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Johnson now a contender

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By Sherry Robinson

Gary Johnson hasn’t forgotten who he is.
Maybe our former governor couldn’t elbow his way into Republican presidential debates, but he hasn’t been ignored by the media.
Recently, he was even on the Comedy Channel’s “Colbert Report,” where he held his own with comedian-satirist Stephen Colbert – no easy feat. I once harpooned Johnson’s rambling speeches and off-topic digressions, but today’s he’s a poised speaker who communicates clearly and stays on message. The political caterpillar has become a butterfly.
His message: He’s fiscally conservative and socially tolerant and believes most Americans are too. He wants a balanced budget and supports gay marriage. He would protect privacy and legalize marijuana. He would reduce spending, reframe entitlement programs, and end the wars.
“We should have gotten out of Afghanistan 11 years ago,” he said in an interview with Politico. “Romney is saying we should stay in Afghanistan until the mission is accomplished. What does that mean?”
Obama, he said, has “doubled down” on an unpopular and directionless war and might try to score political points with a strike on Iran before the November election.
Johnson, who is 59 but looks 40, recently said he can do all these things as a Libertarian and intends to wear that mantle for the long haul.
Because he’s been campaigning outside the state, we haven’t kept up with Johnson, but last week he popped back in view. In an interview in Nevada, he said Republican presidential front runner Mitt Romney’s choice of our very own Gov. Susana Martinez as running mate would be a “Palin-esque” mistake because of her inexperience and her hard-line stand on illegal immigrants.
We all know that for many reasons Martinez outshines former veep candidate Sarah Palin. In his choice of words, Johnson wasn’t so much making a direct comparison as simply pointing up Martinez’s weaknesses. She, like the President, is still climbing the learning curve.
For months, pundits, bloggers and barbershop prognosticators have speculated on Martinez’s potential contributions to the Republican ticket and her chances of becoming the nominee for vice president. The usual argument is she’d help with the Hispanic and female vote. That’s only until those voters hear about her crusade to end driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants and her elimination of the Commission on the Status of Women.
(The governor responded that while she opposes driver’s licenses, she supports guest worker programs.)
Martinez has said firmly she isn’t interested, and we want to believe her, but why the constant presence of a political consultant whose fingerprints seem to be on everything she does? And that, says one observer, may be at least partially behind Johnson’s comment.
New Mexico political blogger Joe Monahan wrote that it seems “Johnson has a basic lack of respect for Martinez… He sees her as a puppet, not the independent thinker and actor” he considers himself to be.
Then Monahan indulges in some armchair analysis and speculates that Johnson may also envy Martinez’s limelight. Nah. The comment was just Johnson speaking his mind. As usual.
From my own armchair, I doubt that envy is a familiar emotion to Johnson.
He’s comfortable with himself and with being the long-shot candidate. In the same spirit he enters triathlons or climbs Mt. Everest, he enjoys the challenge of coming from behind and making a dent in political discourse.
Johnson is confident he can prevail at the Libertarian Party’s national convention May 5 in Las Vegas; his nine opponents are unknowns. Currently, he’s polling at 7 percent against Obama and Romney.
 If he can reach 15 percent, he could take the stage against the major-party candidates, and say all the things they can’t say.
That alone makes his run worthwhile.
Sherry Robinson
New Mexico News Service