Election 2020

Who Is Ron Johnson, Anyway?

Before 2010, Ron Johnson had no intention of entering politics. A successful businessman with an accounting background, he had spent some 30 years building a custom plastics extrusion business in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

The national debate raging over Obamacare woke him up. He became especially incensed over a speech in which Obama vilified physicians, specifically surgeons, alleging that they often performed unnecessary procedures for profit.

Johnson had quite a different experience with surgeons. A daughter was born with a severe heart defect — so serious that the newborn was flown to Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee, where a pediatric heart surgeon was roused in the wee hours to perform emergency surgery on the tiny heart. He re-routed the blood through the atria and ventricles. In effect, the girl’s heart was fixed to work backwards, but it worked.

The senator is today very proud of the young lady — she works as a nurse at the very hospital where her life was saved.

Such doctors, thought Johnson, are not venal hacks who perform unnecessary procedures, and they don’t deserve to be tarred with that brush.

With specific intention to undo the harm done during the first two years of the Obama administration, Johnson threw his hat in the ring and defeated incumbent Senator Russ Feingold in a stunning (and largely self-financed) upset.

His plan was to spend the first two years of his term getting to understand the Senate and the workings of the federal government in general, then to spend the next four actually fixing things under a Republican president. He could not imagine that Obama would be re-elected, and he was confident that a Romney-Ryan administration would be able to set things straight. Of course, it didn’t turn out that way.

But the senator has not been idle.

He tells of a meeting held at the White House in 2013, at which he presented a chart which demonstrated that, at current projections, within 30 years the deficit would approximate $127 trillion. Also at current projections, the chart showed that the total private net assets of the American citizenry would be roughly $106 trillion.

He begged the president at that meeting to use his “bully pulpit” to tell the American people the brutal truth, and thus to create the political will to reverse course before it was too late.

Obama’s response was that he couldn’t show people figures of that magnitude, as they would cause them to despair and lose hope. Besides, Obama added, we can’t do all the work — there has to be something left for other presidents and congresses to do.

With the can kicked down the road, the senator has opted to do what he personally can to improve people’s lots and to get them off government dependency one person at a time.

In conversations with businessmen throughout the state, Johnson says he heard continuously that they had difficulty finding quality employees to fill good-paying industrial jobs. Johnson was put in touch with inner-city pastor Jerome Smith, who had a different problem: too many people not finding work in Milwaukee’s depressed economy.

An enterprise called the Joseph Project was born. Pastor Smith’s church became a mentoring center where people were coached in the necessary skills to get through a job interview. If they did not have appropriate clothing they were given clothes, and they were even provided transportation (by way of a rickety church van) outside of Milwaukee to employers in the northern community of Sheboygan.

So far, 103 people have graduated from the program; 55 are currently employed and 11 are about to begin their jobs. The Sheboygan Chamber of Commerce is so gung-ho about the program that they recently donated two new vans to the church to get people to and from work. A lot of people who never thought they’d be able to find a job now have a sense of self-worth, and are now able to support themselves and their families.

Senator Johnson has spearheaded investigations into the disgraceful and tragic irregularities uncovered at the Veterans’ Administration facility in Tomah, Wisconsin (reported here last year), as well as elsewhere. As hearings have disclosed, reports of the problems had been hand-delivered to Senators Feingold and Kohl and Congressman Kind as early as 2007, but nothing had ever been done.

Most recently, Senator Johnson introduced the “Right to Try” bill, whose intended purpose is to make it possible for patients diagnosed with terminal ailments to try new drugs and therapies which have not yet been approved by the FDA.

True to his consensus-building instincts, he hopes to get the bill passed with unanimous support by a Senate whose two factions agree on little else.

And this in an election year.