I’ve run into Gary Johnson two times.
The first was at a 1998 New Mexico Press Association conference in Albuquerque. I was taken by the sincerity he took in listening and addressing me in our brief talk.
The second was a connecting flight from Salt Lake City to Albuquerque in 2003. He was a row behind me, engaged in a book. I saw no reason to interrupt him, and pulled out my book. At baggage claim, I told another passenger, “The former governor was on our plane.” That passenger, who was sitting next to Johnson, said, “Which one?”
With Johnson running for president, I think of each incident. He’s both the engaging public servant and the guy who could sit next to you without getting your attention.
It came to mind last Tuesday, when the Associated Press rolled out a story about Mitt Romney being the first Republican candidate to reject “The Marriage Vow,” a pledge from The Family Leader, a religious group in Iowa.
“The Marriage Vow” is quite a document. It requires rejection of gay marriage and alignment with Jewish and Christian philosophies — with a bonus insinuation that African-Americans were better off as slaves because they were more likely to come from two-parent families.
Romney rejected it, but Gary Johnson did too — one day earlier. He said the focus should be economic issues, not intolerance that would keep Republicans out of the White House.
In response, Bob Vander Plaats of The Family Leader said, “First off, who is Gary Johnson? … There has to be a higher standard. We don’t believe things are right or wrong because Bob says they’re right or wrong … we believe they’re right or wrong because God says they’re right or wrong and it’s released in his Scripture in his Word.”
I’m not discovering America here, but Gary Johnson has no chance to win the presidency. Romney had establishment Republicans early, and Michele Bachmann was a Tea Party favorite before she declared. And Ron Paul’s spent the last few elections locking up libertarian voters that would otherwise flocked to Johnson.
Having said that, it’s bad form to forget Johnson, as the AP did. And it’s worse to publicly encourage people to ignore Johnson for his ideals, as Vander Platts did.
I know who Gary Johnson is. He was a two-term governor where the opposition party held a 2-to-1 voter registration advantage, and he created jobs and budget surpluses. He wants government out of the way, and that includes people’s churches and bedrooms.
And Johnson does have a higher standard — the Constitution. Go see what our founding fathers thought about religious tests for elected office.
We won’t see Gary Johnson win in 2012, but that doesn’t mean his ideals should lose, or that intolerance should win. Republicans — heck, our whole country — will be worse off if they ignore Johnson and focus on the pledge of the day.
Gary Johnson will someday drop out of the race and be a private citizen again. I hope for a third meeting.
“First of all,” I’ll ask him, “exactly who is Bob Vander Platts?”