Johnson earned a B.S. in political science from the University of New Mexico, then founded his own mechanical contracting company, Big J Enterprises. Johnson would go on to manage the company for 18 years before successfully running for governor in 1994, which required him to place the company into a blind trust and reduce his management role. (In 1999, following a scandal involving Big J's role as a subcontractor in a $3.3 million state facility, Johnson sold the company for an undisclosed eight-figure sum.)
Governorship of New Mexico:
Over the protestations of New Mexico Republican Party leaders, Johnson successfully ran for governor as a political outsider and immediately established his credentials as a strong fiscal conservative. Confronting the state's majority Democratic legislature more directly than any governor before or since, Johnson vetoed 48% of the bills that were sent to his desk - 200 pieces of legislation vetoed, more than all other governors combined. He successfully ran for reelection in 1998 based on a promise to enact the nation's largest private school voucher program, a promise he was unable to fulfill.
Ron Paul Movement and Republican Presidential Candidacy:
Johnson made headlines in 1999 when he criticized the unsuccessful War on Drugs and advocated marijuana legalization, putting him further at odds with his party's socially conservative leadership but earning him the respect of the national libertarian movement, which began to see him as a leader. After he was term-limited out in 2003, Johnson became a more visible drug policy reform advocate; he endorsed Ron Paul for his party's presidential nomination in 2008, and rumors soon gathered around a Johnson presidential bid. He later announced his candidacy as a Republican presidential contender, and participated in early debates.
Libertarian Party Presidential Nomination:
Johnson was never able to gather much support as a Republican presidential candidate, as his views on drug policy and church-state issues alienated the Religious Right. In December 2011, he officially dropped out of the Republican primaries, endorsing Ron Paul, and announced plans to seek the Libertarian presidential nomination instead. Johnson became the Libertarian Party's official nominee on May 5, 2012, becoming the second consecutive nominee to have previously served as a socially conservative Republican elected official.
Views on Drug Policy Reform and Marijuana Legalization:
Johnson has won accolades from civil libertarians for his view that marijuana should be legal. "It's time to legalize marijuana," he said at a February 2011 CPAC speech: "control it, regulate it, and tax it." Johnson's views on the issue are strong and unambiguous, and his willingness to endorse this controversial position as an incumbent governor is significant, but it is not entirely clear how he would put his position into effect as president, other than perhaps by issuing an executive order describing marijuana enforcement as the lowest federal law enforcement priority.
Views on Abortion:
Johnson has a nuanced and confusing position on abortion. On the one hand, he believes that Roe v. Wade (1973) "expanded the reach of the Federal government" and vows to overturn the decision by appointing judges "who will interpret the Constitution according to its original meaning." On the other, he has argued that a woman has a right to have an abortion "until the viability of the fetus," which is the position that Roe v. Wade takes. What this suggests is that Johnson is casually pro-choice but opposes pro-choice federal policies, and should be regarded as an anti-abortion candidate for policy analysis purposes.
Views on Lesbian and Gay Rights:
Based on Johnson's views of Roe v. Wade, he would also appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 case that put an end to state-level sodomy laws. Both cases were decided on the basis of federal privacy protections, which Johnson has described as being inconsistent with the original meaning of the Constitution. Johnson personally supports civil unions and the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," but opposes same-sex marriage and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
Similarity to Ron Paul:
Gary Johnson can be accurately described as a paleoconservative and a follower of the state's rights movement. His policy platform is mostly indistinguishable from that of Ron Paul, and presents some of the same problems (including opposition to a constitutional right to privacy), but is superior to Paul's platform in two significant ways: Johnson believes in separation of church and state (where Ron Paul advocates a moderate form of Dominionism), and he advocates a centrist approach to immigration reform (where Ron Paul gravitates more towards nativism).