More than a dozen Republican candidates and several hundred supporters gathered last night at Broughton High School on Saint Marys Street to prepare for the height of campaign season. Most candidates, like B.J. Lawson (of the 4th Congressional district), Renee Ellmers (2nd), and Bill Randall (13th) were rallying voters in anticipation of the mid-term elections on November 2nd. However, one special guest who did not speak but conversed with many activists and concerned citizens is former governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson. Mr. Johnson is, in his own words, “laying down the groundwork for a presidential run” in 2012.
After enjoying free sweet tea and ice cream, Republicans settled down to listen to featured speakers. Renee Ellmers discussed her strong personal appreciation for the grassroots support she and other Republican candidates have been receiving throughout 2010. She expressed great confidence in her supporters’ ability to oust the 14-year Democratic incumbent Bob “Who are you?” Etheridge in November.
Ron Paul-endorsed candidate B.J. Lawson chose to focus his time on opposing 14-year Democratic incumbent David Price and his plan for amnesty for illegal immigrants. Lawson excoriated what he considered to be dishonesty on the part of Price and amnesty activists in downtown Durham, whom he accused of purporting to discuss citizenship for immigrants and in fact simply playing party politics. Lawson decried the activists for speaking Spanish at a Durham rally the previous night and mocked Price for saying “Yes” to the promises of immigrants whose speeches he could not even understand. At the immigration rally, Price had claimed that he was not advocating amnesty while simultaneously declaring his intent to give citizenship to illegal immigrants. This prompted Lawson to release a video discussing the issue. Some Lawson supporters criticized him for the speech and video, and there has been talk among the more libertarian wing of his base about whether he may be allowing racial prejudices to dictate policy views.
Finally, Tea Party enthusiast and Congressional candidate Bill Randall cautioned against the GOP becoming over-confident. He explained how many districts of North Carolina have been carefully gerrymandered to favor Democrats for over a century, with some districts having more registered Democrats than Republicans, Libertarians, and independents combined. The best strategy for the GOP, he said, is to focus on key issues where government itself has failed in recent years, such as the continuing economic collapse, and avoid making a big deal out of polarizing issues which are not critical to the election.
Afterward, I had an opportunity to speak in person with Governor Johnson about his views and his upcoming presidential campaign. He explained to me that he would like to see all drugs legalized at the federal level, though he expects that he will only be able to legalize marijuana and “do damage control” on other drugs. Drug use, he said, is a “health issue, not a criminal issue.”
By his own account, he tried very hard (and totally unsuccessfully) to implement a pure voucher system for schooling in New Mexico. As he explained, private schools cost less than public schools to run, so he suggested giving a voucher for three-fourths the current cost of public schooling to stave off the argument that vouchers take money away from public schools. Then, he said, if every single student chose to take the vouchers, public schools would still have 25% of their budget. Thus they could afford to pay bureaucrats to sit in empty buildings for years and do nothing productive whatsoever, “just like the federal department of education.”
The former governor and I encountered a point of substantial disagreement regarding legislation in New Mexico that would have prevented smoking in restaurants. According to his account, he was initially totally against the idea of such legislation on free market principles, believing that customers were fully capable of making their own decisions about whether they wanted to eat in a smoking environment or not. However, he explained that as he mulled the issue over more, he realized that the employees of the restaurant would also be exposed to the smoke, and it might be significantly more difficult for them to quit their jobs than for customers to simply not go out to eat. Ultimately, he said, he remained conflicted on the issue, and never actually had to make the decision to sign such legislation, but still cited workplace safety as an example of a case where he was not ideologically a libertarian.
I countered him by noting that workplace safety can be taken to arbitrary extremes, as there is always a function that describes the value returned by investing in increased safety compared to the value of the initial investment. We could mandate a zero percent risk of contracting health problems associated with work, and then of course it would simply be illegal to work. Somewhere along that infinite spectrum from immediate death to everlasting life is a totally arbitrary cut-off point which the government deems acceptable. I cited my own personal experience working with IBM. As I said to the former governor, “There’s a person whose job it is to take out my trash. I wish they didn’t do that. I wish I would take out my own trash and get a bigger paycheck.”
Mr. Johnson agreed with me that there is not a clear, objective reason for declaring a certain level of workplace safety appropriate, and furthermore displayed a real understanding of economics by agreeing that workplace safety regulations do, in fact, cut into workers’ paychecks. Nevertheless, he still said that he was divided on the issue of smoking bans.
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