The following is a transcript of Gary Johnson’s meeting with the Los Angeles Times editorial board.
Nicholas Goldberg (editor of the editorial pages): So let me kick it off with a question that you’ve gotten 10,000 times before and I’m sure you have a well-prepared answer to it. Your campaign seems to be hovering in the 12% range. The goal is to get that to 15%, which would get you into the debates. You got a million votes in 2012 when you ran, out of more than 100 million votes. We’re here to try to decide who to endorse in this race. Your candidacy sounds like a long, long, long shot, a protest vote. Why would we want to urge people to vote for you?
Gary Johnson: No, I haven’t been asked this question, this is the first time, so wow [jokingly].
Mike McGough: [If the debates are opened to any political party that is on enough state ballots to win the presidency in theory,] would it be a four-candidate debate or would it be more?
GJ: Yeah, it would be four.
It’s my understanding that the Green Party was on the ballot in 36 states in 2012 — enough to get 270 electoral votes. It’s my understanding it will be the same this time. Thirty-six states for the Green Party, and we will be on the ballot in all 50 states. Not yet accomplished, but way ahead of schedule from 2012 and on the ballot in the two states where we weren’t qualified in 2012.
Robert Greene: Can you give us an idea of what is in it for the Democrats to have you included in the discussion? And then I’ve got the same question for you about the Republicans.
GJ: Back to polling for a second, right now what’s happening is the question is getting asked by all the pollsters: Trump or Clinton? That’s the question. Not Trump, Johnson, Clinton, but Trump and Clinton. And then as the secondary, which is now happening in more cases than not, they add Johnson as an afterthought. And in that afterthought, we’re coming out at 12%. If they came in right at the top as Johnson, Trump and Clinton, I think it would be at 20%, and a lot of that has to do with the dissatisfaction with the two major candidates. But back to what’s happening right now. The opening question is Trump and Clinton and 99% of what gets reported is just that line.
NG: Do you think that represents people who like your message, or do you think that just represents people who aren’t satisfied with the other candidates?
GJ: There’s no question that a lot of that has to do with dissatisfaction with the two candidates. I’ve joked that if Mickey Mouse were the third name in one of these polls, Mickey would probably be at 30% because Mickey is a known commodity.
RG: Would he be a Libertarian?
GJ: But Mickey’s not on the ballot in all 50 states. I don’t know ... Mickey ... I like to think everyone’s a Libertarian, it’s just they don’t know it.
So, in the polls where, OK, Johnson’s an afterthought. I take more votes away from Hillary, which I think is interesting. Not by much, but by a squeak.
Scott Martelle: Why do you think that is?
GJ: Well I think that’s the social side of this. Choice. A woman’s right to choose. Marriage equality. Let’s stop dropping bombs. This is also appealing to Bernie voters -- crony capitalism, it is alive and well. Having been governor of New Mexico, [I know that] legislation gets passed that benefits those who have money and influence and they buy more money and influence. In New Mexico … I may have vetoed more legislation as governor of New Mexico than all the other governors in the country combined. Seven hundred and fifty bills, thousands of line items, but a lot of those vetoes were [about] this level-playing field. Here’s this concept of advantage. There’s a piece of legislation sitting in front of me, and it gives somebody an advantage. And I vetoed that kind of stuff. Or I tried to veto as much of it as I could.
Mariel Garza: Building on Rob’s question about what do Democrats have to gain by having you in the debate, what would you bring to a debate that we won’t see in a Trump-Clinton debate?
GJ: Well, back to the three legs of the stool, embracing immigration for starters. Immigration is really a good thing. I saw that two days ago in the Wall Street Journal, [where] the Wharton School of business, which Trump graduated from, did an analysis of the economic impact of increasing immigration by 50%, increasing immigration by granting work visas to high-skilled workers, and then actually limiting immigration, and the economic impact of each one of those three alternatives. Well, limiting immigration was actually going to have a negative impact on the economy. Minimal impact by allowing high-skilled workers into the country. And a big benefit for increasing immigration by 50%. So embracing immigration, making it as easy as possible for somebody who wants to come into this country to work and to get a work visa. A work visa should entail a background check and a Social Security card. Don’t build a wall across the border, they are not — and I am speaking as a border state governor — they are not taking jobs that U.S. citizens want. They’re just hard-working people that can’t get across the border legally to take the jobs that do exist. And you’re also aware that actually this is like the lowest number of illegal crossings in decades right now because jobs don’t exist in the United States either. So this is a political bogeyman that really doesn’t exist.
Trump says we’re gonna kill the families of Muslim terrorists, we’re gonna bring back waterboarding, torture, worse, Trump says he’s for free trade but then in the next sentence he says he’s gonna force Apple to make their iPads and their iPhones in the United States. And he’s gonna apply a 35% tariff on imported goods. Well, who’s gonna pay for that?
On Hillary’s side, I don’t think it gets more establishment than Hillary Clinton. If I had one word to describe Hillary it would be “beholden.” Nothing’s gonna really change, government’s gonna have the answer to everything, and that’s gonna mean taxes are gonna go up. If taxes go up, in my opinion, that’s less money out of my pocket that I could be spending on my life. And then she has been the architect of our foreign policy and using Libya and Syria as an example -- this was not purposeful, I mean it’s her and it’s Obama, not purposeful -- but they go in and we ally ourself with the opposition, we arm the opposition. Then the opposition is allied with ISIS. So the opposition gets knocked out and all those arms go over to ISIS. Well, this is an unintended consequence of what we do and it just seems like the story goes on and on and on. So I don’t think things are going to get better with Hillary. I think Hillary is going to be more hawkish perhaps than Obama. Perhaps more hawkish than Trump. Trump, though, is really a windshield wiper. He says one thing that makes sense and then says something that doesn’t make sense. Japan should have nuclear weapons, South Korea should have nuclear weapons.
NG: So what’s your approach, for instance, to dealing with ISIS? I mean, you don’t want the U.S. to be as engaged as it has been abroad, where we’ve made mistakes, where we’ve caused trouble, where we’ve created new problems. So what do you do with ISIS? Do you just say let the region...
GJ: No, no. I mean, we’re at war with ISIS. Although Congress [should be involved] through a declaration of war. I don’t know if you all saw, it but two days ago they did a poll amongst active military and in that poll the support … who do you support for president? Well, it was 39% Johnson, 31% Trump and 20% Clinton, so these are the things that I’ve been saying. A declaration of war against ISIS, how do we move forward and that goes beyond ISIS, but ISIS really is regionally contained, they’re not going anywhere. Think of ISIS as sand through an hourglass right now. I mean, they’re done. They’re cooked. There’s recruiting. People want to join ISIS, but they can’t even get in to do that. And of course what they’ve done is they’ve sent a message to the world: “Hey, go out and conduct your act of terrorism, declare yourself in allegiance with us when you do that and this will further our cause.” And it does further their cause. So [we can be] alert to terrorist threats here in the U.S., but if you look at the incident in Nice -- a truck being used as a lethal weapon? How many instances exist in this country where the same atrocity could occur? Maybe 10,000 different places in this country every day?
NG: I’m sorry, I didn’t get a sense of what the U.S. approach [should be].
GJ: That we do continue to knock ISIS out and that that is inevitable.
MM: And, aside from the sort of use of soldiers, how do you feel about what looks like a long-term campaign of using drones all over the world, not just in Iraq and Syria?
GJ: Well, you never say never to anything, and I’m looking to get elected president of the United States, so never say never to anything. But I would really love to sit down with the military and understand just how much collateral damage -- and I hate to use the term collateral damage when you’re talking about human beings -- but is it a situation where the drone can be used and it’s a car convoy and it’s separate? Or is it a situation where you’re talking about a heavily populated area? And if it’s the latter, I think that has had the unintended consequence of adding to ISIS and the recruitment and just the anger directed at the United States.
So, if I may, Afghanistan. Let’s get out of Afghanistan now. I supported going into Afghanistan at the beginning. That was going after Al Qaeda, I think that we accomplished those goals after about seven months. We could have … after seven months, we didn’t find Osama Bin Laden. But we could have said we’re getting out, we’ve knocked out Al Qaeda, and we’re going to come back in if we see that Osama Bin Laden raises his head. The consequences of getting out of Afghanistan tomorrow you could say are gonna be horrible. Well, we could mitigate the horrible circumstances [of] getting out by saying if your life’s in danger because you’ve aligned yourself with the U.S. -- I imagine that might affect a lot of individuals -- we could offer them sanctuary in the U.S. and I don’t think that’s unprecedented. But as difficult and as horrible as you want to describe getting out of Afghanistan tomorrow will be, I think that that same circumstance is going to exist 20 years from now, if that’s when we do it, or 40 years from now, if that’s when we do it, or apparently we’re just gonna stay there forever.
MM: And the problem with staying there forever is wasted money? If U.S. casualties are low in a situation like that, isn’t it more like keeping troops in South Korea or in Germany for as long as we did? And do you have a problem with that kind of projection of military force too? Even when there’s no combat but you’re putting troops there long-term, mostly for deterrence?
GJ: Well, is it really a deterrent in Europe? I just put that out there as an argument. South Korea, North Korea, I think the biggest threat in the world right now is North Korea and at some point these ICBMs are going to work. There is no threat whatsoever of North Korea invading South Korea conventionally. And imagine if China had 40,000 troops in Central America. And so from a diplomatic standpoint, I think China recognizes the threat North Korea poses more than anyone else. They don’t pose a conventional threat to South Korea, but they may pose a nuclear threat and we’ve got them covered with that umbrella but that’s the threat! I mean, what happens when this guy does pull the trigger on South Korea, potentially from a nuclear standpoint? I mean, nuclear disarmament, getting them disarmed, joining with China diplomatically to address this situation. And that opens up the potential to get these troops out of South Korea. This would be a desirable goal, making the world more safe, not less safe. As president of the United States, believe me, I don’t want to mess any of this stuff up. And by mess any of this stuff up, I mean make the U.S. less safe. But I think these positions may actually have the consequence of being positive.
MM: And how would you apply that to NATO? We’ve heard a lot of controversy over Trump’s comments on the mutual defense contract and NATO, that maybe we won’t actually respond to Estonia if it’s invaded by the Russians, if Estonia isn’t keeping up its dues. I know your platform talks about untangling alliances. Is NATO an entangling alliance?
GJ: Well, we need to honor our obligations. We need to honor our treaty obligations. But that said, should they be reexamined, and do we really want to go to war with Russia over the Baltic states? And Russia did become democratic, tearing itself away from the USSR. And the states that we are talking about used to be part of the USSR. So honor those obligations but, going forward, Russia doesn’t have to be our ally but they don’t necessarily need to be a military threat to the U.S. either.
Jon Healey: All right, can you talk about what you see in the electorate today in the United States in terms of the economy, and what is causing the sort of anxieties that appear to be out there? And what you would do in response to that?
GJ: Well, in the 2012 cycle, I did run for president. I was a Republican at the beginning, then getting the Libertarian nomination. Being in Iowa, which really dictates the pulse of the election all the way through, I realized that 30% of Republicans believe the scourge of the earth is Mexican immigration. And no matter what I had to say regarding that topic, those people believe that. And you can see a logic to it. I understand the logic. It’s just not a fact, but I understand the logic. So in hard times we always look for a scapegoat. I’m saying 30% of Republicans, I think a number of Democrats also are in that same camp, and so that’s Trump’s core support. When Trump then talks about making ourselves isolationist, that’s not the solution. So where’s the voice to say that really genuine free markets is the way to rule the world, and that with genuine free markets, the United States will prevail in that equation and there will be more jobs created in the United States, not fewer jobs. Well, that’s my voice right now saying that; we can certainly argue about that, but that’s my voice in this equation.
And then looking at the economy, as president of the United States, I’m not going to be elected dictator, I’m not going to be king, I’m not going to be the dictator, I’m going to be president of the United States. So ultimately my job, what comes out of Congress, what do I support, what don’t I support. Well I support making taxation easier, simplifying the tax system. I support lower taxes. If I could wave a magic wand — and I’m not doing this in a vacuum, having had the support of Chapman University, I mean, free market -- if I could wave a magic wand, I would eliminate income tax. I would eliminate corporate tax. Because we would do that and we also could abolish the IRS, and I would replace all of it with one federal consumption tax.
I ask you to look at the “fair tax,” which is a proposal that’s been before Congress for 10 years. I think 80 congressmen and women sign onto it every year, so it’s a known product. But it dots the “I”s and crosses the Ts on how you accomplish one federal consumption tax. I believe with a 0% corporate tax rate in this country, I believe tens of millions of jobs, for no other reason than a 0% corporate tax, simplifying tax to the extent that that would simplify tax ... I mean, imagine our lives without the IRS. And then I do think that pink slips would get issued to 80% of Washington lobbyists because that’s why they’re there, to garner tax favor.
NG: Very briefly, how does the fair tax work?
GJ: Very briefly, a consumption tax is regressive, for starters, OK? Well, the way that it gets beyond being regressive is that it issues a prebate check to everybody through the Social Security administration to the tune of $200 per month that allows all of us to pay the consumption tax up to the point of the poverty level. A 28% tax on goods and services -- and before you fall out of your chair thinking that’s, whoa -- it’s actually, in theory, not going to add cost to products. So if you use a can of Coke as an example. A can of Coke today sells for a buck. Well, there’s accounting fees and legal fees along with just complying with the IRS, there’s Social Security tax that has to be matched, unemployment, Medicare ... all of those, all of what currently comes out of individuals and you and I from our payroll check, that would come out of the proceeds of the consumption tax. So there would no longer be any withholding whatsoever from your payroll check. Social Security, Medicare, unemployment, all coming out of the proceeds of the fair tax. But back to all those taxes -- that currently is contained in that dollar can of Coke. You take all of that out, arguably that can of Coke sells for 72 cents. You apply the 28% consumption tax and you still end up paying for the profit.
JH: Doesn’t that smack, though, of tax cuts that pay for themselves, an idea that’s been widely discredited?
GJ: When you say tax cuts that pay for themselves ...
JH: Since the dawn of the Laffer curve, there’s been this belief that simply by lowering ...
GJ: This is not a tax cut by the way. This is designed to be revenue-neutral.
JH: Understood. But there’s this feeling that in order to pay for something that in itself eliminates revenue sources, you simply count on an explosion in economic activity. Voila, you’re revenue-neutral. And that has never proven to be true.
GJ: Well, we may have a difference of opinion. And I’ll just go back to, my opinion is that by reducing taxes, by making taxes easier, reducing the regulatory environment -- not from a health and safety concern, just from the standpoint of a level opportunity playing field -- that economic activity does increase. In the 2012 cycle, Rick Perry was beating his chest over the fact that he created more jobs in Texas than anywhere else, than anybody else running. Well, they did an analysis and actually it was Gary Johnson. And I was asked to respond and I responded the same way as I did when I was governor: Look, I didn’t create a single job here. Government doesn’t create jobs. The private sector does, but I think I mightily contributed with my vetoes in bringing about a more level playing field.
JH: Going back to the fair tax. There is no progressivity in the sense that when you get above the poverty line, there’s no difference in the amount that people pay. And in fact there’s a negative progressivity because people at the top tend to consume less as a percentage of their income than people further down the ladder. So that is something that is very troubling to folks, particularly those left of center. Is there no mechanism to correct for that?
GJ: Well, I’m under the belief that the more money you have the more you consume. And that money is about consumption to a degree, and it also is about savings, but it would promote savings, and that’s my belief. No more capital gains, I mean, no more taxes other than the one federal consumption tax.
Bill Weld and I are running as a partnership here, which I think is unique also. But Bill would argue on the part of making these taxes flat tax, or corporations and ... I get that argument too, so I don’t throw that off my desk, recognizing that that may be something that could actually get through Congress.
JH: And you wouldn’t tax capital gains at all?
GJ: With the consumption tax? No. All inheritance tax, capital gains ... and inheritance tax, we look at those who have a lot of money.... No. Like I say, it would just simplify taxes to that extent.
MG: Can I ask about what you would do with Obamacare? Would you dismantle it? If so, what would you replace it with, if anything?
GJ: I’m one of the people that when I hear Republicans talk about repealing Obamacare, I just want to roll my eyes. Republicans talk about reform to the healthcare and they talk about selling insurance across state lines and that’s their solution? As president of the United States, I’m going to sign any legislation that gives us better healthcare at lower cost. I do believe that Chief Justice Roberts had it right when he said that President Obama’s healthcare plan is a tax. My health insurance premiums have quadrupled and I haven’t been to see a doctor in three years. But that’s me.
What is genuinely needed when it comes to healthcare is a free-market approach, recognizing that healthcare right now is about as far removed from the free market as it could be. I reject the notion that in a free-market approach to healthcare we would have insurance to cover ongoing medical need. We would have insurance to cover ourselves for catastrophic injury and illness and we would pay as you go for a system that I believe would be absolutely affordable. How affordable? Maybe a fifth of what it currently costs. I think we would have Stitches R Us. I think we would have Galbladders R Us. I think we would have X-rays R Us. You would have advertised pricing. You’d have advertised outcomes.
Currently, you go to the doctor, you have no idea what it’s going to cost -- no idea. You have no idea what the outcome’s going to be. And then when you do get the bill you know that nobody’s really going to pay what it is they said this costs. How do you get those reforms? Well, obviously this is very complex. If we may also talk about the entitlements: Neither Trump nor Clinton is talking about reform to the entitlements, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security. And it’s a fiscal cliff. We are headed for a fiscal cliff unless, in my opinion, we address these issues. The way we address Medicare and Medicaid is we give those functions to the states. Having been governor in New Mexico, in my heart of hearts I could have drawn new lines of eligibility for Medicaid and had a safety net. No one would have gone without. But if I would have been given a fixed amount of money, I believe I could have made that stick. Medicare of course is not a state’s function, but I think it needs to be if we are actually going to reform it. I’ll say that this [creates] 50 laboratories of innovation and best practices that would emerge that would be fabulously successful. You’d also have some horrible failures that others would have to avoid.
But there’s no way Washington can come up with a fix for what is out of control and ultimately is going to lead to horrible inflation in my opinion at some point down the road. Social Security is eminently fixable, but raising the retirement age needs to take place. To what age? I could throw out a number, but I think actuarially it’s going to be 70-72. It’s going to ratchet up that much. And you could have very fair means testing to go along with Social Security. By fair means testing, how much money do you make? How much money are you getting back from Social Security? Should you get back more? More than what you put in given a certain level of income? I think there could be a very fair means testing.
JH: But you are going to be getting rid of payroll tax, right? So most of the analysis of that sort of approach raises a question about how do you then handle that bubble of people as you try to transition from the current system to the new system. Have you given much thought to that?
GJ: Well, that is a big factor in that transition, just to understand what is fair. It is a process. You listen to it all the time: Politicians that sit in front of you and tell you that they have all the answers and if they don’t have the answers they are on the hot seat and declared irrelevant because they don’t have all the answers. Well I did serve two terms as governor of New Mexico and I had never been involved in politics before, and my response to a lot of these complex questions were that I don’t have the answers but it does need to be part of a discussion and a debate and that I did move the ball forward because I insisted that the ball needs to move forward. I realize that I walk out of here and [you may say], “This guy doesn’t know anything.” I’d like the takeaway to be: He knows enough not to state what he doesn’t know.
NG: You’re talking about some pretty dramatic, radical changes to the way we do things. To what extent as governor were able to move your Libertarian project forward? What big things we can see that are dramatically different from before?
GJ: Not a penny in new taxes was raised in an eight-year period. That had never happened before. This may sound like a pretty small number to you but in New Mexico 5% of the state’s workforce -- There was 5% fewer state employees when I left than when I took office. And that was simply managing attrition. It was a promise I made. There weren’t any mass firings. Bill Weld, on the other hand having been governor of Massachusetts, he actually furloughed 8,000 state employees on his first day in state office. As a Republican [in a state] that was 4-1 Democrat, he got reelected by a 70% margin in the second go-around. So we were fiscally conservative over the top. Built 50 miles of four-lane highway in New Mexico -- that had never been done before. Reformed Medicaid in New Mexico by taking it from a fee-for-service model to a managed-care model. Built prisons. When I took office we had a thousand prisoners housed out of state because the state had refused to deal with the issue. I took on the drug war as governor of New Mexico, the fact that we have the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. I refuse to believe we are any less law-abiding than any other country in the world but because of mandatory sentences and because of the war on drugs. That’s where we have gotten to because of that.
Took on the debate over school choice. More outspoken perhaps than any other governor in the country regarding school choice and the need to bring competition to public education. Did anything happen as a result of that? Well, the debate and the discussion raged and, I think, as a fall-back, the Legislature passed charter school legislation that, in a backhanded way, I think I can take credit for, because this was a way to appeal to Johnson over here who is talking about something far further down the road than charter schools. But I think charter schools have been very successful in New Mexico. So those things did take place and they were big issues in New Mexico when I took office. The state is 2-1 Democrat. I got reelected by a bigger margin the second time than the first.
Carla Hall: So what do you think you would do in the first 100 days of office, besides maybe go to the doctor? (Laughter.)
GJ: By requirement. Brain check. (Laughter.) We would propose a balanced budget, recognizing that that has never happened before. It certainly hasn’t happened in our lifetimes. But actually submit a balanced budget. We haven’t talked about military spending. The Pentagon itself says we could reduce bases domestically by 20%. That’s what the Pentagon itself is saying. Well, that isn’t happening because congressmen and congresswomen stand up for bases in their own states. And I think 50% of the bases abroad could be eliminated also. But we would propose a budget that would be 20% less than what we are currently spending, and all of you would recognize that if we just had a 2% real growth in government from year to year and we had historical growth in the economy, then there would be a balanced budget in five years.
That would be prudent and keep us well within the bounds of this country’s surviving. By surviving, we are headed to a fiscal cliff with regard to the entitlements and spending. But the military is a big component of that also.
If either Clinton or Trump gets elected there will be a polarity unseen before in my opinion. Neither side, it’s not going to stop. The divisiveness. It’s going to get worse. And if I’m elected president -- and it is a possibility, I don’t think you all would be here if you didn’t recognize that, as remote a possibility as that is, it is a possibility. That is a huge opportunity to challenge both sides to come on. Come on. Republicans, you want to cut government, but you’re going send me abolishing Planned Parenthood? Give me a break.
MG: Can I ask if you believe that federal public lands should be returned to control of the states?
GJ: You know, I don’t go along with the Forest Service lands. I don’t go along with wilderness lands returned to the state. But the BLM [Bureau of Land Management], that’s a whole other topic.
I don’t want to say that you don’t know this, but you realize that in New Mexico, certainly Utah, it’s laid out in checkerboard. It’s laid out in red squares and black squares. And I’m talking about BLM land…. So there’s no understanding at all of what BLM lands represent. What you do see at times is Ted Turner. Ted Turner has 1 million acres in New Mexico. Well 500,000 acres are private land and 500,000 are leased land from the BLM. Well it’s checkerboard. It’s geometric red, you look at the horizon in New Mexico and you are looking at red squares and black squares. So to give control of those BLM lands to the state and sell that land to the private landowners, and actually put that on private property tax rolls, that makes a lot of sense.
And when we think of public lands, I think people think of these riparian wonderful areas when the reality is anything but.
SM: I’d like to ask another political question. Given that the biggest head winds that Trump and Clinton are facing are disaffected voters, why would the Democrats and Republicans and the debate committee let you guys in?
GJ: Well, we did file a lawsuit against the presidential debate commission. It’s getting stalled right now.
That said, I think we’ve cried the emperor wears no clothes, and there’s a recognition here on the part of the presidential debate commission that … and I’m not saying they’re going to do this. They talk about 15% in the polls. They don’t identify which polls. They don’t identify what the timing is for that. And, given the current makeup of polls, will you all recognize that right now the polls are Clinton and Trump -- and this is what you report on too -- you report on Clinton and Trump. And yet two lines down they include Johnson’s name. And it’s racheting up.
SM: So what would be in the interest of big parties to let you guys…
GJ: None! Absolutely none.
SM: So how do you persuade them?
GJ: Well, 43% of the electorate right how is independent. That’s how they’re registering. And by the way, 50% of new voters are registering as independent. But 43% is the overall number. 29 Democrat. 26 Republican. Trump is actually getting the nomination representing 13% of the electorate, because his core support is about 39%. Hillary you could say is at 50% support among Democrats. So 15%-16% of the electorate is determining her nomination.
That’s why the dissatisfaction. People don’t recognize what I just said. But that’s the dissatisfaction. They don’t represent mainstream America. And right now that six-lane highway down the middle of these two I think is us: the Libertarian Party.
NG: In 2012, you described the two major party candidates as Coke and Pepsi. Can you credibly say that again in 2016?
GJ: Well, at the end of the day, maybe not. Maybe not. I mean, they really have taken on the two bookends. In 2012, it was more more Coke and Pepsi. But that meant that it was more down the middle than it is today. I think it really is polarized today like never before.
JH: Can we get into regulations a little bit?
JH: You’ve talked about not monkeying with safety and other critical regulations. Where do you start when you talk about reducing the regulatory burden of businesses, and how do you avoid chipping away at things that, end of the day, really are necessary to protect safety and the environment?
GJ: All I have is to draw on my own examples. As governor of New Mexico, the biggest pollution issue was a plume of chemicals that had been dumped by General Electric there for decades because of their jet engine parts that they were producing in Albuquerque. At the end of the day, literally, someone kicked over a can of solvent that they had been using in their process. And every day they did that, for decades.
Well, General Electric said, we’re responsible for this. We’re responsible for this plume. The state, before I took office, had been engaged in a debate over how to clean this up. The state prescribing very specific, “Here’s how you have to clean it up, and here’s what it’s going to cost.” And General Electric going, “No it’s not going to cost that much. We can do it a different way. We can accomplish this cleanup different.” And they never came together. I took office and very simply [said], “GE, how about cleaning it up? It’s going to be measurable. The cleanup will be measurable. We don’t have to come to any terms whatsoever regarding how you do it. Just do it. If what you say is right, do it. It’ll prove itself. You’ll save the money that you’re saying you’ll save.” And all of a sudden, now cleanup started. So immediately we’ve got cleanup taking place. I hope that’s a good example of rules and regulations.
On the other hand in northern New Mexico, there was a Molycorp mine. There was metals contamination in the Red River. It had gone on for decades. And for decades politically it was being protected because of the jobs that were involved. I took office and I said, you’ve got to clean this up. You have to come to the table and you have to clean this up. They refused to come to the table. So my biggest club in the bag was, I am going to declare you a Superfund site. I’m going to hand you over to federal EPA unless you come to the table in 30 days and come up with a plan for fixing your metals contamination.
And they claimed that it was natural! It was ludicrous. It was a slap in the face. And they refused to come to the table. My phone is ringing off the hook, politically. It’s ringing off the hook. There were all these jobs. And my response was: “These people are bad actors and they have to be brought to the table.” Thirty days went by and they became a Superfund site. So there’s an example of the EPA and why the EPA should exist. And why government should exist to protect us against those who would do us harm. And in this case the Libertarian argument would be, as individuals we could have brought suit against polluters. We can bring suit individually. Well, in the case of Molycorp, you know what, they would have been able to withstand any individuals trying to bring that suit against them.
JH: I have another healthcare question if that’s not going to bore people. When you look at the federal government’s ballooning budget problem, there’s an argument that it really is about the increased cost of healthcare. Because largely, the biggest parts of the growth aren’t in defense or in any other domestic spending. It’s in Medicare and Medicaid.
JH: So addressing that, a number of studies have talked about the fact that care itself in the United States is more expensive then anyplace else, and is growing in cost faster than anyplace on Earth. So at that fundamental level of the cost of treating people, how do you address that problem? How do we get our arms around that?
GJ: Well, so much of that care comes under legislation that gets passed to protect the patient. You’ve got to be a licensed caregiver … I don’t want to oversimplify this by any means. And in my opinion, federal government is incapable of doing what it is I’m saying. But if as governor of New Mexico, I was looking to reduce long-term healthcare costs, you would have an Uber-like system … I mean you rate your driver when you get in the car for Uber. How was your driver? You rate your experience with Airbnb. A long-term caregiver could have that same kind of arrangement that you rate your long-term caregiver. But make it really easy for a long-term caregiver to be in business. Somebody who cares about people. And then you would have a competition for what those rates would be. But, today, the licensing and regulation that goes along with just being the simplest of caregiver adds cost.
As an example of how this could work across the whole spectrum: My brother -- and this is really going down a cul-du-sac -- but my brother is the best cardio-thoracic surgeon in the world. The reason I know this is because he tells me that all the time. But we do have discussions about this all the time.
And liabilities. And liabilities are justified. I’m also in the camp that believes attorneys do a lot better job of assigning liability than the government does. And there is a role for attorneys in all this in lieu of the government. So I don’t want to downplay that atrocities do happen. And that as a result of attorneys in the process, that things do get safer.
SM: If I could shift gears briefly, although it’s not a brief topic. What’s your position on global warming and climate change, and what’s your position on the Paris Accord?
GJ: Well, that it does exist and that it is man-caused. I think a great example of the free market at work in addressing carbon emission -- we’re all demanding less carbon emission -- is the coal industry. Obama has not brought an end to the coal industry. The free market has brought an end to the coal industry. The free market with its pricing of coal right now, and I didn’t look at the paper before I walked in, but I lost a whole lot of money in coal. I didn’t think there was any way that coal was going to actually be bankrupted. But it has been bankrupted.
The price of coal today is $9. Well, all the marginal coal that costs $11 to mine, you can’t make that up with volume. So all the marginal coal assets are gone. So what’s left, and right now we’ve got 37% of the grid is coal. Well, all of that coal is coming from Wyoming -- and I don’t want to say all of it. The coal that’s easy to mine, that actually can be mined at $8.25, where a profit can be made -- that’s what’s fueling the 37% load. But nobody is building a new coal plant when natural gas is much cheaper than even the low point of coal right now. Effectively, coal is bankrupt. There’s not going to be any new coal plants built. It’s not going to happen given what I think is the free market.
I’m open also to the notion of a carbon tax. That it does have an impact, that it ends up being revenue-neutral. I’m not looking at this as a revenue generator, as much as there are costs associated with, there are health and safety issues with carbon.
SM: There’s a big argument to be made that one of the main reasons the price of coal fell through the floor is regulatory actions and requirements on what you do when you burn it. Which reduce the demand.
GJ: Well, no! I mean, that argument would say that has driven the price of coal to its low level. But it’s low level today is even lower today for natural gas than the low level that you could argue it’s been driven to. That argument, you know -- just think about it for a second.
SM: I have.
JH: On the revenue-neutral carbon tax, would you want that to be 100% rebated to the public, or would you want it to be substituted for other forms of taxes?
GJ: You know, I have really just come on board with recognizing that there are a lot of people that are embracing this, that I value their opinion. So, I am not up to speed on this like I will be. But what I’ve just said is something that I have really just come to, or recognized.
NG: I saw that you said, if you could do it, you would do away with the drinking age altogether. Correct?
GJ: Not me. No, no. But, if as president of the United States, not the dictator, look, an 18-year-old should be able to have a drink. When you look at Europe, I don’t know this for a fact, but I don’t think there’s a drinking age in Europe. It has to do with parents and supervision. So in Europe, drinking and driving is not a problem like it is in the United States. At 3 years old you’ve got Europeans drinking wine with the consent of their parents. They don’t get to get a driver’s license until they’re 21. Here, in New Mexico you could drive when you were 13 years and so many months when I was growing up. And you can’t drink until you’re 21. Well that just promotes drinking and driving.
NG: Would you legalize heroin?
GJ: I would not legalize heroin. No. And in 1999 I was the highest elected official to advocate legalizing marijuana. Everything I said on this topic in ’99 I’m saying today. I have not changed what I said on this issue. I said in ’99, when we legalize marijuana -- I do believe we’re going to do that -- we’re going to come to a quantum leap when it comes to understanding other drugs. And it’s going to start by recognizing the issue as a health issue first and not a criminal justice issue. In my lifetime we’re not going to legalize heroin. And, by the way, what I’m saying here is not any different than what I said in ’99.
ALL: Great, thank you very much.
This transcript has been lightly edited for purposes of clarity.
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