Johnson mingles in Concord

Last modified: 8/24/2011 12:00:00 AM
Gary Johnson vetoed hundreds of bills during his eight years as governor of New Mexico, so many that the local media dubbed him "Mr. Veto," but the piece of legislation that he remembers most involved not taxes or welfare but cats and dogs.

The bill, which was sponsored by Johnson's own Republican party, would have mandated pet store owners exercise the animals in their care for at least two hours a day, three days a week. The idea, Johnson said, was a good one, but he felt enacting a law would put the government somewhere it doesn't belong.

"If I would have signed that legislation, the next thing I would have had to have done would be to fund the dog-and-cat-exercise police," he said, evoking giggles from the roughly 70 Rotarians gathered at the Bektash Shrine Center on the Heights.

The story may have been funny, but it also conveyed the theme of his speech and his presidential campaign: Small government is better for the country, the economy and the average American. While the Rotarians ate soup and sipped coffee, Johnson described how he wants to replace the tax code with a 23 percent "fair tax," cut the federal budget - including military spending - by 43 percent, overhaul Medicaid by offering block grants to states and reduce crime by legalizing marijuana.

As president, Johnson said he'd submit a balanced budget in 2013 and veto any legislation that relied on borrowed money.

He'd apply the same tactic to bills heavily influenced by lobbyists.

"If it's lobbyist legislation, if it's legislation that doesn't treat all of us equally, which one of the candidates is more likely to veto that kind of stuff?" he said. "I'm making the claim that that's me. I'm the guy that's going to do that sort of stuff."

Johnson is about halfway through what his campaign is billing as a "marathon" nine-day visit to New Hampshire. He spent the weekend on the Seacoast and Monday in the North Country.

Yesterday, he spoke to the Rotary, dropped by Castro's Back Room in downtown Concord and visited with State House Speaker William O'Brien.

He finished the day in Loudon where he baleed hay at the Miles Smith Farm.

Dozens more events are scheduled before he leaves the state Sunday, including another trip to Concord for a forum at NHTI tomorrow night. Such long trips are necessary for Johnson, who has been barred from recent debates because of low poll numbers and who is competing against a broad field of candidates with more money and more name recognition.

At the rotary luncheon, Johnson explained that he's treating each campaign stop like a job interview, outlining his resume in business and politics.

"I've been an entrepreneur my entire life," he said. "Since I've been 17 years old, I've paid for everything in my life. When I was a junior in college, I started a one-man handyman business. That was in 1974. In 1994, we actually had 1,000 employees . . . the American dream come true."

The success of his business, he said, "was based on showing up on time and doing people what I told them I would do." In 1993, he ran for governor and won. Four years later, he was re-elected. New Mexico limits governors to two terms, and Johnson didn't seek elected office again until he started mulling a presidential campaign last year.

Although he believes in limited legislation, Johnson stressed that government has some responsibilities.

"There are bad actors out there," he said. "Government has a role. Protect us from individuals who would do us harm."

He described the 2001 bombing campaign in Afghanistan as "warranted," but he said other, more recent uses of military force were inappropriate.

"We were attacked, we attacked back," he said. Now "we're building roads, schools, bridges, highways and hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan and other countries in the world. . . . We're borrowing 43 cents of every dollar to do it, and worst of all, American men and servicewomen are losing their lives."

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