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Sunday, January 03, 2010
'You Say You Want a Revolution?'
By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer
TAOS — The last time I spent a day with Gary Johnson, I waited at the Taos Ski Valley lodge for hours while he hiked to the top of Kachina Peak and skied down, over and over again. Then I sat at the municipal pool for an hour and watched while he swam laps for two miles. When I asked, he let me look at his frostbitten toe.
That was the post-governor Johnson — the one who was growing his hair long, training for an Ironman, rolling in dough and luxuriating in being a ski bum.
These days, Johnson is still skiing nearly every day at Taos. But he's got short-cropped hair, a lot less money and a new public policy mission.
"Our America: The Gary Johnson Initiative," caught my attention because its Web site features a fit Johnson staring down the camera alongside this headline: "You say you want a revolution?"
Well, we all want to change the world. So I drove up north to find out how Johnson proposes to go about it.
The two-term governor was wearing jeans, boiled wool slippers and a peace sign T-shirt when he met me at the front door of his modern riverside house outside of Taos.
"I'm a happy cat," he declared, and it seemed to be true.
He and his girlfriend of 18 months, real estate agent Kate Prusack, also have a house in Santa Fe with a Porsche in the garage. They recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro on a three-week trip to Africa along with Johnson's two grown children. And then there's this 25 acres of riverfront property where's he's built a 4,600-square-foot house. The master bedroom shower is big enough to hold a Cabinet meeting. Donald Rumsfeld is just down the road.
Johnson, a millionaire, has not been spared by the recession, but while the rest of us are watching our pennies, he's watching his 20s.
We settle in to talk about life and politics.
First, life. It took him more than two years to recover from injuries to his knees, back and shoulders in a paragliding accident in Hawaii in 2005. He still bikes, swims and skis to maintain his fanatical fitness regimen, but he doesn't run anymore.
He is still recovering from the premature death of his ex-wife, Dee, three years ago. He calls it the lowest point of his life.
And now, politics.
Why, when he can live a comfortable life on the sidelines, would Johnson want to wade back into the political debate?
Because he's mad.
"Federal government spending — I'm livid," Johnson says. "And I'm livid about what's happened in the state and about what's going to happen in the state. I'm pissed. It didn't have to happen. This whole spending more than you take in, I just think it's insane."
In a series of video interviews on the Our America site, Johnson espouses his positions on the national issues that generally come into play in a presidential campaign: taxes, abortion, immigration, the economy, the environment, civil liberties, national defense.
Over the course of our afternoon together, he told me he thinks the nation is headed toward runaway inflation as the deficit soars; that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are misguided and should be ended now; that he's dismayed at how President George W. Bush ran up the national deficit (and how Gov. Bill Richardson has done it here) and that he's worried about the direction the country is headed.
"I'm upset," Johnson said. "I think this is real, and nobody's saying what I'm saying." So, "outside of exercise and eating and sleeping, that's what I'm doing. I'm involved and due to get more and more involved."
He sounds, to me at least, an awful lot like a guy who's going to run for president. But Johnson hasn't declared himself a candidate in 2012 or formed an exploratory committee. And he can't, at least right now.
Our America is a registered 501(c)(4) organization, which means it can legally promote social issues but it is not allowed to engage in political campaign activity for or against any candidate for public office.
Johnson is the honorary chairman of Our America, and he says he's traveling the country talking about national politics because he's disgusted and wants to spark a new debate. For now, he's taking the message across the country to gauge interest in his, excuse me, Our America's, ideas.
It's a rhetorical two-step.
I tell him I think he's going to run for president, because he looks out at you from Our America's Web site and says, "I'm not going to raise your taxes."
Johnson acknowledges that is a mistake that needs to be corrected. And he says making the distinction between the 'we' of Our America and the 'me' of Gary Johnson is tough.
"It's a weird line," he says, "but this is the law."
Just this week, Our America sent out a news release with a statement from Johnson saying he supports our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, which sounds like something a candidate for public office might do.
And then there's one of his first big speeches. It's next month and it's in New Hampshire. You know, the state that has the first presidential primary and the place people go when they're testing the waters for a run for president.
Three years ago, Richardson played an extended game of footsie with the local news media as he coyly popped into Iowa and New Hampshire while insisting he wasn't running for president. Then he announced he was running for president.
Maybe I'm just a cynic, but I hope my Journal colleague in Washington, Michael Coleman, hung onto that warm winter coat he bundled up in when he followed Richardson around snowy New Hampshire in the winters of '06 and '07. He might need to break it out and follow another happy New Mexico cat on the campaign trail.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. You can reach Leslie at 823-3914 or firstname.lastname@example.org.