ALBUQUERQUE — Is former New Mexico governor and Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson a fiscal conservative? Despite his having vetoed upwards of 700 bills – more than any governor in the nation at the time – a National Review columnist, James Spiller argued that Johnson is “not conservative and not even all that libertarian” based largely on Johnson’s fiscal record which he further labels “big-government.”
Rio Grande Foundation policy analyst Tristan Goodwin answers this question in his new policy brief, “How Fiscally Conservative? Gary Johnson’s Spending Record vs. his Republican Contemporaries.” Rather than using arbitrary data points to formulate his answer, Goodwin examines the spending records of Johnson’s Republican contemporaries, especially those “big names” or governors who ran for higher office.
Goodwin first acknowledges the reality that every governor, like every president, faces different pressures and realities from their legislatures. Johnson’s Legislature was dominated 60-40% by Democrats during his time in office.
As seen in the chart below, Johnson was not by himself the most frugal Republican of the era (Engler and future two-time presidential candidate Mike Huckabee were more restrained), but Johnson was far more conservative than future Republican President George W. Bush.
Ultimately, noted Goodwin, while hard-core Libertarians might rather see smaller numbers or even spending cuts next to their standard-bearer’s name, the much-larger group of disaffected, fiscally-conservative Republican voters searching for an alternative to Donald Trump can comfortably support Gary Johnson.