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Libertarian Hopeful Jo Jorgensen Hopes To Boost Party With Presidential Run

Libertarian presidential candidate Jo Jorgensen
Photo provided by presidential campaign of Jo Jorgensen
Libertarian presidential candidate Jo Jorgensen

Democrats have been working to win over disaffected Republicans ahead of Tuesday’s presidential election, but they’re not the only party looking to improve on 2016’s performance, when Gary Johnson got more than 3 percent of the popular vote. Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen, on the ballot in all 50 states, says she’s the right option for voters who are upset about the state of politics in Washington. Jorgensen says a vote for her is a vote against the deficit, international wars, and unequal criminal justice policies. Jorgensen was the party’s vice presidential nominee in 1996, and has also run for Congress in South Carolina. 

I have a lot of questions for you, so let's try to hit them all. First of all, what qualifies you to be president? Why are you in this race?

Well, the short answer is, I've never raised a tax. I've never not balanced a budget. I've never sent troops into endless, needless wars. And I've never taken away other people's decision making power or spent money for them. And that's what I think we need in Washington, is somebody who doesn't make decisions for everyone. On the other side, I can say, I'm a small business person. I know what it's like to live in this country, under our laws, which people running for president don't understand. And so I have an empathy for people that the other people don't have.

You were not in the debates, of course, between Trump and Biden, what's a top priority of yours that you think has not gotten enough oxygen in this race?

You mean, my top issue, that hasn't?


Well, overall, it's the idea that, as I mentioned, that they do want to make our decisions and spend our money. So I think the best way to explain is through education. Right now, in our current system, if you want to send your kids, let's say to a school of prayer and your neighbor doesn't, you got to battle it out. You each have to pick your own candidate, put out yard signs, donate money, get all your friends to vote. And then on Election Day, one of you is going to win and one of you is going to lose, and there's going to be winner take all. And I think that's why our country is so divided. Under Libertarian leadership, we each get to make our own decisions. So we will get to keep our resources and then choose our own path. So I could choose a school of prayer, my neighbor could choose a different school, instead of the one size fits all we get now from Washington in just about everything, including health care, retirement, even whether or not to wear a mask.

I'm gonna get back to COVID in a second. But your last answer inspires me to ask: Do you have a position on rank choice voting?

Oh, absolutely. I would love to see it everywhere. This election, as far as I know, Maine is going to be the only one, and the first time that it's been used on the presidential ballot.


I can't, I can't wait to see the results. But especially in this race, it's so important because nobody's voting for who they want. Everybody's voting against what they don't want. I don't hear anybody excited about Joe Biden. And I don't hear too many people excited about Trump, a lot of them are saying, "Yeah, you're right, he did make the deficit, even bigger than Obama. You know, that's not why we put him in there in office."

Let's dig into that a little bit. Maybe it's true that, you know, the candidates were not everyone's first choice, but they must have been enough people's first choice to win the nomination for their parties. And don't they, don't they deserve some credit for that?

Well, I mean, I guess they deserve credit for winning. However, they don't deserve credit for being the people that voters want. I hear so many people say that three- "Over 300 million people, this is all we got? This is best, both sides can muster up?" So I'm not seeing a lot of enthusiasm.

If that's the case, why don't third parties do better in the general election?

Well, for one reason, as you just said, they didn't allow me in the debate. And everybody listens to, "Oh well, the Presidential Commission didn't allow her in the debate." As though that's some kind of, you know, unbiased government agency, or government commission. But no, it's actually a private enterprise. That's the Republicans and Democrats only, it's owned by the both of them. So basically, it's, you know, a private boys club, and they're not going to let anyone else in. So- And if I can't get my voice heard out there, then people don't get the message. Because so many times people tell me, "Wow, like, where have you been all my life? This is exactly what I was looking for."

Okay, let's get back to Coronavirus for a second. What is the Libertarian approach to controlling the spread of COVID-19?

Well, you asked that in a slightly different way than it's usually asked. And I'm not sure it's up to the government per se, to stop the spread. I think it's up to us and our healthcare individuals, our health care providers, because I would suggest that the medical community, the doctors and researchers and even the drug manufacturers, they know a lot more about disease than our people in Washington. In fact, if you recall at the beginning of the year, Trump was standing on stage with Dr. Fauci saying, "If you don't have symptoms, you don't need to get tested." Well, at the time, prevailing wisdom in the medical community was that over half the people with the disease had no symptoms, so that's when you do need to get tested. So why are we listening to the President of the United States and not our health care providers?

Okay, so what would you do? Let's say you were taking office in January, cases are on the increase right now. And, you know, most states are seeing case numbers they haven't seen since, you know, the, the spring when things were really out of control. What would you do day one?

Well, first, can I mention one thing that Trump did wrong, that I would have done-? And notice, I'm, I'm not a Trump basher. I'm not going out calling them names. And I'm just pointing out the facts of what, you know, what's been done, right, what's been done wrong. And the biggest mistake he made was that he didn't get rid of the FDA obstacles that would have allowed us to get tested. If you look, South Korea had their first case diagnosed within about a day of our first case, and they quickly jumped ahead in testing. And they were able to contain the spread. And they did so without any lockdowns. Meanwhile, we've got cases skyrocketing. We've got Bill Gates head an initiative out there, in which they were testing cases, they tested something like 20,000 cases in 10 weeks, the FDA shut them down from further testing, and here we are. So if we had gotten tested in the beginning, we would have known who needed to stay home and who could have gone out and continued to work, so that we wouldn't have to shut down the entire economy. And now that the entire economy is shut down, I would say first of all, we need to open it back up. And as President, I would use the 14th amendment to go up to the states and the governors to say, "Hey, without due process, you can't hold people, you know, under house arrest without any kind of trial. People are allowed to go to work in this country, and you can't stop them from it." So if we can get the country back to working- And by the way, with testing, so that those who are sick, can stay home for a couple of weeks, we'll be in much better shape, because there's still not widespread testing.


Ian, let me let me add. In the beginning, there were literally dozens of testing kits out there that could have been used. And yet, thanks to the FDA and the CDC, only two of them were accessible to us in the beginning.

Now, isn't there a middle ground here with mandating mask wearing? Where you can open some businesses back up, you can control the size of crowds and gatherings, let the economy go on. But say, "Hey, everybody wear a mask, that has been shown to control the spread." That's something small that we can do. Why don't you support that?

Well, I would suggest a middle ground of- Yes, allowing people to decide. So if, if you want to choose a mask, then you can go shop at Walmart or one of the many other stores who have followed suit, who require a mask regardless of the laws. And then if you don't want to, you should be allowed to go to those stores. And let me mention- That gets right back to when I said that, you know, we all have to vote and we all end up under a one size fits all system. This is a perfect example. And I would suggest that the flu, from the statistics, is deadlier than the coronavirus. And yet we're not shutting down the economy. And we're not all wearing masks to prevent 20 year olds from getting the flu.

No. But with the flu, there's a vaccine, you can get it if you want to. And then you know you don't have to risk the possibility of fatal double pneumonia from going to the grocery store.

Well, first of all, the flu does- The flu vaccine doesn't always work. And sometimes there are risks. But when you said going to the store and risking get getting double pneumonia- Again, if you choose to go to a store that requires masks, then you can go to those stores. Or you can have people bring your groceries to you. So there are other options other than shutting down the entire economy.

I want to get to some other topics with you. But one more thing on this, um, doesn't the experience we've had with Coronavirus over the past eight months or so, doesn't it show that we really can't trust the average American person to do the right thing? I mean, I know you're saying you know let people decide and they can decide what's right for them. But in this particular case, we know that if you have 100 people and, you know, 95 of them are doing the right thing the other five could still spread it exponentially.

Well but if 95 are doing the right thing, and they continue to only go to stores where they wear masks, then there shouldn't be a problem. But no, they had a poll when we were starting to open back up, after the first time. And this would have been around... Oh, maybe late April, beginning of May. And they asked people, "Are we opening up too early?" And something like 70% said yes. And notice, there is no law saying that Walmart has to have masks. And there's this underlying hidden myth, this assumption, that if government doesn't do it, if they don't require it, that it's not going to get done. And we can see with Walmart that it did get done, that Walmart saying, "We don't care what the laws are, you have to wear a mask to go on our store." And shoppers are saying, "Okay," and many shoppers are saying, "Great, that's where I want to go shopping." And I mean, all you have to do is look at these- Some of these places where people who are wearing masks, start literally assaulting people who aren't. And what I would suggest is instead of having a one size fits all, where we have brawls breakout, how about allowing some stores to not require you to wear masks? And then the people who don't want to wear masks can go to those stores. And we don't have to have these fistfights breaking out?

Well, that would raise a lot of questions about whether the employees are being subjected to risk, you know, unfairly. But I want- let's, let's, let's move on.

And that's up to the employee, whether they want to quit their job and go somewhere else or stay around?

That's a tough one. Um, do you wear a mask?

When I'm required.

Okay. Uh, let's talk about health care, you don't support the idea of single payer or "Medicare for All". As we speak, the Supreme Court may make a key ruling on the ACA with the potential that a lot of people would be left without health care afterwards. What would you like to see America's Health Care system look like?

Yeah, with the single payer- I'd like to point out, and this is what really upsets me, is when- If people, especially on the left, say, "Yes, we need Medicare for All." Well, basically, what they're saying is, "We need VA hospital for all." And the VA hospital system is a top down monopoly that doesn't work for anyone. And I don't understand why people on the left who are so against corporate monopolies all of a sudden say, "Sure, let's have a federally run monopoly." And I would suggest that, first of all, it's harder to compete against a federal monopoly, because usually they make it illegal to, such as with the post office. But secondly, this is a life or death situation. So why, why, why do we want a one size fits all monopoly instead of giving us other choices? And by the way, you know, we just forget the dismal failure of Obamacare, to see that the system we have doesn't work. And last, let me point out, and I will get to what I would do instead... I'd like to point out that what the politicians are saying is "See, the free market didn't work. So we have to go to single payer." But we haven't had a free market system in close to 100 years. In fact, the reason we've got employer based health care is because of another government ruling back in the 1940s during World War Two. So no, replacing in our current big government failure with an even bigger government failure isn't the option. So I would have something similar to what the state of Indiana has for its employees, in which people who needed health care, I would actually put dollars in their pockets, give them real insurance, and then let them get the ball rolling on getting this process down and getting the competition going. Because if we look where there is competition, for instance, in LASIK eye surgery, we see the prices in a period ending eight, seven or eight years ago, we see that prices over a 20 year period dropped by 70%. While during that same time, general medical expenses went up 125%. So we need to get some competition in there. So that we have people working for us trying to outdo each other. Yeah, to get our business.

Without a mandate and without a government option, wouldn't many people just not have health care anymore? And is that okay, under your plan? I mean, if, you know, just a certain percentage of Americans don't have health insurance can't go to the doctor. They wind up with a very expensive emergency room bill. Is that acceptable?

Well, no. I mean, we've got Medicaid right now. So what I would do is. I would switch Medicaid to something that was more competitive, so that we can get the ball rolling for everyone because, you know, right now, because of government interference in the healthcare field, prices have gone up. And all you have to do is look at a chart of when government gets involved in health care, prices go up. When people have, when people start paying less of it out of their own pocket, prices go up. And that's why LASIK surgery costs remained relatively low, because people were spending their own money. So they were careful, you know, you never spend other people's money as well as you spend your own. And one other quick thing, you know, part of the reason that we have such great smartphones and computers and so forth is because Bill Gates and Steve Jobs hated each other. And they both competed really hard to outdo the other guy, to give us the lowest price, the best quality, so that we'd buy from them. So wouldn't it be great if we had that kind of competition in the healthcare field, the same kind of competition that was in LASIK surgery?

My time with you are short. So let's treat these next couple of questions as a lightning round. And I'll try to get you in as many as I can.

And by the way, if you have the time, I can stay a little over since I'm giving you my college, college lecture, long answers.

Okay. Well, I appreciate that. Would you continue the Trump tax cuts?


Okay, that was much faster.

I can do it if I need to.

Well, take a little bit longer and tell me why.

Well, because you, and your neighbors, and your family, you can spend your money better than any politician, bureaucrat, or special interest in Washington can. Because if you leave money in the hands of people and businesses, twice as many jobs are created as if that same amount of money goes to the government.

Okay, I want to ask you about energy policy, you favor increasing nuclear energy as a way of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. Is that fighting the last war, though? Why do you, why do you support expanding nuclear energy at this point?

Well, actually- If it's worded that way on my websites, and I need to fix it. Because no, what I want to do is create a level playing field, I want the market to decide. The government has absolutely no role going in there and deciding for everybody what kind of energy they should have. Right now we've got about $15 billion going towards the fossil fuel industry, and that needs to end. If we stopped subsidizing fossil fuels, I think that nuclear energy will come out ahead. But who knows? Maybe wind or solar would. The thing is, is we got to stop giving money to the special interests, we've got to stop giving money to the people who are giving campaign contributions to Congress.

I want to move on now to criminal justice and the issue of drugs. How do you differ from the Democrats on the issue of criminal justice reform? And what would you like to see in terms of sentencing, parole... In New York State, where you'll be on the ballot, there's been a lot of debate about a change to bail reform this year. What would you like to see?

Well, the biggest thing I want to see is an end to the racist and destructive war on drugs. And the questions I have been asking voters when I go around the country is, "When's the last time you heard of a liquor store owner, trying to push gin on high school students? You know, going up and down the halls of a high school? Or when's the last time you heard of a vodka addict breaking into houses to support his vodka habit? And when's the last time you heard of two liquor store owners having a shootout over the best corner?" These are all probation problems, they are not drug problems. And just like we had problems with Al Capone in the 1920s, and innocent people being shot, we've got those same problems happening today in Chicago, only this time over drugs. So we need to end that.

Should all drugs be legal?

If you want to get rid of almost all the crime in them, yes. I think that and again, some people say "Oh, but I've never used illegal drugs, and I don't use them. It doesn't affect me-" But it does affect you. Again, we've got violent gangs out there that police themselves often to violence, because they're getting money through the drugs, you know, that's how they're being supported. We've got our kids going to school in which there's a profit motive for people to push drugs on them, and our streets are less safe. So you know, again, when's the last time you heard of somebody making bathtub gin in the store next, in the- You know, house next to you? We got to get the criminal element out of that. And it would be much safer to have those drugs come from let's say, Seagram’s 7 or Philip Morris, than it would your next door neighbor or the gangs.

Okay, let's talk about guns now. You know, the Supreme Court has affirmed a right to carry a handgun and you know, any type of regulation on limitations to what types of guns can be bought is always met swiftly with a lot of resistance. So should there be any limitations on what kinds of guns people are able to purchase?

Well, I guess my short answer is I guess it depends on how dangerous of a neighborhood you live in. But, I mean, no, I would get rid of all the gun regulations we've had in the last 100 years, we do have the right to self-defense. And I think that these red flag laws that have been, being talked about are an egregious loss of our constitutional rights, that we lose our constitutional rights without even a fair trial.

How do you deal with the problem of mass shootings?

Well, most of these mad folks- Okay, first of all, step back. Most of these mass shootings take place in gun-free zones, in schools where teachers aren't allowed to have guns, in other places- Now, if you look at, there was recently a Church shooting in Texas. I can't remember if town- Round Rock or whatever- It was smaller town. But there were people in there who had guns, and a madman- I mean, you know, you, you can't stop everything, just you can't stop. Every person. People do have mental illnesses. However, he stood up, started shooting people in the church, and the security guard had a gun and shot him dead. And only two people died instead of the 30, 40, 50 that you usually see when people aren't allowed to carry guns. So the best way to stop the bad guy with a gun, that's a good guy with a gun.

Okay, let's end on a couple of political questions. I put this question to Green Party candidate, Howie Hawkins here on WAMC, as well. So I'll ask you, does your presence in the race make it more or less likely that Donald Trump will be re-elected? And second part of that question, how important is it to you to see Trump defeated?

I'm not- Like I said, I'm not a big anti-Trumper or I don't say 'orange man bad'. I think he started- Yes- I think he started with the tax cuts going in the right direction. However, if you don't decrease spending, now you're just, that's basically a tax increase later on down the road. So in a way, he made that worse. But about 75% of our volunteers are from outside the party and- Outside the Libertarian Party, and we're hearing people from both sides. Usually Libertarians tend to draw from independents or people who have never voted. But the only, the only reason I would be joyful, if I made somebody lose an election, is because maybe then they'll start acting like they're supposed to. You know, Donald Trump came in, "I'm a businessman, I know how to balance the budget, cut spending. Oh, and by the way, I'll bring the troops home." He's done none of that. If he hadn't increased the deficit, and the debt faster than Obama- And that was before the pandemic by the way. I think he'd be, you know, winning by a huge margin. If the Democrat were acting like a Democrat, and were anti-war, Pro- "the little guy", pro-minority, then I think he'd be winning by a lot. But basically, what we have right now is Republicans not acting like Republicans, Democrats, not acting like Democrats. And if I can make a difference, so that they go back to the roots, and that's the way they're supposed to, then that'll be a victory.

True or false? No political answers allowed. Will you do better than the 3.2% that Gary Johnson got in the popular vote last time?

I have no idea. Unlike Gary, I don't look at the polls.

I like that answer.

Yeah, no, but seriously, they put him in all the polls, which increased name recognition, and he got dangerously close to that 15%, so I think the powers that be were like, "Oh, better not put her on the poll. She might get you know, she- This time, they might get 15%." So what do they do? They don't even put me in the polls.

Well, she'll be on the ballot on Election Day and in the early voting. That's Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian candidate for President. Thank you for spending all this time with us.

Oh, great. Thanks again. I appreciate being here.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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