If you are a fiscal liberal and wish for more governmental intervention in your daily life, then GOP Presidential hopeful Johnson is not the candidate for you. If, however, you are like most Americans and are looking for a President who leans more socially liberal/fiscally conservative you may want to give Johnson a further look. Couple this view with an unabashed pro-Pagan, pro-human rights outlook and clear openness to alternative views on a whole host of issues and you may have as close to an ideal candidate for President as the Pagan community has yet seen.
Last night’s video conference between Gov. Johnson and Pagan and Hindu media was unusual and groundbreaking. Unlike most every other candidate for political office at any level, Johnson not only agreed to speak publicly with Pagans, he promoted the event openly on his official Google+ page. In talking with other Pagan media after the conference, many of us related personal experiences with politicians, even those sympathetic to us in private, who refuse to be seen speaking with us in public. They don’t want an association with ‘people like us’ to damage their credibility and truth to tell, they don’t care enough about our concerns to address them. This was not the case with Johnson. During the interview he showed no discomfort addressing issues specific to our community and never flinched from saying the word Pagan. An example of how supportive Gov. Johnson is to Pagan rights, and basic human rights, can be summed up in a message he had for Pagans and Wiccans serving in the US military,“It should be about equality, it’s not, and I appreciate their service even though you are not being treated equally.”
It could be easy to dismiss Johnson’s decision in speaking with Pagans while seeking election as the actions of an unknown candidate low in the polls, but that would miss the mark. Johnson is a successful two-term Governor of New Mexico and is the only GOP candidate who scores positive approval ratings in his home state. He is not a ‘nothing’ candidate, but a qualified candidate with executive level experience. What has hampered his candidacy is the mainstream medias’ inexplicable exclusion of Johnson from televised debates. They have set up criteria that bars Johnson’s inclusion in the debates, a candidate must reach 2% in their polls, but ensures he can never meet that bar by excluding him as an option in their polls. This sets up a scenario where Johnson is a longshot for the GOP nomination, unless people vote for him in the GOP primaries. So while we finally have a Presidential candidate who is willing to listen to Pagans and supports us on many issues important to our community, we may never have the opportunity to vote for him. What makes it even more bittersweet for some Pagans is that such an outspoken candidate for Pagan rights is running on the Republican ticket, not Democratic.
Click HERE to watch the video conference with Gov. Johnson courtesy of KeithBarrett.tv.
A full transcript is available at the Staff of Asclepius blog.
The hour and a half interview covered a wide range of questions about GLBT rights, Pagan military chaplains, raw milk, teaching yoga in schools, TSA and the Patriot Act, economic, and environmental concerns. Many of the questions were submitted by Pagan community leaders like Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary and by your average Pagan on the street. Below are just a few of the highlights from the hour and half Q&A with Gov. Johnson, but I strongly encourage everyone to view the entire interview.
Cara Schulz, PMC-MN: It is commonly thought in the Pagan community that Republican candidates are hostile to minority religions such as ours. What message would you like to get across to Pagan voters about how you would represent them if elected president?
Johnson: There should be a separation of church and state. I happen to think the world looks down on Republicans for their social conservative views which include religion in government.
David Salisbury, Capitol Witch: With so many candidates relying on financing from high powered corporations, what are your thoughts on campaign finance reform?
Johnson: I think the main ingredient needed in campaign finance reform is simply transparency, more than anything. Right now it’s not transparent. Coca-Cola can donate a million dollars to me via the Republican National Committee and it will not be reported as coming from Coca-Cola. […] Tongue in cheek, I like the idea of all candidates having to wear a jacket similar to NASCAR drivers with campaign contributions being reflected as patches on the jacket. The larger the patch, the bigger the contribution.
Jason Pitzl-Waters, The Wild Hunt: If you were to become the nominee of the Republican Party, how would you deal with the very, very conservative religious element within the grassroots of your own party?
Johnson: I did not get the social conservative e vote in New Mexico in the primary. I ended up getting the social conservative vote in the general election because then it seems they took on their second most important issue which was dollars and cents and I really think I excel in the area of dollars and cents. It just wasn’t an issue when I was Governor of New Mexico. It wasn’t an issue when I was filling my Cabinet, filling the heads of agencies, it was never an issue when I filled boards and commissions. It wasn’t an issue and I don’t expect it to be an issue as President of the United States.
[Follow up question by JPW on campaigning in more religiously conservative states] Johnson: I don’t expect to get the social conservative vote. When it comes to Republicans, the majority of Republicans in this country are not social conservatives. The overwhelming majority of Republican activists are social conservatives. I don’t get the social conservative vote in the primary, I’d like to think I’d get that vote in the general election, but I’m not trying to get it because my 10 other opponents [for the GOP nomination] are all in the social conservative category.
Ramesh Rao, Ph.D., Professor at Longwood University and Executive Council Member of the American Hindu Foundation: My question is about the predatory proselytizing in India. During the administration of President Bush the amount of money being pumped into India jumped from about $100 million per year to $400 million per year and most of it going towards converting Hindus. […] I was wondering if you had an concerns over this aggressive proselytization and what it is doing to the relationship the Unites States has with democratic countries like India?
Johnson: I find it very troubling that the United States government would engage in this and given the time when 43 cents out of every dollar spent is borrowed that seems like money that should not be spent at all. Outside of the money spent doing that, this is not something the United States government should be engaged in.
Star Foster, Managing Editor of the Pagan Portal at Patheos.com: Right now there is a huge protest called Occupy Wall Street and a lot of people are very angry with the idea that corporations have too much influence in our government. What would you say to the people who are on Wall Street and similar demonstrations across the United States.
Johnson: I share in their outrage and the outrage is that we don’t have a system that has a level playing field. The government picks winners and losers and in the case of Wall Street, what absolutely outrages me is that these people who made such incredibly bad decisions […] should have been rewarded with failure. Meaning they should have lost all of their money. But they didn’t lose all of their money, did they? We bailed them out to the tune of a trillion bucks.
David Salisbury: Would you support the creation of a US Military Chaplain?
Johnson: I’m really in tune with the military and the fact that it’s become a Christian military and for all of those non-Christians in the military it’s much like gays in the military. Gays in the military should be able to express thier sexuality and not be discriminated against. I long supported repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, that’s long overdue. In that same context so religion within the military. I’m going to be in the camp that says why are there any chaplains in the military, and if there are chaplains in the military why are there not [Pagan Chaplains] in the military?
Crystal Blanton, PNC- Bay Area: California categories five faiths as being recognized for certain needs, what are your thoughts on all faiths having access to religious services in the prison system?
Johnson: Thinking back to my experience as Governor, I would have never said no to a faith ministry or denied them access to a prison. I would have never said that. […] In that context [as President] I would be able to control that environment and I would absolutely be open to seeing that all faiths be represented.
Devin Hunter, Modern Witch Podcast: Could you talk a little bit more about your idea for immigration and making it an easier process?
Johnson: It starts with not building a fence. That would be a terrific waste of resource and time. Not putting boots on the ground, but addressing the problems with immigration which in my opinion get solved by the government making it as a easy as possible to allow someone who wants to come into this country and work, to get a work Visa. […] This is a complex issue. Out of the millions who are here illegally they aren’t here to break the law, it’s just the circumstances that presented themselves decades ago. So set up a grace period where the 11 million illegal immigrants can become documented.
Governor Johnson was straightforward in answering questions and his humor often showed through. If he didn’t know or hadn’t considered an issue before he simply said he didn’t know. There was no dancing around questions or phrasing them in the vague double-speak politicians are known for. He spent as much time with us as we wished and showed us the same respect and attention he would have given any mainstream media pool. At one point he thanked us for the education our questions provided him and said that he was becoming a better, more knowledgeable, and well-rounded person as a result of running for President. A charming smile broke through his somewhat tired look (we found out he had climbed a mountain before speaking with us, no shit, a mountain) as he spoke about how much he enjoyed speaking with us and others he has met along the campaign trail. Those traits of honesty, straight forward answers, his commitment to equity, and his openness to engage with minority religions such as Paganism and Hinduism have sealed the deal for me. I’ll be registering Republican in Minnesota so I can vote for him in the primary. I hope I have the opportunity to vote for him in the general election. I know I’m not the only Pagan media person who came away from the video conference with that decision made.
To interject something selfish into this editorial, I am especially proud of our Pagan media. It was a milestone in the maturing of our community that shouldn’t be overlooked. G+ Hangouts, the new social media platform the Johnson campaign is using to converse with voters, isn’t perfect. There are audio problems in the beginning and the video isn’t always 100% clear of pixelation. Yet the interview itself was professional and the questions were intelligent and relevant to our community. With this to point to as an example, perhaps Pagan media will be gain greater access to political leaders and candidates which may cause our elected leaders to pay attention to issues we care about.
Editor’s note: Media representatives were Cara Schulz, PNC Minnesota – Crystal Blanton, PNC Bay Area – David Salisbury Capitol Witch and Human Rights Campaign, Devin Hunter, Modern Witch Podcast – Jason Pitzl-Waters, The Wild Hunt – Ramesh Rao, Professor at Longwood University and Executive Council Member of the American Hindu Foundation – and Star Foster, Managing Editor of the Pagan Portal at Patheos.com.
The Hill picks up the story: GOP hopeful courts Pagans