When Arnold Schwarzenegger became Governor of California in 2003, the first thing he should have done was get Gary Johnson on the phone. You see, Gary Johnson was elected Governor of New Mexico for two terms during the 1990s. Like California it was a Democrat-leaning, Western state with serious budget issues. Over the eight years of his remarkable tenure, Gary Johnson managed to tackle a lot of the same problems California faced in 2003 and still faces today.
As New Mexico’s Governor, Johnson presided over the longest period in New Mexico’s history without a tax increase. At the end of his tenure, the state had 1,000 fewer employees (with no firings) and a budget surplus. How would things look today if Governor Schwarzenegger had contacted Gary Johnson back in 2003 and said: “Okay. I want to duplicate the success you had in New Mexico. What do I need to do here in California?”
Johnson would have told him the secret to his success: that during his eight years as Governor in New Mexico, he vetoed 750 bills- that’s more than all the vetoes of the governors of all other 49 states over the same period combined! Seriously. Governors have to learn to say “No!” The people and politicians will always say, “Hey here’s a cool idea for a new program…” but every sane politician and person in a state with a budget crisis should say, “No!”
In addition, Gary Johnson was the first governor and highest ranking U.S. office-holder in history to argue for decriminalization of drugs and an end to the failed “War on Drugs,” a prescient, practical, and intelligent position, which if implemented in California, could have enormous benefits for the economy and the state’s budget. It also showed that he was independent- above politics, beyond partisanship, and interested only in what is practical and principled.
Johnson continues to sell Americans on his innovative brand of political problem solving with his new advocacy group: Our America Initiative. If California will demand this kind of leader with the principles, the toughness, and the wherewithal to say “No!” to runaway spending on endless projects, dreamt up by bureaucrats and corporate lobbyists, then there may be an end in sight to the fiscal nightmare in Sacramento.
It can be done. Gary Johnson proved it. There is hope for The Golden State.