I don’t think friends and relatives who say they’ll vote for Gary Johnson are deluded; I think they know precisely whom they’re voting for. As governor of New Mexico, Johnson showed a “relentless drive to privatize or eliminate functions of state government.”
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.)
In other words, he’s a Republican, insofar as the libertarian and Republican positions are interchangeable these days: note how Sam Brownback has turned Kansas into an abattoir for ideas about government’s commitment to citizens. And while Hillary Clinton wasn’t shy about accepting dough from private prison lobbyists, at least she’s renounced the practice. I’m sorry about William Weld’s association with Johnson. Once one of the last of the moderate Rockefeller Republicans (he quit Ed Meese’s Justice Department in protest over the Wedtech scandal, he’s tied himself to libertarianism because his former party has no use for men of his kind.