As Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and his followers rallied in Portland and the three-ring Republican primary circus centered on allegations of mistresses, two of the major candidates for the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination were in the Portland area for a debate last Friday. (photo/Scott Jorgensen, left, and Gary Johnson, courtesy Jorgensen)
The Libertarian Party of Oregon’s chairman, Ian, is a longtime friend of mine from our days together at Grants Pass High School, so I asked if there was anything I could do to help prepare for the event.
In this case, helping turned out to mean picking former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson up from the airport and driving him around to a few radio interviews. My past experience as a handler in a Congressional campaign and as a legislative aide at the state capitol in Salem apparently qualified me for these duties.
Our voyage included a trip to downtown Portland to the Alpha Broadcasting studios for an interview with conservative talk show host Lars Larson on KXL-AM. Johnson conducted another live radio interview on the phone as we neared the studio.
In his phone interview, Johnson characterized both major party frontrunners, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, as “polarizing.” He’s not alone in thinking so, as a recent Oregon Public Broadcasting story showed both with high negatives among the state’s voters.
Johnson spoke about immigration, with his stance providing a stark contrast to that of Trump. The former Republican governor of a border state, Johnson declared the idea of building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico “dumb.” Where are you going to put it, he asked, on either side of the Rio Grande? In the middle of that river?
Minutes later, we were in the Alpha Broadcasting studios with Larson, where Johnson discussed domestic fiscal and tax policy.
We did lunch after the interview, Johnson’s treat, and I took him to the Embassy Suites hotel that was hosting the debate. My arrival in the lobby was just in time to take Johnson’s rival, Austin Petersen, to a radio interview with Jayne Carroll just down the street at KUIK-AM.
I found out on the drive that Petersen and I are around the same age, and his campaign headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas is not too far from where I lived for a couple of years back in the late 80s.
The debate that night was attended by around 50 people of multiple generations, and started with a standing ovation being given to a World War II veteran in the audience.
In his opening statement, Johnson hailed Uber and Airbnb as entrepreneurial models of the future, and bragged that he vetoed more legislation than the other 49 governors combined while serving in office, including thousands of line item vetoes.
Petersen discussed his background growing up near the town of Liberty, Missouri and his volunteer efforts raising $1 million for the presidential campaign of Libertarian icon and former Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas). That led to a stint in D.C. as a volunteer coordinator for the LPO for Petersen, who told audience members that he also supported Johnson’s 2012 Libertarian presidential bid.
The two candidates answered a series of written questions submitted by audience members, covering a variety of liberty-related topics. Petersen summed up his, and the overall Libertarian philosophy, as “don’t hurt people, don’t take their stuff.” He held a copy of Easy Guide to the U.S. Constitution during the debate, and occasionally waved it around and used it as a prop.
Johnson stated that the biggest threat to the nation is debt, and pledged to submit a balanced budget to Congress if elected. He said the anticipated 20 percent reduction would be “unprecedented,” but added that many functions could be turned back over to the states, which could serve as “50 laboratories of best practices.”
The candidates’ messages seemed to resonate well with the audience, but may be able to reach well beyond that.
Johnson mentioned in his remarks that he is suing the Presidential Debate Commission in an attempt to get third party candidates included in those events. Earlier that same day, the story broke in the press that Johnson polls in the double digits when added to the Trump-Clinton equation.
If Johnson prevails in his lawsuit, and apparent voter dissatisfaction with the major party candidates continues, it could provide a real opening for the eventual nominee of the Libertarian Party, or other possible third-party alternatives.