Judge James Gray, famous for speaking out against the drug war while serving as an Orange County Superior Court judge in 1992, and who was the vice-presidential nominee on the 2012 Libertarian Party (L.P.) ticket under former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, announced this week that he's seeking the L.P.'s presidential nod.
When it comes to the general election, Gray says "the situation in our country calls for a third voice," and promises that a government formed by him and his already-on-board VP pick, Larry Sharpe, will be a "coalition" that tries to ease what he sees as currently untenable levels of cross-partisan hate.
He'd bring together Libertarians and independents, he says, along with Republicans and Democrats who can behave as if they are on board with the Libertarian message of "responsibility, financial and otherwise, and live and let live, don't tread on me or anybody." He'd make such Democrats and Republicans involved in his administration try to wrangle their non-L.P. colleagues in line with libertarian executive governance.
But before Gray can fight directly against President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, he's got to convince a bare majority of the prickly 1,000 or so who tend to make up the Libertarian Party national convention delegate body that he's right for them. Gray grants that the optics of a third septuagenarian white guy choice for president might not be perfect, and falls back on "merit" over age or gender. He also notes that his VP pick, Sharpe, is African-American, though not chosen for that reason.
Many Libertarians are annoyed with the L.P. nominating former Republicans who are afraid of spooking the horses with Libertarian radicalism. (Gray himself switched to the L.P. after the Patriot Act passed because he "could not as a matter of conscience be part of a party [the Republicans] that made such a direct frontal attack on our civil liberties.")
While Gray would not specifically discuss any of his current or potential rivals, he says that former Rhode Island senator and governor Lincoln Chafee brought "stature" to the L.P. primary race and that he hopes to bring the same. Chafee dropping out led Gray to jump in. The lack of L.P. candidates with a national profile could see other late-comers join the race, with some looking to former GOP Rep. Justin Amash (I–Mich.), once again publicly mulling over some sort of presidential run.
While other L.P. presidential candidates may be "well-meaning, good people," Gray says, they don't all have the kind of professional "background that will galvanize the country into thinking they could be president of the United States." Someone with the real-world political experience of a Chafee or at least a Gray is a better choice for the L.P. than a Party-only celebrity.
Gray is also not afraid to say that he doesn't think near-anarchistic anti-state ferocity is what the L.P. needs. He knows many in the party see him as a moderate squish, but "I am me. I am an incrementalist and a pragmatist" in his policy recommendations toward greater freedom.
"The Libertarian Party needs to be in better shape three years from now with its ideals making some progress incrementally" instead of the pursuit of radicalism leaving them "in the same place" next time around but "feeling really good about ourselves" for staying radical. Gray says he's already hearing from delegates in various states who are pleased he's now an option.
In general, Gray thinks the Libertarian brand needs more people like him and less emphasis on what he sees as an Ayn Rand-ish "greed is good" or a no-government-at-all "survival of the fittest" vibe, to say nothing of would-be party officials doing a near-naked dance on C-SPAN. He's used his podcast ("All Rise! The Libertarian Way with Judge Jim Gray") and a series of books to recast the brand being about "libertarian solutions that are practical, effective, and responsible."
That said, Gray thinks one could argue the insane behaviors of the two major parties make Libertarians, in reality, the real "mainstream" choice. He fears that an L.P. presidential candidate who spent the next several months "talking radical positions could set back the Party another 10-20 years, to our harm."
Gray admits that the L.P. might be rightly annoyed with the behavior of past former Republicans it took under its wing, such as former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld. Gray, as Weld's VP predecessor, had the good grace to make a nominating speech for Weld at the 2016 convention, Gray understands and shares annoyance with how Weld both praised his competitor Hillary Clinton during the race and left the party after promising he was in it for life. "I think he was being selfish," Gray says, and notes that Weld turning back to the GOP "caused substantial problems for Lincoln Chafee" with the L.P. as a fellow former Republican.
Gray on the Issues
Gray knows COVID-19 is likely going to be the issue of the election season and thinks the current government reaction has been a hideous example of the way cronyism and favoritism infect government attempts to "help the people." He points to things like Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's "slush fund" and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in Washington, D.C., getting a payoff that not every performing arts space will get.
The government's failure to prepare for a pandemic in any meaningful way is a sign that a serious regime change is needed, not just shifting back and forth between two parties that both let down the American people. The government's reaction to its own failures, Gray believes, has been overly punitive and economically ruinous, with forced shutdowns that have "taken away hundreds of thousands of businesses that will probably never come back, taken away 30 million jobs." That process cannot go on.
A more Libertarian solution that might resonate with a battered America, Gray thinks, is "treat people like adults, and they will behave like adults by and by." This might involve tasking government with just trying to disseminate "honest, accurate, timely" information about the pandemic, and allow businesses to make their own decisions about how to intelligently keep social distancing protocols on their property without going out of business. He thinks the government sharing such information widely would also allow knowingly vulnerable populations to self-isolate and encourage others to be especially careful being near them.
In an environment where he had space to focus on other issues, Gray says he'd emphasize budget discipline, cutting or reining back government agencies who have failed to justify their purpose regularly in a sunset law fashion (he singles out the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Education as ones he considers more pernicious than helpful and would like to nix), and says he'd launch a full-court press to give parents more control over how their money is spent on education. Too much of teachers-union controlled education these says "is to the detriment of our children, who are handicapped for the rest of their life" for lack of parental choice and competition in schooling.
Gray also stressed that our overseas interventions are usually not directly vital to our national security and promised that, in a Gray administration, Congress would regain its traditional powers over declaring war. He would also get marijuana out of the legal control of the federal government.
If the Libertarian Party can't pull off its planned in-person convention in Austin at the end of May—a decision about which he says he has no insight or influence—Gray says he supports some ideas floating around to shift the convention until later in the season, perhaps programmed alongside the existing FreedomFest in Las Vegas that already attracts lots of libertarians. Gray grants the L.P. may start running against certain ballot access laws requiring a named candidate if they delay a choice for too long and risk all-state ballot access.
Some Libertarian Party loyalists have groused online that coming to the game so late is unfair, as Gray didn't have to/get to do all the state convention meetings and debates the other candidates did. "I agree with them. I do," Gray admits. But "it's just the way it happened."
Whatever problems L.P. activists have with when he entered the race, Gray says he's confident if those activists see fit to give him and Sharpe the nod, "we will change the history of this country."