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Why Won't CNN Let Me Come to Their Debate?

In the early part of 1991, there was a governor from a relatively small state who, away from the national spotlight, had compiled a credible record, been reelected by those he served, and who was in the early stages of putting together a national campaign for President. His ranking in national political polls – when he was included – was in the neighborhood of 1-2%. By the end of 1991, he had skyrocketed to roughly six percent.

His name: Bill Clinton.

The so-called “frontrunners” for the ’92 Democrat presidential when Bill Clinton was still a blip on the screen? Mario Cuomo and Jerry Brown, both of whom were polling in double-digits. We all know how that turned out.
Likewise, in 1975, another governor, Jimmy Carter, was polling at 1%. And in 1987, the same was true of a fellow named Dukakis.

The point is clear: Using polls this early in a presidential election cycle to define who is a serious candidate or pick potential winners is a bad idea. Using them to exclude me, another Governor with a solid track record, from a critical national primary debate is even worse. But that is precisely what CNN and the other sponsors of the June 13 New Hampshire Republican presidential primary debate are doing.

Debates are important. Polls taken 7 or 8 months before the first votes are cast are not. Polls at this point in the 2012 election cycle are little more than reflections of name ID, selective coverage by the national media, and campaign war chests. Debates, on the other hand, are unique opportunities to put those meaningless factors aside, level the playing field, and let actual voters decide who is credible, who has the credentials, and who offers the ideas they are looking for. No handlers, no fluff, no advertising – just the candidates, their words, and their plans for the nation.

Unfortunately, by splitting hairs and drawing lines in polling data that clearly fall within those polls’ margins of error, CNN is ignoring not only history, but basic fairness. In 1994, nobody believed I could be elected governor of New Mexico. The news media, the Republican “establishment”, the career politicians – none of them gave me a shot. Due in large part to the opportunity to debate the other candidates, my ideas, my background as an entrepreneur, and my proposed solutions resonated with voters, and I was not only elected, but reelected as a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democrat state.

In short, I didn’t just crawl out from under a rock and declare myself a candidate for the presidency. I served for eight years as arguably the most fiscally conservative governor in the nation. I turned a budget deficit into a surplus, reduced the size of state government by more than 1,000 employees – without firing any qualified workers, and cut taxes 14 times. In the course of reducing government and balancing the budget, I vetoed 750 bills – probably more than all other governors in the nation combined. And I lived to tell the story in a heavily Democrat state.

Having traveled the country and spoken with literally thousands of Americans in the past year, regardless of CNN’s Gary Johnson poll arithmetic, it is clear to me that more than a few Republicans, Independents, and Democrats are looking for new, dramatic, and unadulterated ideas and leadership. My purpose in running for president is to give those Americans a voice and an alternative to business-as-usual.

The voters ultimately may or may not decide that Gary Johnson is the alternative they want; but, they should at least have a chance to decide for themselves, rather than have CNN preselect their candidates for them.

This is not about me. Whether I am on CNN’s stage Monday or not, I will continue to give voice to an approach to government that is otherwise largely missing. The real issue is that a major network is using largely irrelevant polling data and statistically insignificant arithmetic as justifications to impose its political wisdom on the American people.

Gary Johnson is a former two-term governor of New Mexico. He is currently running for president as a candidate for the Republican Party nomination.