By Nicole Desautels
November 1, 2013 – In what appears to be an effort to avoid facing his Madison area constituents, Sen Ron Johnson (R-) held what he considered a “public listening session” with a handful of people in a little-publicized meeting orchestrated by Camille Solberg, Johnson’s Central Wisconsin Regional Director. Fewer than a dozen locals gathered at 11 a.m. on Wednesday in a small conference room in the Shorewood Hills Village Hall basement to ask questions of the Senator, who was not present and did not make the “surprise” appearance that his representative said he sometimes makes at his mobile office hours. Unlike his predecessor, Russ Feingold, Johnson makes only infrequent, token efforts to communicate with his constituents, and doesn’t even provide a toll-free telephone number for any of his offices.
When asked how much publicity was done to alert the public to the event, Solberg responded that a press release had been sent to local radio and media two weeks in advance. People in the room responded that they hadn’t seen it in any papers or heard it announced anywhere — it had only been given a small mention in a calendar of upcoming events on the Village website. Solberg then explained that the Senator’s office can’t “force the newspaper to print” their press releases. Constituents raised concerns that Johnson doesn’t provide an efficient means of communication with his office, especially for constituents who don’t live near one of his two satellite offices.
During the listening session, Solberg struggled to come up with answers for the group. On a question relating to Johnson’s position on frac sand mining — an issue at the forefront in Wisconsin at the moment — she responded that she didn’t know Johnson’s views on it — “I’m not gonna have all the answers and have everything memorized,” she said. She claimed this was the first time she had been asked about it, even though she says travels the state over forty hours each week to hold listening sessions with the public. She then conceded that she regularly visits with sand frac mining industry executives who are seeking Johnson’s support in their efforts to avoid EPA regulation.
Solberg was also asked what Johnson’s rationale was for not supporting the lifting of the Debt Ceiling. The gentleman said Johnson was “playing with fire” and had violated the Constitution. “I think he violated his own core beliefs. If he believes in the Constitution, which I believe he does and he swore to uphold… There’s a very explicit statement in the Constitution that the United States will honor the debts that were legally incurred, and these were debts that were authorized by spending by Congress. So I just can’t understand it at all. And then when you add the repercussions on top of it, it’s… astonishing. That he could take this country to the brink like that.” It was pointed out by another attendee that Johnson’s decision cost the country $32 billion and damaged the reputation of the United States around the world. “That piece of legislation would have spiraled this country into the biggest economic depression we would have ever experienced. So that’s another disconnect. He says ‘compassion,’ he says ‘lower the debt,’ he says ‘fiscal responsibility,’ but his votes do nothing to reflect it.”
The issue of Climate Change was raised by Ella Schwierske, Field Organizer for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, who read a letter to Sen. Johnson. “I stand here today as a concerned Wisconsinite, embarrassed that last week, once again, Wisconsin gained national media attention because you, Senator Johnson, continue to deny that Climate Change exists…”
Another constituent asked Solberg if Johnson believes in human evolution. Solberg shook her head no and replied, “I don’t believe so.” A minute later she retracted her answer and said she would find out more about it, “because I really don’t have a stance on his personal belief on that.”
Members of the group pointed out there’s a disconnect between what the Senator says and how he votes. Solberg was asked to deliver a message to Johnson: “He might want to think harder about the repercussions of his statements before making them.”
Note: Ron Johnson’s Staff Mobile Office Hours are announced on his official website under ‘Newsroom / Press Releases‘.
Update 11/6: According to Ella Schwierske, Field Organizer for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, there was only one constituent present at the November 5th Ron Johnson Office Hours held in Bear Creek (Outagamie County) — another representative from WLCV.
Update 11/7: Johnson does believe in evolution. Huffington Post followed up on the question.