Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a former businessman and now a freshman senator, held a conference call Thursday afternoon with a small group of bloggers. For a freshman, he’s entirely fluid on the issues and easily navigates between specifics and larger themes.
I asked him about Wisconsin. Why did Gov. Scott Walker take so long to pull out the “fiscal” elements and pass the legislation without a quorum? Johnson first made clear that he and the governor believe this “is not about individual workers . . . but about rebalancing the equation” so that the taxpayers’ interests are being protected. As for the long-in-coming resolution, Johnson explained that the governor wanted the collective bargaining provision and the rest of the cost-cutting measures “tied” because they were all part of the effort to close the state’s budget deficit. But it became evident the Democrats weren’t budging. He said that one Democratic senator even requested an absentee ballot for the spring election. At that point Walker moved forward on the bill.
But Johnson was clearly disturbed by what he characterized as “mob rule and thuggery.” He said that Republicans were being accused of being undemocratic, but “what doesn’t look democratic is the mob rule.” He argued that the “amount of thuggery, the threats of execution” have not been sufficiently covered by the media. He recalled that a radio show host read an anonymous e-mail sent to all the Wisconsin Republican state senators “threatening to put a bullet” through their heads and asserting that the e-mailer knew where the senators and their families were. Johnson said, “That is so out of bounds.”
He told me, “Our democracy is working here,” pointing to the Nov. 2 election of the governor and state legislators. He added, in a tone that was more sad than angry, “It’s a shame it’s being handled this way by the Democrats.”
As for Walker himself, Johnson related that the governor has been “resolved throughout the process.” He also acknowledged that while talking tough in public, Walker was “trying to be reasonable behind the scenes.”
As for the federal budget, Johnson argued that we will have a fiscal crisis if we don’t get our spending under control. He was dismayed that “the president isn’t leading.” The president “sitting on the sidelines isn’t helping” address our fiscal problems, he said. Both the White House and Senate Democrats, he asserted, “need to get serious.” He observed that the Senate’s proposed cuts amount to less than a day of borrowing on our current debt.
Johnson, like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), was a Tea Party favorite and a political novice. He is now showing himself to be a serious legislator, indeed more focused and articulate than many veteran senators. We will see if he can bring the private-sector perspective to a Senate where it is often missing.