Presidential Campaign

Why Libertarian Gary Johnson must be included in debates

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Gary Johnson is the Libertarian Party nominee for president who founded a highly successful business, served for two highly regarded terms as a Republican governor of New Mexico, became a nationally respected voice for the libertarian philosophy, named a former successful Republican governor of Massachusetts as his running mate, has his name on the ballot in all 50 states, will probably poll between 10 and 15 percent of voters before the debates begin, and should be included in presidential debates alongside Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and GOP nominee Donald Trump.

{mosads}The presidential debates should offer the American people an opportunity to evaluate the candidates for president and make an informed choice about the future direction of the nation. The debate commission should respect the two-party system, but should not be used as a vehicle for stifling dissent and silencing voices when many voters conclude the two-party system makes them choose the “lesser of two evils.”

Under the pending rules of debate participation, a candidate must be on the ballot in all 50 states and must garner an average of 15 percent in the polls.

Johnson has met the first standard. He is already on the ballot in all 50 states. He will meet, or come close to meeting, the second standard. He currently polls around 10 percent and his numbers are probably on an upward curve, with a growing number of Republicans publicly stating that they cannot vote for Trump.

If by the beginning of the debates Johnson is on the ballot in all 50 states and polls 13 percent, or 14 percent, should he be denied the ability to participate in the debates? I say not. Rules are made to be broken and exceptions can be made.

Johnson was elected governor of New Mexico in 1994 and reelected in 1998 with a substantial 10 percentage point margin over his opponent. His skill as governor and the respect he generated from the voters who know him best are unquestioned, even by his political opponents in New Mexico.

Johnson’s choice for vice president, William Weld, was also a highly regarded and successful governor. Weld was an effective U.S. attorney in Massachusetts who was then elevated to head the Criminal Division at the Justice Department. He was elected governor in 1990, running as a Republican in heavily Democratic Massachusetts, and was reelected in 1994 with more than 70 percent of the vote.

By standards of qualifications to be president, the Johnson-Weld ticket offers two candidates who have been highly effective and widely popular chief executives.

Johnson offers a principled voice for the libertarian philosophy, which has much to contribute to American political discourse whether we agree with every libertarian proposal or not.

While I do not agree with the huge cutbacks in defense proposed by Johnson, I strongly agreed with his opposition to the Iraq War under President George W. Bush. While I would not agree with the full scope of his advocacy for the legalization of drugs, I agree with his support for the legalization of pot, his long-held view that the drug war has always been a fiasco and that drug use should be treated as a medical issue, not a criminal one.

My views on the election are widely known. I support Clinton for president because she is well-qualified for the office and would be a competent, skilled president and commander in chief.

I do not support Trump, and believe he would be a disastrous president and commander in chief, and is probably headed to a landslide defeat in November. I will not discuss at length his recent “Second Amendment” comments except to say they have no business in American politics. It is not surprising they have attracted the close attention of the Secret Service, as they should have.

My point today is not about whether I — or you — support the candidacy of Johnson for president. I do not. Johnson and Weld are on the ballot of all 50 states, have strong track records as governors, have achieved measurable public support from voters and contribute substantive ideas to our political discourse every day — in an election year that will not otherwise go down in history for the quality of the content in our political debates.

When the nation turns its attention to the debates for president and vice president, Gary Johnson and Bill Weld have earned the right to be on the stage.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Chief Deputy Majority Whip Bill Alexander (D-Ark.). He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. Contact him at

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.



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