Ron Johnson shook things up last year when he ousted 18 year incumbent U.S. Senator Russ Feingold on a reformist platform. Johnson's campaign put Senator Feingold on the chopping block for his support of Obamacare and a stimulus bill that didn't create sustainable jobs nor stop rising unemployment rates. In November of 2010, a great champion of the progressive cause fell in defeat to a political unknown as a wave of Republicans "occupied" much of Washington.
El Conquistador met with U.S. Senator Ron Johnson at the "Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Gala" to discuss health care, jobs, education, and immigration reform. The good Senator was kind enough to give us some of his time, something our readers most certainly appreciate.
Health care is one of the top concerns among Hispanics in the United States. Diabetes, for instance, is a disease prevalent among Latinos that when left unmanaged can lead to cardiovascular problems, renal failure, and in some cases amputation. The trick then with health care reform is finding a pragmatic way to keep premium costs down without sacrificing coverage, patient accessibility, and free market competition. While Senator Johnson agreed that our health care system needs reform, Obamacare only exacerbated the problem.
Obamacare was sold as a bill of goods on the premise that it would reduce our federal deficit. It was an argument that Washington Democrats needed to make in order to get enough votes to override a Republican filibuster. However, we later learned that cost projections were unrealistically low as the number of American employees thought to lose their employer-sponsored coverage was seriously low-balled.
Without getting delving into the details, Obamacare would make it very expensive for employers to provide private sector health care coverage. As a result, there was a significant cost incentive for employers to drop employee coverage despite incurring a fiscal penalty for doing so.
For this reason, Senator Johnson told us that "Obamacare was designed for people to lose their employer-sponsored health care." These were the same pronouncements made by Congressman Paul Ryan when Democrats lobbied for Obamacare over the cries of the high profile "angry town halls." Johnson projects that at least 30-40% of employers will drop their employees' health care coverage.
We asked the Senator what he thought about Wisconsin's tumultuous recall elections. Current Wisconsin law allows for recalls, however, Johnson believes some updates are needed to prevent abuses. Johnson said, "I don't think it was ever anticipated they would be recalling elected officials because they didn't agree with their votes. That is what general elections are about. Recall elections should be generally reserved for people that did some odious things in office like committing crimes."
Johnson was also concerned about setting a bad precedent that awarded elected officials - those who had identified the problems and had made the hard choices - by turning them out of office before their term is up. Johnson's reference was to Republican lawmakers currently facing recalls because they had dared to cross swords with big labor. "Courage," Johnson said, "by and large is not an attribute generally seen in politicians. We don't want to harm an ability to attract people that have that kind of courage."
We asked Johnson if Latinos can expect immigration reform to be a top priority if Republicans were to control Congress. Johnson's response was intriguing.
First, he acknowledged that President Obama had punted on immigration reform. During his campaign for president, Obama promised Latinos immigration reform would be a top priority in his first year as president. And yet even with a super-majority of Democrats in Congress, they still couldn't tackle any part of the country's immigration problem.
Johnson also said that Speaker Newt Gingrich had made positive contributions during a recent presidential debate. Of all the Republicans running for president, Gingrich had provided easily the most comprehensive immigration plan including a guest worker program. The point that Johnson seemed to tag onto was Gingrich's claim that it was unrealistic to implement any deportation policy that uproots entire families.
Johnson told El Conquistador, "We are a compassionate society. We're not going to separate families and implement mass deportations." He said, "The history of immigrant populations, including the Hispanic population, are people who came here to build a good life for their families. Those are the types of people you want in America." Johnson reiterated, as not to be misunderstood, that America is a nation of laws, and that people need to respect those laws, but we can do it in a humane way.
One issue of great import to the Hispanic community is school choice. Nationwide, polls show that Latinos support school choice as a good alternative to traditional public schools. In Milwaukee, choice schools have been a great help to Latinos yielding impressive academic results, especially at St. Anthony's and Bruce Guadalupe.
Before Johnson was elected to the U.S. Senate, he spent 10 years volunteering in the private school system. Johnson told us, "You need competition in education, and school choice provides that type of competition." "The free market," Johnson said, "provides a phenomenal discipline to guarantee the lowest possible price for the highest possible quality customer services."
Johnson explained that as long as he's been alive, they've been trying to improve education, but haven't made much progress. "It's because we have a public school monopoly," Johnson stated. "Private schools have a difficult time surviving because the parent that sends their children to those private schools is paying taxes to support the public school system and also paying tuition for the private school system."
It was refreshing to hear a Republican Legislator talk about an immigration reform in a way that didn't disjoin entire families. And it was equally refreshing to know we have an advocate in the U.S. Senate that believes in free market based reforms and is willing to fight to keep our country's fiscal house in order.