The 2012 Candidates On the Arts: Gary Johnson

With arts and public broadcast issues percolating on the edge of the race for the 2012 presidential race, I thought it made sense to look at where the declared and prospective candidates for president have stood on arts issues throughout their careers. Their views on everything from arts education to intellectual property rights to support for local artistic traditions say a lot about how they value culture — but also about how they think about the role of government.

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson isn’t a typical Republican — or a viable contender for the Republican nomination, given his support for marijuana legalization and open distaste for the anti-gay policies some of his opponents endorse. Arts policy, however, is an area where Johnson isn’t particularly out of step with his conservative colleagues, though neither is he an extremely outlier. He was careful about state arts funding, though because he wasn’t faced with recessions the way some of his competitors were, he didn’t aim to cut arts budgets to balance budgets. And he hasn’t been particularly vocal about intellectual property issues either. But there are a few interesting tidbits in the record, including his taste in movies:

1996: Johnson and his wife were spotted at a screening of Female Perversions, Susan Streitfeld’s feminist sex drama, at the Taos Talking Picture Festival. This isn’t a particularly key point, but it does suggest that Johnson might have actual non-focus tested cultural preferences, which is moderately refreshing.

That year, he also appointed Louis LeRoy, the director of the ethnic arts-focused Association of American Cultures to run New Mexico Arts. Like Sarah Palin’s support for special labeling for Native Alaskan art, this is probably more a gesture to a key constituency than a real prioritization of ethnic art.


1999: Under Johnson’s administration, the New Mexico Arts Commission received an increase in the funding it was able to disperse in the form of grants. But he also vetoed $2 million in funding for a pilot program to stand up and study the efficacy of 20 performance and visual arts education.

2001: Johnson signed a bill that gave New Mexico ownership over inventions and other intellectual property that state employees invented in the course of their duties. But the bill also required New Mexico to split profits or royalties from those inventions or intellectual property evenly with the employees who were responsible for their creation.

That year, Johnson also hired a company to help New Mexico expand broadband access. Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration terminated the contract two years later over concerns about some of the financing.

2002: Johnson signed a bill that expanded state funding for museums, though this legislation probably shouldn’t be interpreted as a strong sign of support for states art funding. The legislation’s supporters got it attached to a bill that provided funding for police radios.

If Johnson was as delightfully idiosyncratic on the arts and media innovation issues as he is on other issues — at least in the context of the Republican field — he might be a more intriguing candidate on these grounds. As it stands, however, he’s merely mainstream.