Meet Gary Johnson.
He may be the candidate most idealogically aligned with what a majority of voters, especially Kentuckians, say they want in a president.
He may be the only candidate with practical problem-solving experience as both a successful self-made businessman and as a successful legislator.
He also may be the precise example of the American ideal in which a good boy from a working class family can — if he works hard — grow up to become president of the United States.
The idealogy he espouses of freedom and liberty and justice, along with his all-American backstory, is so recognizable as a narrative as to seem like the first chapter of a super hero comic book.
Too bad most, especially Kentuckians, have never heard of him.
Gary Johnson was born in 1953 in Minot, N.D., to Earl, a public school teacher, and Lorraine, who worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He has a brother who is in medicine and a sister in education. He attended public schools, including the University of New Mexico where he earned a degree in political science.
He has enjoyed at least two nicknames in his adult life. One is “Big” as in “Big J Enterprises,” the name he gave to the business he started in 1976. The moniker may have started out based on his height and physical presence, but it would soon become a descriptor of the business itself.
He was running the mechanical contracting business alone when he received the contract to help with Intel’s expansion in Rio Rancho, N.M., which, according to published accounts, increased Big J’s revenue to a jaw-dropping $38 million.
Johnson did something that is telling of his character and his intuition as a problem-solver. Instead of reacting to the increased pressure of business success by shutting down all other aspects of life, Johnson signed up for a time management class offered by the local high school.
The class, apparently, was a good decision. When he sold the business, one of New Mexico’s largest construction firms, in 1999, it had more than 1,000 employees.
Johnson ran as a Republican in 1995 to become the 29th governor of New Mexico. His candidacy focused on anti-tax and anti-bureaucracy and what he called a “common sense business approach to the job.” His platform was based on tax cuts, job creation, law and order, and spending restraint.
He was not expected to win re-election four years later, challenged by a Hispanic Democrat in a traditionally Democratic state with a 40 percent Hispanic population. He won re-election by 10 percent of the vote.
His tenure as governor garnered him a nickname this time of “Governor Veto.” He still holds the record for the most vetos. According to the National Review, “During his tenure, he vetoed more bills than the other 49 governors combined — 750 in total, a third of which had been introduced by Republican legislators. Johnson also used his line-item-veto power thousands of times.”
It was rare for Johnson’s vetos to be over-ridden (one report claims it only happened twice) possibly, he has said, because his thumbs-down did not respect any party or personality but rather were based on his cost-benefit ratio from a proven businessman.
He left the governor’s office after the limit of two terms with a high approval rating and a $1 billion budget surplus.
One of the enduring images of his time as governor took place in 2000, when New Mexico was ravaged by the Cerro Grande fire.
Johnson’s office worked as a liaison between agencies and entities, operating as a command post to speed efficiency in fighting the fire. A Denver Post story later reported, “On a tour of Los Alamos last Wednesday, when he saw small flames spreading across a lawn, he had his driver stop his car. He jumped out and stomped on the flames, as did his wife and some of his staffers.”
Johnson married his wife, Dee Simms, in 1977. The couple had two children, a daughter, Seah, and a son, Erik. An activist in causes such as fighting breast cancer and anti-smoking, Johnson commended her as a powerful force in her position as First Lady. They divorced in 2005.
Mrs. Johnson’s death late the following year from heart failure shocked those who knew her, as she had appeared to be in perfect health. Johnson has called her death the lowest point of his life.