Gov. Gary Johnson encourages students to shape their own futures
Libertarian presidential candidate and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson advised students at Liberty University Convocation on Monday to leverage America’s free market system to pave their own destinies.
Johnson, one of three names on the ballot for president of the United States in all 50 states, stepped into public service after successfully building a business from the ground up.
President Jerry Falwell welcomed Johnson to Liberty for the first time, recognizing his supporters who were seated near the front and noting that Libertarian candidates tend to do well in Liberty’s own campus voting precinct. Johnson has his work cut out for him, though, with only about 6 percent of the electorate supporting him in the most recent national polls.
Josh Rutledge, vice president of Spiritual Programs, introduced Johnson, who was elected governor of New Mexico as a Republican, despite the state being 2-1 Democrat. Johnson went on to win a second term by a wide margin over a prominent Democrat opponent. During his tenure, Johnson worked with the democratic delegation and cut taxes 14 times, balanced the state budget, and left office with a $1 billion surplus.
As an entrepreneur, Johnson grew a one-man, door-to-door handyman business to become one of the largest construction companies in New Mexico, employing more than 1,000 people. In addition, Johnson is an avid outdoor enthusiast who participates in Iron Man races, has scaled the highest peak on every continent, and skis competitively. After Convocation, Johnson and Falwell skied down the slopes at the university’s year-round ski and snowboard facility, the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre.
Falwell said that Johnson enjoyed his visit to Liberty.
“Governor Johnson was elated, proclaiming that today was the most enjoyable day of his campaign to date," he said. "He thanked us repeatedly for the opportunity to ski Snowflex and was amazed by Liberty’s campus, saying he had no idea Liberty had become such a world-class university in every respect.”
Johnson began his Convocation message by encouraging the students to have integrity, which he said starts with honesty.
“Always tell the truth,” Johnson advised. “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything. We all make mistakes … but it is how you deal with mistakes that ultimately will determine success.”
Johnson told students to enterprise their passions and avoid debt at all costs.
“There will never be a bigger reward in your life than applying what you know to creating your job or creating jobs for others,” he said. “It is a huge reward.”
He said that his success as governor came because he applied “a common-sense business approach to state government” and because he refused to be bought. “I never received a penny from politics,” he said, noting that this freed him to focus on the issues that mattered.
Johnson discussed his “fiscally conservative and socially inclusive” platform, which includes a call for smaller government, cutting the national debt, a scaling back of military intervention, criminal justice reform, and reducing regulation on businesses.
He emphasized that good governance is “easy” if one is willing to focus on doing the right thing. The government, he said, can either “promote ideas that empower us or they can get in the way of empowering us.”
“There is a magic to free markets,” Johnson said. “A free market is the opposite of crony capitalism … where the government picks winners and losers.”
After his message, Johnson sat down with Liberty’s Senior Vice President for Spiritual Development David Nasser to answer questions that the Student Government Association compiled from the student body.
When asked if voting for a third party was throwing away one’s vote, Johnson retorted, “Throwing away your vote is voting for somebody that you don’t believe in. … You change things by voting for the person you believe in.”
Johnson pledged to address racial justice and to defend religious liberty, as long as that does not enable discrimination. He said he believes Americans will come together to solve the problems that divide them.
“I don’t think life in this country has ever been better,” he said. “We get along with one another better, we communicate with one another better, our kids are smarter than ever.”
During the Q & A, Johnson was asked a surprise question from undecided voter Ken Bone via a video message. Bone stole the spotlight as an undecided voter during the last presidential debate. Dressed in his trademark red sweater, Bone urged the students to get out and vote on Nov. 8.
“You are the future generation of leaders in America,” Bone said, adding that Liberty’s Convocation is “one of the greatest programs (in the country) to get you involved in the political process.”
Bone asked Johnson what the highlight of the debate was, to which Johnson replied that although he felt that very little time was given to discussing actual issues and policy, he appreciated when the candidates were asked to share something they admire about their opponent.
Freshman Austin Russell said that even though he does not agree with Johnson on many issues, he appreciates the fact that Liberty offered him a chance to speak to students.
“You can disagree with someone and still see them as a human being and show them respect,” he said. “It feels less one-sided and it forces students to think for themselves. Many millennials don’t care about politics, which is sad, so it is a cool opportunity that Liberty gives everyone a chance to speak.”
“You can really find your own views here,” added freshman Dustin Johnson. “The speakers test you to know and develop what you believe in.”
As an institution, Liberty does not endorse anyone for political office and invites all presidential candidates to speak in Convocation. The platform has become a popular stop for those seeking political office — among them, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence, and presidential candidates Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Bernie Sanders.