The Corner

Politics & Policy

Feingold Attacks Johnson’s Anti-Poverty Program

UPDATE: Johnson’s campaign released a new advertisement in response to Feingold’s attack on the Joseph Project, featuring a member of the Greater Praise Church of God in Christ and pastor Jerome Smith, along with men and women who participated in the anti-poverty program:

As the Senate race in Wisconsin tightens in the last two weeks before election day, Democratic candidate Russ Feingold — who served three terms as senator before being unseated by Republican Ron Johnson in 2010 — has lashed out at an unlikely target: Johnson’s charity work. On Wisconsin Public Radio, Feingold criticized the Joseph Project, an anti-poverty program that Johnson established last fall in partnership with pastor Jerome Smith.

As I previously reported at NRO, the Joseph Project — operated by Smith, Johnson, and Johnson’s staff with no government funding — has recruited and trained close to 200 impoverished people in Milwaukee. Bridging the gap between open manufacturing jobs and unemployed people looking for opportunity, the project connected these individuals with employers and transported them to and from their jobs every day an hour away in Sheboygan. As of early September, the project had expanded from Milwaukee to a second location in Madison.

But apparently this charity program isn’t up to Feingold’s progressive standards. “It’s not enough to pick people up in a van and send them away a couple hours and have them come back exhausted at the end of the day. That doesn’t make a community,” he said in a recent radio hit. He added that investment in minority-owned businesses, community policing, and public schools would be a better solution.

“Senator Feingold is not only denigrating the Joseph Project, he’s denigrating the dozens of hard-working people in Milwaukee and Madison who have taken these jobs and are trying to break cycles of poverty and improve their communities,” Johnson said in response to Feingold’s attack. “He owes those who have participated in the Joseph Project an apology.”

But don’t take Johnson’s word for it. Take it from the men and women who participated in the Joseph Project, such as the 62-year-old man who was able to buy his first car after participating in the program and maintaining a job.

“Ron Johnson doesn’t mind talking to you,” another man said of the incumbent senator. “He doesn’t mind giving you advice. He’s hands-on with you. He’s not a ghost. We have Ron Johnson giving back to the community and giving back to the people of Milwaukee. I don’t see nobody else doing that.”

“I’ve gained interview skills, and I’ve actually gained a lot of confidence,” Trayvonn Brown explained. “I’ve learned the difference between a job and a career. A job is something where you just work to get by. A career is something you do with your life, something that you like. So, I’m trying to find a career.”

“It’s not just about going somewhere and working,” said Nacona Liphford. “It’s about having fun and becoming part of a family. . . . You don’t get opportunities like this in life. It rarely comes around. . . . I thank them a thousand percent.”

“The Joseph Project is amazing. It helps you get ready for the job,” one woman added. “It gave me that hope back. I had lost all hope.”

“It means, to me, that I have a future,” said Paul Bridges.

“The Joseph Project was like the stepping stone for me,” another man agreed.

“When I started working in a job, I started seeing more clarity in my life. I started seeing where I could take things,” one young man explained. “When you walk into a company, the people there welcome you. They accept you, like they knew you forever. It’s like ‘Welcome to heaven.’ That’s what I always tell people. They greet you, everybody smiling. Every day they’re very polite, very helpful, and they just want to see you succeed.”

“My bills are paid. I’ve got money in the bank. I haven’t had that in a long time,” said one program graduate as he spoke to a class of participants.

“It’s a true blessing. I love the Joseph Project,” another graduate said. “I am proud to be considered a part of the program.”

Laretha Branch said she was excited about the support she’s found in this project: “We have people that’s standing with us, that’s helping us to better ourselves, to have a job.”

“This is a blessing to me, because it came unexpected, really,” said Lakayla Charlie. “I’m grateful for this. I’m learning the correct way to do an interview, how to talk to people, how to deal with stress, how to not give up if we don’t find a job, to keep pushing forward, how to be a better person. It’s making me better.”

“It’s nice to know that someone cares and is willing to assist you,” Andre Nealy added, “to help you get ahead, which is what I feel like the world’s been missing.”

Johnson faces a tough fight leading up to the election, but the race has tightened considerably in recent weeks, due at least in part to his positive messaging, based largely on the mission and success of the Joseph Project. It is shameful that Feingold would attempt to use this charity program as a political tool, denigrating something that has provided many of Wisconsin’s poorest citizens with the opportunity to care for their families and build confidence in themselves.

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