The Spectacle Blog

Sen. Johnson: Citizen Statesmen Needed

By on 11.16.11 | 10:55AM

Freshman senator Ron Johnson stressed the need for more "citizen legislators" like himself at a press breakfast hosted by The American Spectator and Americans for Tax Reform this morning. Johnson explained that the lack of decisionmakers with experience outside of politics has been the aspect of business on the Hill that has surprised him the most since he rode the Tea Party wave into office.

Explaining that most Congressional staffers are "fine young people" just a few years out of school, Johnson wished that they could understand the "wonder and power of the free market system." 

"You don't really understand how powerful the free market system is until you lose an order by just a fraction of a percentage," Johnson said. "Until you lose a customer because you missed a delivery by a day, or six hours. That teaches you something. Living a life teaches you something; having a family teaches you something."

Johnson is as close to a pure citizen-statesman as can be found in the U.S. Congress. He ran a plastics company in Oshkosh and never thought of doing anything else until he attended a Tea Party event in Madison in late 2009. Johnson recounted that he didn't even discuss the possibility of running for office against the incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold until January of 2010. Even then, he wasn't sold on the idea until the legislative battle over Obamacare, during which he heard Barack Obama "demonize" doctors by suggesting that they perform unnecessary procedures for their own profit.

Johnson has a special respect for doctors and their work. His daughter was born with a heart condition that would have proved fatal had she not undergone two cutting-edge -- and expensive -- procedures. Today his daughter is herself a nurse, studying to become a nurse practitioner. On hearing Obama criticize the high payments doctors command, Johnson made the decision to run. With the help of the Tea Party and the advantage of taking Feingold "by surprise," he found himself elected to the U.S. Senate a few months later.

Since then, Johnson has approached his role with a businessman's attitude. He's prioritized regulatory reform by opposing many of the Obama administration's new rules and supporting measures like the REINS Act, intended to permanently slow down the pace of regulation. He wants to keep taxes low to free up "job creators" in the private sector. And his vision for real health care reform centers around the need to "reconnect the consumer of the product and the payment of the product" to keep spending down and quality up -- just as happened when he introduced consumer-driven health care plans for his own employees (the plans included health savings accounts and high deductibles). 

Coming straight from the private sector allows Johnson to admit he doesn't have all the answers. "You face the expectation that you'll be an expert on everything, and you simply can't be," he shrugged when asked if he'd had a hard time learning about policy issues as a new senator. "A billion-dollar business is huge. There are things going on within a billion-dollar business that, trust me, the CEO has no idea about. So you get here without ever being involved in politics and deal with a $3.6 trillion entity, and there's an awful lot of things you don't understand in great detail." 

To reform regulations and rein in spending, Johnson wants to see more private citizens follow his path and become active in politics. Not that he thinks it will be easy -- he praised the enthusiasm of Tea Partiers who sacrifice the time and effort to get involved with government at all levels, and warned that others would have to make similar sacrifices in order to change the direction of U.S. politics. He couldn't help but note that he "had a good life in Oshkosh" that he had to leave behind to come to D.C.

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