters between doing television appearances on Fox News. Tonight, he'll be on John Stossel's show, reacting to the president's State of the Union speech. (This morning, he was there filming an online-only segment. Yesterday, he appeared on the network too.)
Johnson was running in the Republican primary but dropped out after appearing in a few early debates. A we sat in a cafe across the street from the News Corp. headquarters in Midtown, Johnson said he was dumbstruck when CNN excluded him from their debates.
"Five months ago, CNN did their national poll and I was at 2 percent of the national vote, which, at that time, put me ahead of [Rick] Santorum, and [Jon] Huntsman and tied me with [Herman] Cain," said Johnson.
"Well," he added, "after I appeared at 2 percent in that poll, did not appear in one single CNN poll since then."
"I don't care how you measure it, that's unfair," he said.
Johnson said "we obviously pounded on the door" but "were given no response."
He did make a memorable appearance in a debate hosted by Fox News and Google in November, saying, "My next door neighbor's two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this current administration."
He also promised to "throw out the entire federal tax system" and replacing it with a "fair tax, a consumption tax."
That was pretty much the high-point of his campaign.
Johnson said today if he had been allowed to participate in the rest of the Republican presidential debates, he'd be still in the running for the nomination. Now, as a candidate for the Libertarian Party's nomination, he said it doesn't matter if Republicans nominate Romney or Gingrich.
"Either one enhances a third-party candidate," he said.
When I asked him to explain the argument against Gingrich, Johnson pointed to the marijuana-importer bill and also to "the fact that he has an office on K-Street and he collects a lot of fees for consulting," which Johnson said was "payola" from clients for the access that a former speaker could provide.
"Would he collect $3.6 million if he weren't the former speaker of the House?" Johnson said.
Johnson talked a bit about what he would do if elected in November—he would throw out the federal tax code in favor of a "consumption tax," and decriminalize nonviolent marijuana offenses at the federal level.
Toward the end of our 45-minute interview, he noted that "the best a Libertarian candidate has ever done in a general election is just over 1 percent." But he said that he expects the party to have a candidate on the ballot in all 50 states, and that he could help the Libertarians grow.
"The Libertarian Party gets $90 million in federal matching funds if the Libertarian candidate gets over 5 percent," Johnson said.
"That's big," he said, before noting Ross Perot did the same thing for the Reform Party.
Johnson told me he likes New York, and has visited here about "50 times" since 1995, when he made his first trip here for a Republican Governors Association meeting.
I asked Johnson if he thought Andrew Cuomo was running for president in 2016.
"It looks very favorable, yeah," Johnson said. "It looks like he could be a favorable candidate. I mean, back to the notion of a fiscal conservative anda social liberal."
Asked whether he could see himself supporting Cuomo, Johnson said, "Well, I think I'm going to stay on the Libertarian end. He's a Democrat, for whatever reasons."
Here's more footage of Johnson, with a question for Romney, and below that, discussing his complaint about CNN not including him in their polling.