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Exclusive: Ron Johnson, the Reluctant Candidate (Part I)



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Almost one year ago today, Ron Johnson gave a speech at a Tea Party rally in his hometown of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Johnson, owner of local plastics company, had been invited to speak about government regulation of business. He said he’d be happy to speak, but he wanted to talk about something different.

In that speech, Johnson described a “life changing experience” he had 27 years ago when his daughter, who was born with a heart defect, had her life saved by a state-of-the-art emergency procedure, and how that experience shaped his views on the health-care reform bill, which he calls “the greatest assault on our freedom in my lifetime.”

“What that experience taught me, is that the United States has the finest health-care system in the world. It’s not a perfect system there are some fixes that need to be done, but my daughter had a chance at a full life because my wife and I had the freedom to seek out the most advanced surgical treatment at the time, to give her that chance,” Johnson tells BATTLE ’10.

“We have a free market system in medicine that innovates and creates these medical miracles that quite honestly the rest of the world feeds off. It really is in America where life-saving new drugs, new medical devices, are created, and that’s what I saw was at risk with this health care bill,” he says.

Last year’s speech prompted many in the audience to urge Johnson to run for the Republican Senate nomination. Johnson, who had never considered running for political office, was hesitant at first. But then several months later, the 111th Congress passed a health-care reform bill that most Americans opposed. “That was the final straw,” Johnson says. He decided to run.

Now, following his victory over several better-known candidates in last month’s Republican primary, Johnson leads 18-year incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold (D) by a hefty margin in the polls, and is strongly positioned heading into November.

Johnson spoke to BATTLE ’10 from his home in Oshkosh.

What’s at stake in this election?

“I hate to be overdramatic, but I think our nation’s at stake, that’s why I’m [running]. Look, I love my life in Oshkosh. This is not my life’s ambition. I’m doing this because I don’t want to see our heath-care system destroyed. I view America as something very precious and exceptional and I see it being squandered. We can’t continue down this path, all this spending and debt, it’s the wrong path. I certainly wasn’t happy when Republicans were spending two, three, four hundred billion dollars a year that they didn’t have, but now we’re talking $1.5 trillion per year on deficits, and it’s simply unsustainable.”

From your perspective as a business owner, why have the administration’s policies failed?

“Everything that this President has pursued, everything Russ Feingold has voted for, has created a high level of uncertainty, a very unstable environment. From a business person’s perspective, we don’t see demand increasing, so there is no incentive to take a risk and invest in new equipment and create new jobs. We see that trillion dollars spent and we know what the result is going to be. It’s going to create debt, and it’s eventually going to lead to higher taxes.”

“I like to talk about ‘A Tale of Two Recoveries.’ No doubt about it, President Obama came into office and we had a tough economic situation, but so did Ronald Reagan. When Reagan entered office we had interest rates over 20 percent, our inflation rate was over 13 percent, unemployment was about 7.5 percent, and what did he pursue?”

“Reagan was very clear in terms of what he wanted to do – he stated that government was the problem not the solution, he said he wanted to lower taxes. He wanted to reduce spending, he wanted to get government out of our lives. What President Obama announced is that government is the solution, and the first thing he and Democrats did was throw almost a trillion dollar stimulus bill on the wall hoping it would stick, hoping it would create jobs, and it didn’t.”

“We need to promote an agenda of growth, opportunity and prosperity. The agenda that has been pursued is one of entitlement and dependency, and it’s just the wrong path.”

In terms of trying to set the country on the right path, what is your reaction to House Republicans’ “Pledge to America?”

“There are a lot of the elements of what I’ve been talking about now for the five months I’ve been in this race. From my standpoint, they absolutely should have pledged to eliminate earmarks, not because it’s such a huge amount of spending, it’s less than half a percent of our budget, but it’s just so corrupting on the process.”

“They don’t lay out as many specific government reforms as I’d like to see. I do not believe 72 hours is a sufficient time, once a final bill is written, for it to be reviewed and voted on. I think we need to give legislators time to read them, but also the American public, so the people it’s going to effect and the experts in the field can actually provide real feedback. I don’t think we get that now and that’s why we end up with some of these very misguided pieces of legislation that have such harmful unintended consequences.”

Do you think significant change is possible given the entrenched political culture in Washington?

“What I always tell people is ‘elect somebody like me, and a whole bunch more people like me, by a surprisingly margin to send a very strong signal.’ If the American public, if the voters of Wisconsin send a strong signal, I do have hope that the folks in Washington, the ones that are still there, will get that signal.”

“Let’s face it, a pretty strong signal has been sent for the last couple years, people like Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie and obviously the Scott Brown election, and some establishment candidates that didn’t survive the primary. I think November 2nd, there may be another strong signal, and that is what’s going to be required for the political class to start saying, ‘Okay we’ve got to change our ways here.’”

Part II coming soon…


Tags: Wisconsin


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