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Too Much Johnson

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Do you know any lefties who are so disgusted with $hillery that they say they will vote for Gary Johnson. If you do, they are probably kind of morons. In any case, make sure that you send them this profile of Johnson, who is a hard-right politician who just likes to smoke weed. His record as governor of New Mexico was absolutely horrible.

Former colleagues remember Johnson as an ideologue, sincerely committed to his project of dismantling government. “He made it very clear to me that by the time he graduated from third grade, he knew all there was to know about government,” said Raymond Sanchez, who was speaker of New Mexico’s House of Representatives for six years of Johnson’s tenure. “He tried to privatize everything he could think of — everything that was in reach.” By 2003, he had set the state record for vetoes, rejecting 739 bills passed by the Democratic legislature.

But he’s best remembered for the prisons. Johnson originally ran on a platform of privatizing every jail in the state — “that way,” he reasoned, “we’ll always have the latest and greatest and best.” His first budget proposal included $91 million for a new privately run state prison.

As Joseph T. Hallinan reports in his book on the US prison system, Going Up the River, Johnson accepted at least $9,000 in campaign donations from a prison company that ultimately won a state contract. By the time he left office, New Mexico led the country in for-profit prisons, housing 44 percent of its inmates in private facilities. Only Alaska, with 31 percent, came close.

Whenever problems surfaced in the for-profit prisons, Johnson turned extremely defensive. In 2000, after four inmates and a guard were killed in private facilities, Johnson vetoed an oversight bill and startled reporters by insisting that New Mexico had the best prisons in the nation. When a riot in a private prison prompted him to send 109 inmates elsewhere, he selected a supermax prison run by the same company in Virginia — despite previous reports of human-rights violations. To this day Johnson is remorseless, saying he “saved taxpayers a lot of money.”

Johnson’s preference for private prisons dovetailed with his tough-on-crime philosophy. As governor, he advocated a three-strikes sentencing policy and a law eliminating early parole. He also sought to limit appeals from death row and even said capital punishment should sometimes be used on minors. (He later changed his mind and said he wanted to eliminate the death penalty altogether; he still believed in “an eye for an eye” but thought that as a policy, it was too costly and unfair.)

Then there was Johnson’s antagonism toward labor, which dated back to his days as a small-business owner. In 1991, a jury penalized his construction company $600,000 for dismissing an employee who reported safety concerns to OSHA. Once in office, Johnson enacted spending cuts that caused the state to eliminate its toll-free hotline for reporting similar safety violations.

He rejected minimum-wage increases and backed “right-to-work” bills. And in 1999, when public employee unions’ right to collectively bargain was set to expire, Johnson vetoed a bill to extend it. Thanks to Johnson’s actions, AFSCME’s Carter Bundy told me, ten thousand government workers saw their wages frozen. “He was incredibly hostile to labor,” said Morty Simon, an attorney who represented labor groups in the ’90s. “We were just totally shut out of the Gary Johnson administration. No contact, no nothing.”

This is not someone anyone on the left should be voting for.

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