It's A Gray Area: Being on the campaign trail

Many have asked what it was like to be the 2012 Libertarian candidate for vice president, along with Gov. Gary Johnson as our candidate for president.

I can say that on the one hand, it was a deeply humbling, uplifting, interesting and gratifying experience. On the other hand, believing that the governor and I were far more qualified than anyone else in the race, and seeing us almost completely frozen out of the national media and excluded from the national debates, it was eternally frustrating.

More specifically, I can tell you that it is a big country, which makes money overly important in elections. But considering that probably 75% of the voters had never even heard of us, I think we did quite well.

Probably the most interesting experience on the campaign trail was when I was invited to speak at the Harvest Festival in Monticello in upstate New York.

Almost literally we were back in time and participating in Woodstock. The place was filled with hippies, young and old, in tie-dyed clothes with peace symbols and long hair.

Our guide was a gentle, middle-aged man wearing a leather vest filled with metal emblems and badges who introduced himself by saying that his real name was David, but everyone called him "Trashy."

I spoke on the stage after Pete Seeger. It was a wonderful event. Yes, some marijuana was being smoked on the grounds, but people were completely well-behaved, with not a policeman in sight. It is not my lifestyle, but it was great to see people harmlessly enjoying themselves as they wished.

I also spoke at a lunch event in Spokane. Because I arrived a bit early, I had occasion to meet and get to know Jake, 3, whose mother brought him along. I used his name during my presentation by saying that my generation had made a financial mess of our country, that our children would have to pay it back, and that people like Jake were bankrupt. Of course, little Jake had no idea what the word bankrupt meant, but it sounded bad, so he started to cry.

So there I was making a 3-year-old cry. As I tried to dig myself out, I said that if he actually knew the bad financial condition he was in, he would have every reason to cry.

At another event, I met a young girl and asked her how old she was. She responded, "I'm pushing 4!" That made us laugh, a better result than with Jake.

I traveled so much that if I only flew on one airplane per day, it was an easy day. As a result, probably the hardest thing that I had to do on the campaign trail was remember my daily hotel room number. I had to develop the habit of writing it down and keeping the note in my pocket.

Some of the most fun times were spent at the Fourth of July Parade in Wasilla, Alaska; and eating at Varsity, 6 Feet Under and the OK Café in Atlanta, and at the Commander's Palace restaurant in New Orleans. Also fun was arriving late one night at the airport in Knoxville, and being welcomed by a TV reporter and a crowd with campaign signs.

I had lived my entire life without ever signing my name to a van, but I signed three of the "Governor Gary Johnson for President" vans during the campaign, as did many other people.

The most gratifying event involved three students coming up to me after my presentation at Stanford University, saying that they were never so excited about voting (although, upon reflection, I suppose they could have been excited to vote against me). That was immediately followed by the most sobering event when an athletic young man wearing Purple Heart and Bronze Star ribbons on the lapel of his suit came me up to me.

After saying that he had been in the Marines in the Gulf War, he looked right at me and said: "Judge Gray, please be our voice. Our troops are prepared to go where they are ordered and even sacrifice if we must, but please make it be important to our country's security."

I vowed that I would do everything I could to do just that.

Throughout the campaign, when people asked me for more information about the Libertarian philosophy, I referred them to two books. One is "Libertarianism in One Lesson," by my friend David Bergland, and the other is "Libertarianism: a Primer," by David Boaz. I also refer them to you.

At the end of the campaign, I flew into Albuquerque from Kansas City, and my wife, Grace, flew in from Orange County so that we could be together at the election celebration that evening. Since my plane arrived before hers, I was able to meet her at her gate with a hand-printed sign that said: "Grace, remember me? I'm your husband." Fortunately she did, and I am deeply grateful for her support throughout this whole process.

It was a long campaign, and I believe that all of us did our best. But it was also nice to have it over, and to return to my private life at home with my wife and family. I am deeply concerned about the direction of our country, but life is good.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired Orange County Superior Court judge. He lives in Newport Beach.

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