IPR note: Although they now run as Republicans, both Paul and Johnson either have been or are members of the Libertarian Party.
By JOHN DISTASO
in the Union Leader:
Another potential 2012 presidential candidate is headed to first-in-the-nation New Hampshire.
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who has been described as a “libertarian-leaning” Republican in the mold of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., will be featured at an “educational forum” hosted by the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire on Jan. 23.
RLCNH chairman Jim Forsythe of Strafford, a conservative activist who is strongly considering a run for the District 4 state Senate seat in 2010, is organizing the event at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord. His visit will follow by about five weeks the visit to the state on Dec. 16 by Republican Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who said he is not ruling out a run for President.
Johnson, 56, is not among the commonly mentioned potential Republican presidential aspirants for 2012, but he is building a following among small government activists and those with libertarian views.
He was New Mexico’s governor from 1995 to 2003 and has received attention from many who backed Paul’s 2008 run for President. Several web sites are dedicated to drafting Johnson to run.
A businessman and triathlete, Johnson has not said whether he is considering running, but he recently set up a 501c4 political action committee called the “Our America: The Gary Johnson Initiative” to raise money to promote libertarian views.
It includes a series of videos featuring Johnson talking about variety of current issues, including drugs (he favors legalizing marijuana), a balanced budget and reduced government spending, as well as defense. Johnson opposed the Iraq war and also opposes any open-ended commitment in Afghanistan.
Columnist Bill Kauffman wrote on The American Conservative magazine web site earlier this year that at a conference, Johnson “told me that he may take a shot at the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 as an antiwar, anti-Fed, pro-personal liberties, slash-government-spending candidate; in other words, a Ron Paul libertarian.”
Johnson, who was also described recently on Politico.com as “the next Ron Paul,” has won praise from leaders of the Tea Party movement.
Joe Wierzbicki, a national coordinator for the Tea Party Express group, told Politico.com that as governor, Johnson “championed personal liberty and a smaller, less intrusive government, and we applaud both his record and his efforts to continue his fight at the national level.”
Wierzbicki also said Johnson has “generated a lot of excitement in the Ron Paul constitutionalist and libertarian sect, which is furious about the policies of both Bush and Obama and the Congress of the last three sessions.”
Forsythe, who has chaired RLCNH since the late summer, said his group has a 600-person email list and an associated political action committee.
Forsythe said the speculation surrounding a Johnson run for President “is one of the reasons we invited him. We thought he might be interested in New Hampshire and the fact that he’s coming might be a good sign” about his future plans.
Forsythe, asked what impresses him most about Johnson, said that when Johnson was governor, “he was not bashful about picking up the veto pen and vetoing bad legislation.”
He reportedly vetoed 750 pieces of legislation.
“We’re very excited about him coming,” said Forsythe, “especially if this turns into something big.”
If Johnson does end up running for President, Forsythe said, “I’d love for us to be able to say that this is where it started.”