The newest entrant in the Republican presidential field is former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson. Johnson, a libertarian-oriented Republican best known for supporting marijuana legalization, surprised many critics with his third place finish in the February CPAC straw poll.
ThinkProgress spoke with Johnson after a stop in West Palm Beach, Florida last week. In a wide-ranging conversation, Johnson endorsed thenullification movement — a radical view pushed by right-wing pseudo-historian Thomas Woodsthat states can invalidate federal laws which they don’t like — calling it “terrific.” When asked a simple question on whether or not it’s constitutional for states to nullify federal laws (hint: it’s not), Johnson was unable to muster even a rudimentary defense, conceding instead that “that is a criticism.” Unperturbed, Johnson called nullification “a formula for righting all our wrongs”:
KEYES: I know a lot of states have been taking up these nullification bills.
JOHNSON: Yeah, which is terrific. Which is just terrific. I just think the whole notion, that’s another way to drive this exact point.
KEYES: I take it you’re in favor of this nullification movement?
JOHNSON: Yes, yes.
KEYES: I know a lot of critics have said, “well, you know, it’s questionably constitutional.” What would you say to those critics?
JOHNSON: I think that is a criticism, but that that initiative, that these initiatives are getting launched, nullification is getting launched. I think people become more aware as a result of the nullification movement and the rights that states do have. This is really a formula, and it just gets back to the Constitution. It really is a formula for righting all our wrongs.
Later, the conversation turned to child labor laws and Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-UT) declaration that child labor laws are unconstitutional. Johnson argued against child labor laws because, as he asked rhetorically, “I use the example of the kid fixing your computer for a couple dollars an hour, is that taking advantage of a child or is that giving a child a real motivation and an understanding of earning money and providing a good or a service?” He noted that if child labor laws were just “loosened up,” you’d see more “10 year-olds or 13 year-olds” working for wages “in a good way”:
KEYES: Do you think it’s overreach or do you think it’s fair game to say, for instance, Mike Lee said that child labor laws are probably unconstitutional?
JOHNSON: Back to unconstitutional. I think there are a lot of kids today, let’s say 13 year-olds, 10 year-olds, that have better knowledge of computers than a 70 year-old. And because of our child labor laws, you can’t pay one of those 10 year-olds, 13 year-olds for a few dollars an hour to help out the 70 year-old with their computer, their computer problems, which might exist if we didn’t have child labor laws.
KEYES: So it might be better to rein in some of those child labor laws, if I’m hearing you correctly?
JOHNSON: Well, by rein in, the unintended consequence of child labor laws is that we don’t have the entrepreneurial sense with our kids that perhaps existed when I was a 13 year-old, pitching papers and mowing lawns. If there weren’t any child labor laws and you could pay, I use the example of the kid fixing your computer for a couple dollars an hour, is that taking advantage of a child or is that giving a child a real motivation and an understanding of earning money and providing a good or a service? And then on the other side of that, besides child labor laws, there’s the whole notion of you retire and you can’t go back to work for the 75 year-old or the 80 year-old who still has contributions to make.
KEYES: And bills to pay, certainly.
JOHNSON: And bills to pay. But if all these labor laws were loosened up, you’d have that phenomenon that exists, in a good way.
Ian Millhiser has more on the nullification movement and the widening Republican war on child labor laws.