(Page 5 of 6)
Keep going down the list: Vouchers are unconstitutional because you’re giving money to private schools. No. If you want to start calling vouchers unconstitutional, then every single state has got a lot of unconstitutional programs. We give low-income parents money so they can go take their child to child care. We don’t tell them where to take their child. The examples go on and on. You can just go on and on with the criticisms and the rebuttals of the criticisms.
Reason: Why are vouchers important? Why not just fix the public schools?
Johnson: Since I have been governor, K–12 educational spending has gone from $1.1 billion a year to $1.6 billion a year. By all measurements, students are doing just a little bit worse from year to year. For all that money, shouldn’t we be doing just a little bit better? All I suggest is to make K–12 like higher education. Higher education in the United States is the best in the world because these institutions compete with each other for your tuition dollar. Let’s just bring competition to public education. This is not about getting rid of public education; it is about providing alternatives that public schools very, very quickly will react to. Public schools will get better if they are subject to competition.
Reason: What role do charter schools play in injecting competition into the system?
Johnson: This last year we passed a comprehensive charter schools act. Great! This is a way for public schools to become better. Add vouchers. Give every single student in the state of New Mexico a voucher, and charter schools will become the vehicle by which public schools compete. Pass vouchers, and every single school will become a charter school overnight.
Reason: What do you consider your major accomplishments as governor of New Mexico?
Johnson: Building 500 miles of four-lane highway in the state. We have reduced taxes by about $123 million annually. More significantly, before my taking office there was never a set of six years in the state of New Mexico where not a single tax had gone up. We reformed Medicaid and got Medicaid costs under control. We built a couple of new, private prisons in New Mexico. We had prisoners housed out of state, and the federal court system had been running prisons in New Mexico under a consent decree since 1980. We are now out from under that consent decree. We have approximately 1,200 fewer employees in state government today than we did when I took office.
Reason: What’s the thinking behind your road building programs? Traditionally those are often pork projects.
Johnson: Economic growth occurs only if you are connected with a four-lane highway. A lot of New Mexico is rural, and building 500 miles of four-lane highway is going to make a huge economic difference to all those communities. Basically, now we have connected every town in New Mexico with 30,000 people.
To save money, we looked at private alternatives in building the roads. The highway project on Highway 44, which is Albuquerque to Farmington, is designed, financed, built, and guaranteed by a private company. This is completely unique. We are actually the first state in the United States to adopt an innovative financing program for Highway 44, by bonding federal revenues. As a result, other states are copying it, and Wall Street is embracing it.
Reason: Private prisons. Why did you build them, and how did you get them through the legislature?
Johnson: First off, let’s go with an assumption. It doesn’t have to be private prisons. It can be private roads being built, it can be private schools, it can be anything. If you are getting better goods and services and it is the same price, you go with the same price, better goods and services. If what you are getting is the same goods and services but you are paying significantly less, than you go with paying significantly less. That is the situation with private prisons in New Mexico. We are getting the same product as we have always had—I would argue we are getting a better product—and we are getting it for significantly less. That’s good government.
Reason: How were you able to get this through the legislature?
Johnson: We weren’t. This was something that we accomplished administratively. There was absolutely no cooperation whatsoever to get these things built.
Reason: You’ve said that you have always believed that life’s highest calling is to do good by others, and that politics is a way of accomplishing that. But you have spent most of your life doing good by others in the private sector. I consider building a company and providing goods and services doing good by others. Have you been able to do more good by others as a politician than as a private citizen?