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PLAYBOY INTERVIEW: GARY JOHNSON

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A Candid Conversation With New Mexico's Fearless Governor About His Crusade
To Legalize Drugs, His Killer Workout Regimen And The Upside Of Carrying A
Concealed Weapon

It is a raging-hot morning in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the dusty air
carries the smell of smoke. The eerie orange sky and the pungent odor are
reminders of the wildfire that is scorching tens of thousands of acres of
nearby forest. Governor Gary Johnson, who has declared a state of
emergency, hasn't had much sleep for weeks, and now the fire is burning
through the Santa Fe National Forest toward a watershed that provides
drinking water for the city of Las Vegas, New Mexico. Johnson plans a
helicopter flyover of the fire this afternoon.

Johnson is used to dealing with hot issues. In fact, he gained national
prominence as the country's highest ranking elected official to propose the
legalization of drugs.

A few months into his second term last summer, 47-year-old Johnson told his
state's GOP leadership that he was going public with his controversial
position. First he called the nation's war on drugs an unmitigated failure.
Next he announced that legalizing marijuana and heroin was the only sane
response to an out-of-control problem.

Predictably, Johnson brought on the wrath of critics in and out of his
party. His public safety secretary and three members of his anti-drug task
force resigned. One prominent law enforcement official said, "I consider it
a slap in the face." Johnson was called "an idiot," and yet another
official suggested that Johnson check into a mental hospital. Barry
McCaffrey, President Clinton's drug czar, dismissed Johnson as "Puff Daddy
Johnson" and said, "I'm embarrassed to have a public servant take this line
of argument." Johnson's own party considers him an embarrassment.

When the governor's constituents heard his stand on drugs, his approval
rating dropped 11 points. But the dip was temporary. It is now up again,
though much of the leap is attributed to Johnson's generally admired
performance during the New Mexico fires. And while his critics have been
vocal, he also has many supporters. Ethan Nadelmann, director of a New York
drug policy think tank funded by George Soros, believes Johnson is a hero
because he has basically said, "OK, I forgo any political future because I
believe in this issue." Letters to New Mexico's largest newspaper, the
Albuquerque Journal, ran four to one in support of Governor Johnson.

Johnson is hardly a traditional politician. He was born in Minot, North
Dakota, where his father was a public school teacher and his mother worked
for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The family moved to New Mexico when he
was a teenager, and after high school Johnson enrolled at the University of
New Mexico, where he majored in political science and met his future wife,
Dee (they now have two children). After graduating, Johnson worked as a
handyman before starting his own construction company, Big J Enterprises.
One project, the expansion of a huge Intel plant, put the company's
revenues at $38 million.

In 1994, Johnson entered politics, taking on the incumbent governor in the
traditionally Democratic state. He used half a million dollars of his own
money to win his first term in office. In 1998, he won his reelection bid
by an overwhelming margin. (Term limits in New Mexico prohibit him from
running for a third term, and he has said that he has no other political
aspirations.)

As governor, Johnson has worked to improve conditions in New Mexico,
particularly the state's battered education system and its economy (one of
the nation's worst). Critics of his performance point out that he has
vetoed more bills than any other governor of New Mexico--more than 500.
Among supporters, he gets high marks for improving the state's economy, its
health care and education systems, and for refusing to sign increases in
state taxes passed by the legislature.

During his college days, Johnson tried cocaine and smoked lots of pot, but
he has since given up drugs and alcohol. Now he doesn't even eat sugar. In
fact, he's up each morning by five to jog, ride his bike, swim or work out
at the gym. He has competed in three Ironman competitions--each involving a
2.4 mile swim, a 12-mile bike ride and a marathon run--finishing at or near
the top of his age group. He once ran 100 miles in 30 hours in the Colorado
Rockies and on two other occasions ran 25 miles in Army boots and military
fatigues, carrying a 35-pound backpack through the White Sands Missile
Range to commemorate the Bataan Death March of World War II.

As fires were still raging in New Mexico, PLAYBOY sent Contributing Editor
David Sheff to meet with Johnson. Here's Sheff's report:
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Distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in
receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.
---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake



Newshawk: MAP - Making A Difference With Your Help
Pubdate: Mon, 01 Jan 2001
Source: Playboy Magazine (US)
Copyright: 2000 Playboy Enterprises, Inc.
Contact: edit@playboy.com
Website: Playboy | Articles, Interviews & More Since 1953 | Playboy
Bookmark: Overload Warning (Johnson, Gary)
Note: MAP posted in 2 parts