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Libertarian Convention Presidential debate recap

May 5, 2012. Las Vegas. The Libertarian Party faithful have been gathering in Las Vegas the past few days holding the party’s national nominating convention. Last night, the final two Presidential candidates in the race debated for the last time. Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson faced off with Libertarian commentator and long-time party leader R. Lee Wrights. A great deal was riding on tonight’s debate. Tomorrow, Libertarian Party delegates will vote to nominate one of them for President.

The candidates stood side by side behind two podiums draped with the gold and blue banners of the Libertarian Party at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas. The two men were professional and cordial to one another, even while taking the occasional political jab. While R. Lee Wrights was animated and colorful throughout with his southern drawl and mannerisms, the reserved westerner Gary Johnson switched off between subdued scholarly lecturing and the electrifying energy of a fired-up candidate. For those viewers who watched the debate live on C-SPAN, they enjoyed a lively, fun and extremely educational debate.

The issues

Both men agreed on cutting both taxes and spending. In fact, both candidates agreed on abolishing the Internal Revenue Service and income taxes all together. When former Governor Johnson said he supported the ‘fair tax’, Wrights replied, “There’s no such thing as a fair tax.” That personality contrast summed up much of the debate. While R. Lee Wrights repeatedly offered common sense, easily understood approaches and solutions, Johnson countered with legislative experience, statistics and his own days as Governor.

Whether it was helmet laws or income tax, both candidates unapologetically stood up for the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For both men, as well as the audience, protecting states rights and the 10th Amendment from the federal government are one of their collective top priorities.

Johnson became most animated when the topic came around to the power of the President to veto legislation. The former Governor pointed to his 8 years in office saying, “I vetoed 750 bills as Governor of New Mexico. That was more than all the other Governors combined.” He went onto explain, “That didn’t happen in a vacuum.”

Johnson was reassuring the crowd, and the party delegates present, that he had the strength and courage to stand his ground. The former Governor went on to tell a story about a couple of Bills that were approved unanimously. He vetoed them however and managed to hold off a veto override because he’d won enough legislators over to his side by simply explaining why the Bill was bad for the people.

When it came to the subject of global warming, both candidates spoke briefly. Wrights once again used his southern charm, humoring the audience saying, “If you let the government get involved with global warming, the temperature’s going to go up ten degrees.” Speaking seriously to the subject, R. Lee Wrights then made a comment that resonated with many, “First of all, they’ve got to get the science straight so we know what’s going on.” Libertarians throughout the crowd were unanimously skeptical of any statistics or studies carried out by Republican or Democratic aligned think tanks.

When it was Johnson’s turn to comment on the subject of global warming, he took a practical approach. But not before he reassured the audience that he was opposed to ‘cap and trade’. “Let’s assume it’s real. Let’s assume it’s man-made,” the former Governor explained, “What are we going to do to fix it?” He went on, feeding off the obviously agreeing convention audience, “Let the free market operate. Today, energy production is much cleaner than it was fifty years ago.” Mirroring Wrights’ comment, Johnson finished, “If government gets involved, we’re going to be spending trillions of dollars and have no effect.”

Leaving the party?

With Governor Gary Johnson being a very recent convert to the Libertarian Party, having dropped out of the Republican Presidential race at the beginning of the year, one question was aimed at his intentions. Asking what the candidates’ plans were if they were not elected President, and would they remain in the Libertarian Party, Johnson put all questions to rest. “Regardless of what happens, I will stay a Libertarian for the rest of my life,” Johnson told the convention, “I’ve been a libertarian my entire life.”

Being a long-time Libertarian Party member, activist and leader, R. Lee Wrights appeared not sure how to approach the question, which seemingly had nothing to do with his unquestionable party loyalty. Matching his opponent’s confidence and dedication, Wrights first reiterated Johnson’s previous comment saying, “Here, the Governor and I have something in common. I want the job too.” Emitting a goose-bump inspiring pride, the long-time Libertarian finished, “I’ve never been anything else. I don’t know how to do anything else. I’m in the Libertarian Party to stay.”

Ron Paul

One of the final topics of the debate centered on Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul (R-TX). The Texas Congressman is a staunch defender of the US Constitution and Americans’ civil liberties. He even ran for President on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1988. Dr. Paul is widely considered a good friend of the Libertarian Party, and from all accounts, the feeling is mutual.

The question for the Libertarian candidates was one that many party members are asking – how would you appeal to Ron Paul and his supporters?

R. Lee Wrights answered first saying, “I would do that and already have on the campaign trail.” The candidate then went on to tell a humorous story about stumbling onto a meet-up of Ron Paul campaign volunteers while campaigning in California, a large meet-up. Wrights insisted he told the young workers the same thing he would tell Dr. Paul, “If Ron Paul doesn’t make it, you have some place to go. You have people here who agree with you…You have a home with us, all you Ron Paul people out there. This is your home.”

Gary Johnson also extended a warm, gracious and sincere appeal to Congressman Paul’s large and proven army of volunteers. “Dr. Paul asked for my endorsement in 2008. I readily gave it,” Johnson told the convention, “At the heart of Dr. Paul’s support are people with hearts and minds…As much as I would love to see Ron Paul win the Republican nomination, I don’t think it’s going to happen…Come out of the closet. Joins us.”

Closing remarks

With the same unique qualities each man portrayed throughout the night, their closing remarks continued the trend. While former Governor Johnson reminded delegates of his proven track record and experience as a successful Governor that never raised taxes even once in 8 years, the Libertarian die-hard Wrights demonstrated his selfless sincerity to not just the campaign, but to everyone in the room and the causes that brought them all there this week.

Gary Johnson impressed the convention when he reminded them of his history on defending civil liberties – the core belief of the Libertarian Party. “The ACLU issued a report card on Presidential candidates,” Johnson told the crowd. The report card graded each candidate’s positions and histories with regard to civil rights and civil liberties. According to the candidate, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum each received grades of zero. Rep. Ron Paul, Johnson told the audience, was near the top of the list. But it was Johnson that received the highest grade as the greatest defender of civil liberties.

R. Lee Wrights once again answered the statistics, government experience and big-name notoriety by speaking from his heart with his down-home wisdom directly to Libertarians everywhere. The candidate’s final words showed not just his southern hospitality, but his class and grace after a hard-fought but friendly nation-wide campaign.

In just three sentences, Wrights managed not to promote himself or his campaign during this all-important moment in his fight for Presidential nomination. Instead, the candidate did the unthinkable for a professional politician, but something that assumedly just came natural to the man. R. Lee Wrights paid homage to his opponent. He promoted Libertarian Party candidates across the country. And he took the crowd into consideration.

“I hope you’ve enjoyed yourselves tonight,” Wrights began by thanking the delegates and the rest of the convention crowd. He then turned his attention to his opponent, former Governor Johnson. “I believe both of us, either one of us, would do a good job,” he reassured the convention. Then, after explaining how his first mission after the campaign is to sleep for two weeks, R. Lee Wrights spoke to the party faithful everywhere.

“We’re going to use our video capabilities to produce videos, tools for Libertarian Party candidates,” he explained. He also rattled off a couple other items and programs he’s working on, not to help himself and his campaign, but to help the rest of the Libertarian candidates in local and state-wide races across the country. As Wrights put it earlier, he just doesn’t know how to do anything else.

Finally, Wrights paid tribute to the man standing next to him. As he reminded everyone, the two did not fight it out in a bloody campaign. They agree on most issues and they have, and will continue to support each other. “I have never been so honored in my life, than standing up here beside Governor Johnson,” Wrights finished. And little did he realize, but after such a passionate, honest and empowering debate, he was speaking for the rest of the party faithful and the way they felt at that moment about both men. They did the Libertarian Party proud on national TV last night. And as Mr. Wrights summed it up earlier, both men would do a good job representing the Libertarian Party.

For those reading the early edition of this column, the Libertarian Party Presidential debate will be rebroadcast on C-SPAN later this morning, May 5, at 10:00am EST.

For more information regarding the candidates and the Libertarian Party Presidential primary, read the following articles:

The Scenario that puts Gary Johnson in the White House

Johnson Rocks GOP with switch to Libertarian Party

Libertarian Wrights uses Freedom as Common Ground

Libertarian Candidate drops Presidential bid to run for Congress

New Poll shows Libertarian Johnson at 7 Percent

Interview with Libertarian Candidate Gary Johnson

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