The relationship between Republicans and Democrats is often framed as an entrenched stalemate, with legislators of each party diametrically opposed on everything from the environment to taxes.
But to hear Jim Gray tell it, the major parties are two sides of the same coin, both content to spend too much and encroach too far on citizen privacy.
At a forum hosted by Fort Lewis College, and later while meeting with The Durango Herald editorial board, the Libertarian Partys vice-presidential candidate laid out an impassioned, and radically different, vision for how the United States should be governed.
Gray portrayed the Libertarian ticket as the most-qualified on this years ballot. He described his running mate, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, as a man of courage and principle who grew a modest handyman business into one of the states largest construction firms, Big J Enterprises, with more than 1,000 employees.
Gray also credited Johnson for leaving New Mexico with a $1 billion budget surplus when his second term ended in 2003.
He chided Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan for lacking job experience outside government, although Gray himself spent much of his career in the public sector. After graduating from University of Southern California law school in 1971, Gray served as Judge Advocate in the U.S. Navys JAG Corps and later for 20 years as an Orange County Superior Court judge until retiring in 2009.
High on Grays agenda was a sweeping audit of the federal government by private contractors, using generally accepted accounting principles.
Every agency would be subject to show the people what value they are getting or not getting, he said.
Gray was keen to break the stereotype that Libertarians are a one-issue party focused on decriminalizing marijuana. He did, however, unabashedly label current drug policy a failure, second in U.S. history only to slavery.
Gray argued that regulating and taxing marijuana and potentially other drugs would remove them from the black market, where sales line the pocket of violent cartels and incarcerations feed the prison-industrial complex. Prohibition in the 1920s did nothing to quell American demand for alcohol, he said, and the lack of oversight permitted sellers to contaminate their products with toxic additives.
Gray took pride in rocking the political boat and confronting tough issues the two main parties have traditionally shied away from. For example, he and Johnson oppose the Patriot Act and all forms of surveillance without a warrant, and support repealing the death penalty, closing the Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan immediately. He criticized Paul Ryans House budget for not balancing for 28 years, and said the government, as a neutral arbiter, has no right to ban gay marriage or restrict contraceptive access on religious grounds.
Other Libertarian planks include:
Replace the income tax with a consumption tax.
Abolish the Department of Education, expand school vouchers and give individual districts leeway to customize curriculum.
Create private health-savings accounts and catastrophic insurance coverage for most people, with government-funded health clinics for the poor.
Raise the Social Security eligibility age and transition to a privatized system for younger Americans; auction off Bureau of Land Management holdings and funnel proceeds into Social Security fund.
Liberalize visas for foreign workers, with background checks to weed out those with criminal records.