Perhaps the three most vulnerable Congressional Democrats in Ohio are John Boccieri of OH-16, Mary Jo Kilroy of OH-15, and Steve Driehaus of OH-1. But if were asked to pick a fourth race — one that, if it was won by the Republicans, would be evidence not just of a strong conservative current, but a tsunami — that race would be OH-6. Currently, it is represented by Democrat Charlie Wilson.
His challenger, Bill Johnson, runs dead even with Wilson at the moment despite almost no name recognition, and when his background is mentioned, that turns into a lead of over 20 points. BATTLE ‘10 sat down with the elusive Mr. Johnson in its third profile of a Congressional candidate this year. Transcript of the interview is below.
Battle ‘10: Why’d you get into the race?
Bill Johnson: Primarily for two reasons. One: Faith and love of my country. I believe our country was founded upon principles that we have gotten way away from.
I served my country for nearly 27 years in the United States Air Force, and I simply can’t sit on the sidelines when I feel like I’ve got the leadership and the experience, both from a business perspective and from a fiscal-responsibility perspective, to make a difference.
You know, our country is incurring debt we can’t fund, we’re building an economy that’s not sustainable on a global scale. We’ve got out-of-control, runaway spending in Washington, and something’s got to be done, and I believe good people need to stand up and be accountable, and that’s what I’m trying to do.
B’10: So obviously, the issue in the election is jobs, jobs, jobs. What’s the key vote Charlie Wilson made that illustrates his betrayal of a pro-jobs agenda?
Johnson: There have been a number of them, so I’ll give them to you in priority order.
The health care bill is probably one of the largest ones. You know, that’s $800 million of taxes, mostly on small businesses. I’ve met with business leaders all up and down the district. Many of them are poised and ready to expand and grow, but they’re terrified about what’s going on in Washington, and what the federal government is doing, evermore encroaching on them. And they’re really concerned. Charlie was told not to vote for the health care bill and he did it anyway.
But there’s been a number of other job-killing policies that he’s supported. The stimulus that was supposed to bring jobs has not brought jobs. Roughly 400,000 jobs have left Ohio in the last two years. Unemployment in the 6th District has practically doubled since Charlie Wilson came into office in 2007. He voted for Nancy Pelosi’s budget that increased our deficit to historic levels, and he voted to increase the debt ceiling, so they could continue the out-of-control spending. So it’s difficult to say which of those had the biggest impact on jobs in the district. They’ve all had devastating impacts, and I talk to businesspeople every day throughout the district who say so.
B’10: On the issue of job-killing policies, do you have a stance on Card Check?
Johnson: I oppose it.
B’10: So let’s shift away from the policy and to the political ground. The Charlie Wilson campaign seems to be acting as though you don’t exist, even though you run dead even with him in the polls. Do you want to be acknowledged by him, or does this give you the freedom to run as a generic Republican?
Johnson: I can’t account for what motivates Charlie to do what Charlie does. I think his voting record and the voice of the people have made it clear, both in my polls as well as many letters to the editor that I’ve seen — Charlie may choose to ignore me for now, but on November 2, he won’t have a choice to do that.
B’10: Speaking of his record, Charlie Wilson has some rather pungent black marks on his record with respect to Wall Street and insider trading. Do you think you could score points by going after him on this ground, or would it just be a distraction à la Ted Strickland?
Johnson: Well, I’ve seen some of the articles about Charlie and his bank stocks and those kinds of things. I think the big issue for Charlie in this district is how he has misrepresented the people. As I travel up and down the district, I don’t hear a lot of talk from the people about Charlie’s personal finances. They’re more concerned about how he votes, and the view generally is that he says something here and does something else when he goes to Washington. His 98.1 percent voting record with Nancy Pelosi tends to bear that out. I think his vote on TARP, on the health care bill, on Nancy Pelosi’s budget, on the debt ceiling increase, I think those are reason enough to vote Charlie out, and I think that’s what the people have made clear.
B’10: Who would you say are the major players in the race?
Johnson: Nationally, or locally?
B’10: Locally, but if there are national interests at stake, that’s of interest, too.
Johnson: I’m sure you’ve probably looked at my financial reports. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you that most of my money has come from individual donors, not big interest groups.
I think the last time I looked, about 73 to 75 percent of Charlie’s money comes from big interest groups. B’10: Which interests groups specifically do you see at stake in the race?
Johnson: If I win, obviously the coal industry is going to be a winner, the energy industries are going to be winners. Small businesses are going to be winners.
You know, Charlie did not vote for Cap and Trade, but he’s never come out vocally in opposition to Cap and Trade, and so the coal industry saw right through that. That’s why the coal industry supports my candidacy.
As for who’s behind him, I know he’s gotten a lot of money from the unions, but I’ll be honest, I haven’t looked at that in detail. I’ve got people in my team who have, but I’ve been more focused on my campaign and trying to raise money than worrying about where Charlie gets his. It’s very true that Charlie’s candidacy is being propped up by unions — most of his money comes from the unions.
B’10: Your website’s name is “BillJohnsonLeads.com.” What’s the number one issue where you’ve shown leadership and where Charlie Wilson has failed to show leadership?
Johnson: I think it’s in finding real solutions to real problems, and here’s a prime example: When I first moved to Ohio, I had spent 27 years in the military, so I’ve lived all over the United States. We have family here in Ohio and when we settled back down here, one of the first things I noticed was the number of cars that flood across the border into Pennsylvania every weekend to do their shopping because Pennsylvania has no sales tax on clothing. So I founded an organization back in 2009 called the Ohio Sales Tax Reform Incentive. And from the ground up, I built a grassroots organization that sought to implement some sales tax holidays here in Ohio.
We encountered a lot of opposition, because the Governor’s Department of Taxation at the state level said “No, you can’t do that, you’re going to take tax revenue out of the state coffers at a time when we’ve got a budget deficit.” But that’s not what happens at all. Seventeen other states, prior to Ohio, had implemented sales tax holidays, and all had proven to achieve increases in tax revenue. Even with exemptions toward school supplies, sporting goods, equipment, clothing, and computers, we had a program with an economic curve that showed that we’d be bringing in upwards of $250 million in additional sales tax revenue for the state of Ohio.
When people get to keep more of their hard-earned money and they have savings from taxes that are exempt, they channel those savings into buying things that they want to have. So that’s the kind of leadership our nation is looking for — I think that’s the kind of leadership that the people of the 6th District are looking for. That’s what I exhibited in my military career — you don’t just look at a problem, and you don’t just talk around it, you try and find solutions to solve it.
B’10: What is the message you plan on sending to Washington if you win?
Johnson: The message that I plan on sending to Washington is this: We want to return to a fiscally conservative federal government, one that stands on the Constitution, one that is smaller, less intrusive, one that protects our national security, but at the same time stimulates and creates an environment for free-enterprise innovation. That’s what’s going to save our economy — private-sector innovation. I want to show that private-sector innovation wins out over Big Government, that fiscal responsibility wins out over more debt, and making tough spending decisions wins out over higher taxes.