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Originally published December 15, 2011 at 8:54 PM | Page modified December 15, 2011 at 8:55 PM

Gary Johnson mulls Libertarian run

Gary Johnson says he isn't planning to leave the Republican Party. "The party left me," said Johnson, a former New Mexico governor and Republican presidential candidate.

The Miami Herald

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MIAMI — Gary Johnson says he isn't planning to leave the Republican Party.

"The party left me," said Johnson, a former New Mexico governor and Republican presidential candidate. "The Republican Party hung me out to dry."

With talk like that, Johnson's departure from the GOP sounds all but certain. And, if he leaves, he's likely to run for president as a Libertarian.

Johnson said he hasn't made a final decision. Still, he came to Florida this week to meet with the Libertarian Party, "and he was happy with the meeting," political adviser Roger Stone said.

The anti-tax and pro-marijuana legalization candidate partly blames his poor standing in the race on GOP officials and elites. They did nothing, he said, to help ensure that all candidates had a shot at being invited to the televised debates that have shaped the Republican primary.

He also blames the television networks.

Johnson's potential move is as much an act of political frustration as it is a protest of politics as usual. His predicament also is an object lesson in the difficulties of running for president, which requires millions of dollars, big name recognition and political connections.

"I have been excluded in 15 out of 17 debates," he said. "Really, that has been the death-knell, if you will, to my aspirations."

The decision to even consider running as a Libertarian has reinvigorated his campaign. He's sitting down with local newspapers — three in Florida in two days — and he plans to work the New York cable-news circuit to talk about the race and his potential switch.

Johnson didn't think he'd be in this position.

Twice elected in a solidly Democratic state, Johnson is a self-made millionaire and political outsider who vetoed a record number of bills (742) and trimmed budget fat and the state payroll. He cut taxes, balked at increasing cigarette taxes, promoted school-choice initiatives and served from 1995 to 2003.

"Overall, Governor Johnson has an excellent record on taxes and consistently pushed for tax cuts despite having to deal with the liberal New Mexico Legislature," the conservative Club for Growth wrote of Johnson's policies and positions.

However, he isn't a social conservative. Like Barry Goldwater and other Western Republicans, Johnson's conservatism is shot through with a leave-us-alone attitude when it comes to government.

He wants to do away with the Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and much of the Internal Revenue Service because he wants a national sales tax to replace income taxes. Johnson says he believes in economic freedom for business and social freedoms for gun owners, gays who want to marry, women who want abortions, or the millions of people who want to smoke a joint.

"Fifty percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana. Among the universe of politicians, zero percent supports the notion," Johnson said. "Can you think of any other area of public policy where there's that much of a disconnect between public opinions and politicians?"

Johnson said he had smoked marijuana years before he was governor and almost immediately after he left office. A physical-fitness freak who once climbed Mount Everest, he said he used marijuana as a painkiller after a serious para-gliding accident five years ago.

Ron Paul, the other libertarian-leaning Republican in the race, has similar views. Many Paul supporters were prepared to back Johnson if the Texas congressman decided not to run this year.

But Paul ran. And Johnson miscalculated how much that would cost him. He believed their shared less-government philosophy would combine like "stereo speakers ... surround sound" at debates

"Apparently, with the powers that be, one voice is enough," he said. "A mono speaker's enough."

Johnson said he understands that leaving the Republican Party would be permanent. But, he said, the message of less government isn't being discussed enough.

"It's all about the message, and I recognize I'm a messenger," he said. "The first few messengers get shot."

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