Judge Jim Gray, the Vice-Presidential candidate of the Libertarian party, filled McClelland Auditorium in the GSB on Thursday October 25th. Judge Gray, a longtime advocate of drug policy reform, focused on the economy, jobs and education as he outlined the Libertarian platform of Gov. Gary Johnson.
He began his talk by announcing “You are all broke,” a fittingly alarming introduction to the bleak picture of America’s future on its current economic policies. He declared that should Gov. Johnson and he be elected, they will have an “audit” of all government agencies. He listed the Department of Energy as a possible target, saying “Today the Department of Energy has decided that corn is the right crop to make ethanol. This isn’t my area… but I think the marketplace can figure that out.”
Judge Gray also emphasized “The biggest security threat to the U.S. is a weak and failing economy.” To that end, he declared “We must leave Afghanistan now. That is worthy of applause.” He received applause. He also proposed closing military bases in foreign countries, drawing a distinction between an army outpost in rural Germany versus South Korea.
On jobs, Gray criticized both Romney and Obama saying “They don’t have a clue about job,” and accusing them of “nibbling around the edges” in an effort to create jobs. In contrast, he declared “We will repeal the income tax” in favor of a retail consumption tax. He claimed this will remove the artificial inflation of domestic goods and level the playing field, allowing companies to bring manufacturing stateside. He cited the explosion of private sector jobs in New Mexico under Johnson’s governorship as evidence that limited and streamlined governance creates jobs.
For the final talking point, education, Gray compared the American college system and elementary school. He gave an anecdote about a conversation with Milton Friedman, who pointed out that American colleges and universities are the best in the world, but that in elementary and high school education, the United States is failing. The difference, Gray said, is that students choose where to go to college, creating competition between institutions that doesn’t exist between public high schools. Naturally, he supports a voucher system in which parents can choose any school they like for their children. He claimed that teachers in Milwaukee, which has run a voucher system since 1991, say “bad” schools have all but disappeared with competition between them.
He also briefly covered abortion and the environment, two topics that Somik Raha, the host from the Stanford Decisions and Ethics Center put forth. He called abortion an over-politicized issue and that Libertarians are “all over the map”, but noted that both Gov. Johnson and he are personally pro-choice.
His answer for the environment called for the privatization of land ownership. He touted England’s trout streams which he claimed are the cleanest fishing streams in the world and entirely privately owned. He also adamantly decried the White House’s investment in clean energy companies. “Windmills are great… but government shouldn’t do it.” When asked, he expressed support for the Keystone Pipeline but emphasized that no government money should be used.
Finally, Judge Gray heavily emphasized traditional Libertarian views on personal liberties. He slammed Obama for sacrificing the American freedoms, saying “No one that has liberal values would embrace the Patriot Act” and demanding the repeal of the death penalty on both economic and moral grounds. He also declared that “There will not be any drones over anyone in our country unless by judicial order,” using domestic drone use as evidence of abuse of liberties.
Despite his commanding confidence, Judge Gray also expressed awareness of critical problems. “We are not viable,” he admitted. “We are not going to win the election,” he said, but countered the notion that a vote for Gary Johnson would be wasted: “It’s a waste of a vote [to vote] for someone that doesn’t represent you… you’re telling that party that this candidate is acceptable.” Instead they seek 5% of the popular vote, which would allow them federal funding for the next presidential election. “If we can be seen as viable, we win.” When asked by an audience member how they expected to be viable by 2016, Gray replied “This is a perfect storm [the Republican and Democratic parties] see that we are losing head way.”
Despite a standing ovation, skeptics remained. Undergraduates Gabriela Groth and Alexandra Dorda, self-proclaimed Libertarians and Ron Paul supporters faulted him for a lack of “clear ideological foundation”. “I don’t dislike him, he just doesn’t seem as ideologically pure [as Ron Paul]” Dorda said. In an interview with the Review after his talk, Gray responded to the criticism: “I think it’s great to put liberty at the top, [but] I think there is a huge difference between Governor Gary Johnson and Ron Paul and that is that we’re going to be on the ballot in November and he isn’t.”
Johnson and Gray ultimately ended up with with more than a million votes, but with only .98% of the popular vote, well short of the 5% they hoped for. “We were guessing we were going to do better,” Johnson said in an interview on election night. He attributed the disappointing results to the tight margin between Obama and Romney which encouraged people to vote more mainstream. In a letter to supporters written Nov. 8, Johnson embraced the 1% popular vote figure, declaring “We are the new ‘1%’ who refused to accept that status quo” and thanking supporters. While He has not announced any plans to run again in 2016, he has declared that after a short rest he will “be picking up the bullhorn again.”