Libertarian Party

Judge Jim Gray Thinks the Libertarian Party Needs Pragmatism, 'Stature' for 2020 Presidential Run

He thinks the government's COVID-19 reactions are overdone, and would like to run a campaign emphasizing fiscal restraint, agency downsizing, full marijuana legalization, and a non-imperial presidency.


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."

NEXT: Trump Can Encourage States to Lift Their COVID-19 Lockdowns, but He Can't Decree That Outcome

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  1. Why would I vote libertarian when we’ve already got MR. Libertarian, aka Dear Leader, in office. I mean, this guy is joking, right?

    1. You don’t vote, so your opinion is meaningless.

      But your laughable posts on China keep me entertained.

      1. I didn’t vote for either Clinton or Trump in 2016. The former was a reliable warmonger who put hundreds of thousands of non-violent drug offenders in jail through her tough on crime policies in the 1990s. The latter I considered, but I couldn’t quite pull the lever for a serial sexual predator and Epstein confidant who had a fairly convincing accusation against him that he raped a 14-yo child back in 1994. So, that was a no and a no for me.

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  2. I’m a hardcore near-anarchist (?) but would have been happy with Gary Johnson, simply because he would have moved politics and government in the right direction. I have no purity test. If you’re more in favor of shrinking government than the others, you’ll get my vote.

    1. Why shrink the government when you could have voted for Bernie and watched it collapse?

  3. The Libertarian Party should do in 2020 what Bill Weld basically did in 2016 — endorse the Democrat. There’s no use for a third party Presidential campaign when one major party is so much better than the other on immigration.


    1. Lol. No.

  4. The LP seems to wildly vacillate between wacky radicalism and sell-out “pragmatism.” Do they want a platform of meth dispensaries on every street corner, or a platform of compulsory cakes and endorsing Democrats? It’s as if they can’t find a golden mean.

    1. Maybe they nominate sellouts because they’ve been accustomed to see pragmatism and selling out as equivalent, so if they’re pragmatic they may as well endorse a Cake Policeman.

  5. He thinks the government’s COVID-19 reactions are overdone, and would like to run a campaign emphasizing fiscal restraint, agency downsizing, full marijuana legalization, and a non-imperial presidency.

    That’s nice, but how do you accomplish anything with the Congress stuffed with people only interested in their own re-election and with a bureaucracy that does whatever it wants. We don’t need a Mr. Rogers, at this point we need Genghis Khan.
    The feds aren’t going to cut off their own heads.

    1. Well said.

    2. A good start would be a president willing to use the veto. Trump will bitch and moan endlessly about congress but he can’t veto their ridiculous spending bills? Make them override your veto, if they can.

      Gary Johnson was a successful governor because he vetoed every spending bill without giving a shit what people thought about it. I believe he vetoed more bills in his first term than the other 49 governors combined. We need a president to do that.

      1. ^This right here. There’s no such thing as a veto-proof majority. Any bill can be vetoed by the President. (And most of them probably should be)

        At the very least, I’d like to see a POTUS that refused to sign onerous bills. They’d still become law, but at least the executive wouldn’t be complicit.

  6. It would be an excellent thought experiment to see how the LP would have handled covid-19 and all the destruction wrought by the left in this country. I suspect they would have rolled over for all the left wing governors in the name of “safety.”

    1. What I heard Judge Gray say is that there is a role for government and I see being prepared for a world pandemic as one important role. Had we a competent administration we might have taken steps earlier that would have prevented the draconian response now necessary. If we had enough testing and enough supplies to handle those infected, we would not have need to shut down as much.

      1. Of course preparedness like that takes years not months to accomplish. I’ve already pointed out the fallacy of trying to prepare for the next pandemic. You won’t know the nature of severity of it. Equipment expires and or requires frequent upkeep. A gastrointestinal pandemic will be different than a respiratory or a integumentary infection. Also, pandemic just means widespread not necessarily virulent. Influenza is technically an annual pandemic. As for testing, yes there has been delays in getting the test kits out there, but even if they had started in January, it still would have taken months to produce enough to matter. You can’t predict what type of virus and each novel virus will require a different form of testing. A good majority of early tests, even in countries “better” prepared proved to be inaccurate and nearly worthless. They either tested for all forms of Corona virus (and there are numerous ones already circulating routinely through the human population) or just weren’t reliable.

        1. Governor Schwarzenegger stockpiled to prepare for the next pandemic, but Governor Brown scrapped it over budgetary issues. I suppose the bullet-train to nowhere was more important than saving Californians’ lives…

  7. Even if a medical and/or government official thinks they are right, there is no excuse for breaking our constitutional right to disagree with them and make our own choice. This all comes from grossly exaggerating lies about the coronavirus. The news reports were lying for political and marketing benefits, certainly proven against our entire freedom and independence this country was established for. (My first job as a newspaper proof reader showed me how lies are included to support advertisements where the money came from.)

  8. Still waiting for a libertarian to run..someone who will end the Fed, shut down all govt agencies created after 1930, eliminate the income tax and shut down all the industrial complexes..military, educational, financial and allow all Americans to trade freely with who they like. Oh and bring the troops home. But no we will all about same sex animal/human marriage equality, abortion post birth and other idiotic left cultural marxism..the quicker the woke cosmo libertarians leave the party the better off America will be

    1. Ok, fascist.

  9. meh

  10. “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. ”

    That he speaks well of Chafee does not speak well of him.

    Lincoln Chafee Jr was appointed Senator after daddy Sr. died, then won an election himself as a Republican. When he lost as a Republican, he switched to Democrat for years. Then last year switched to Libertarian.

    He’s an hereditary ruling class grifter, who has the same “stature” as an aristocratic Earl or a Duke, born into power and privilege, and whose only apparent principle is his own power and privilege.

    ‘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.”‘

    The peasants should leave rule to the ruling class!

  11. Look, a candidate should have enough pragmatism to keep his or her clothes on when on camera, and to urge middle-ground, transitional solutions to getting out of the worst entitlement boondoggles, etc., etc., but not so pragmatic they forget which party they’re in, or to neglect the national debt as the most important of the un-discussed issues in politics.

    And the candidate should have experience, but not necessarily in the public sector. Now, I wouldn’t say something silly like nominate a reality TV host – who does that? – but a seasoned businessman or activist who won’t be distracted by questions about his late neighbor, or whales, etc.

  12. “First, do no harm”. This concept from the famous physician’s oath should be the core of Libertarian outreach to the average person who does not think in philosophical or ideological terms.
    Message: Before we consider a new trillion dollar program to solve this problem or that problem, let’s agree to peel back existing policies that have either caused the problem or made it a lot worse.
    There is a lot of low hanging fruit. A no-brainer would be to go after NIMBY building restrictions before spending another taxpayer dime on “affordable housing”. It would take a little more rhetorical skill to concisely explain how the tax incentive for employer-provided health care limits choices, drives up costs and makes it easy to fall into a preexisting condition trap. But you get the idea.

  13. Sounds good. I wonder if a Libertarian might get better press this election season if it becomes apparent that Orange Man is going to blow Sleepy Joe out of the water. Of course, talking about CV as if it’s anything other than the Black Death requiring full suspension of all rights is going to lose most of Team Red and Team Blue votes. They just love being on their knees.

  14. Realistically, it needs someone who can speak without making a fool out of himself, including answering questions about news topics without being confused; someone charismatic who can espouse libertarianism, and someone that the average person might give a chance to listen to.

    Which pretty much narrows the field down to Penn Jillette, IMHO.

    A worn out old Republican just isn’t going to do it.

  15. The best is the enemy of the good. Waiting for someone who agrees with all possible Libertarian ideas and viewpoints will mean waiting forever.

  16. promises that a government formed by him and his already-on-board VP pick, Larry Sharpe, will be a “coalition”

    More like a miracle – – – – –

  17. Gray grants that the optics of a third septuagenarian white guy choice for president might not be perfect

    AFAIK no one has cared about it except you. Does anyone seriously think there are too many white people in political office? Anyone who isn’t a pink-haired alphabet-people-ally “Nazi puncher” racist?

  18. The guy who is in control of the biggest guns will decide what is “pragmatic”. More of the same.

  19. Judge Gray enforced state drug laws, even while speaking against them. He does not express any real understanding of libertarian principles and calls himself a pragmatist, meaning his principles are “squishy.” Hard to imagine the LP or anyone getting excited about his weak voice. His hope for incremental progress is just uninspiring, as is everything about him. In a debate, when called on to defend libertarian principles, he will equivocate, as his statements produced here clearly show.

    1. “Judge Gray enforced state drug laws …”

      As he must and should, whether he agrees with them or not. It is critical to our system of government that judges practice “judicial restraint”, and not just do whatever they think is right at the time. His speaking against those laws was the most he could do, and it was quite courageous and risky for him to do even that much.

  20. As Libertarian candidates never seem particularly serious about their candidacies, why should anybody else take them seriously? The dutifully play their role as a “fringe” candidate in the national election play.

    Like in any other endeavor you have to out-work your opponents if you’re starting out from an inferior position. This is true of the candidate and the party. Fund-raising is hard, but obviously vitally important. Public appearances with media coverage must be treated like a life-or-death event. Last go around both Johnson and Weld came across as smarmy, smirking, and unserious, giving the impression that this fun for them but nothing more.

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