Almanac A members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics

Biography

Elected: 2010, 1st term.

Born: April 8, 1955, Mankato, MN

Home: Oshkosh

Education: U. of MN, B.S. 1977.

Professional Career: Owner, PACUR; accountant, Josten's.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Lutheran

Family: Married (Jane) , 3 children

Republican Ron Johnson, Wisconsin’s senior senator, won his seat in one of 2010’s biggest upsets, dispatching 18-year Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold. Johnson has made waves in the Senate, unsuccessfully seeking a GOP leadership post in his first year in Congress, taking a hard-liner stance on curtailing federal spending and filing a lawsuit over the Affordable Care Act. He became chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in 2015.

Johnson grew up in Mankato, Minn. He says he developed a strong work ethic at an early age, delivering newspapers, caddying at a golf course, and baling hay on his uncle’s dairy farm. He was a restaurant dishwasher at 15 and within a year won a promotion to night manager. Although Johnson didn’t finish high school, he still attended college, working full-time and managing to graduate with $7,000 in the bank. While working as an accountant, Johnson went to night school to earn a master’s in business administration. Just short of a degree in 1979, he decided to move to Oshkosh to start a plastics company, PACUR, with his brother-in-law. Their first customer was a company co-founded by his father-in-law. Since then, the business has become a major producer of specialty packaging for medical devices, employing about 120 workers.

Johnson said his political views have been influenced by Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged, which argues that civilization cannot exist where men are slaves to society and government. Johnson said that his motivation to run against Feingold was the senator’s support of the Democrats’ 2010 health care overhaul, which he called “the single greatest assault to our freedom in my lifetime.”

He entered the race in May, just days before the state Republican nominating convention. Three GOP candidates were already competing, including beer mogul and former state Commerce Secretary Dick Leinenkugel and Madison developer Terrence Wall. But Johnson’s ability to self-finance made an immediate impact. At the convention, Leinenkugel surprised everyone, including Johnson, by taking his turn at the lectern to drop out and endorse Johnson, saying, “It’s not my time ... it’s Ron Johnson’s time.” Wall then reluctantly followed suit. Spending more than $4 million of his own money, Johnson went on to crush Watertown businessman Dave Westlake in the September primary with 85% of the vote.

In the general election contest, Johnson began with backing from tea party activists. “America needs to be pulled back from the brink of socialism and state control,” Johnson told a tea party gathering in May 2010. But some conservative groups developed second thoughts about his readiness for the Senate. Early in the campaign, he acknowledged that he was still developing his views on issues. One state group, the Rock River Patriots, declined to endorse him, saying they were unimpressed with his knowledge of the Constitution. But the National Republican Senatorial Committee, sensing an opportunity, jumped in to help, as did conservative kingmaker Jim DeMint, a Republican senator from South Carolina.

The campaign between Feingold and Johnson was nasty, especially by Wisconsin’s usually civil standards. Without a legislative record of his opponent to mine, Feingold sought to concentrate on Johnson’s record in business, attempting to depict him as someone more concerned about profits than people, “with a country club view of reality.” Feingold also called Johnson a hypocrite for opposing federal economic stimulus funds and then allegedly seeking those funds for renovation of an opera house.

Johnson fought back, noting in an ad that the Senate had 57 lawyers, including Feingold, but just one accountant and no manufacturers like himself. His GOP allies also did a textbook job of depicting the incumbent—who contemplated running for president in 2008—as an entrenched Washington insider supportive of deficit spending. Johnson called for a “hard spending cap” in the federal budget, while Feingold said he would support giving the president line-item veto power over appropriations bills. Feingold had $21 million to Johnson’s $15 million, but it was to no avail in an anti-incumbent year. Johnson beat Feingold, 52% to 47%.

In Washington, Johnson has been blunt -- a former strategist of his, Brad Todd, described him as "straight as a shot of uncut whiskey" -- and avowedly conservative. His lifetime score from the anti-tax group Club for Growth was 95%, one of the chamber's highest. In Politico reporter Kenneth P. Vogel's 2014 book Big Money, he said he heard a person who attended a seminar organized by influential billionaires Charles and David Koch describe Johnson as the Kochs' "model legislator." But when tea party-backed candidates failed to topple incumbent GOP senators in several primary elections in 2014, Johnson drew attention for emphasizing pragmatism over political purity. "I think the conservative movement may just be maturing a little bit," he said at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. "You can be very doctrinaire, you can demand purity, but in the end if you want to advance policy that you want enacted, you have to win elections."

In taking the gavel at Homeland Security, Johnson said he would emphasize aggressive oversight of the Obama administration, an area where he said Democrats hadn't been tough enough. But he also sought to emphasize his interest in working on a bipartisan basis on border security, cyber security, infrastructure and other issues. "I'm going to approach it the way I always approach any business negotiation," Johnson told National Journal. "Instead of arguing right off the bat, you start in this negotiation spending a lot of time figuring out the things you agreed on. That helped develop a relationship, a level of trust, and when we finally came to any areas of disagreement or contrast it's a whole lot easier to find common ground." But Wisconsin Democrats weren't buying it, saying the senator's rhetoric was merely a ruse intended to deceive voters in what was widely seen as a tough 2016 reelection battle. “I definitely think that any talk of being bipartisan and reach across the aisle is self-preservation for someone who knows they’re the most vulnerable member of the Senate in 2016,” Melissa Baldauff, a spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party, told the Wisconsin State Journal. 

During his earller years in office, he showed little interest in the chamber’s usual courtesies, drawing particular attention for grilling outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing in January 2013 on the deadly terrorist attack at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Johnson complained that lawmakers had been “misled” about the incident, and when Clinton said it would have been inappropriate to contact diplomatic staff for details immediately afterward because of an FBI investigation, he replied, “I realize that’s a good excuse.” An exasperated Clinton retorted: “No, it’s a fact ... What difference, at this point, does it make?” After The Washington Post awarded Johnson its “Worst Week in Washington” accolade for his aggressiveness, the senator said, “In Washington, demanding the truth is apparently a sin.”

Johnson tangled publicly with another high-profile Democrat in May 2014. West Virginia Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia said at a hearing that Republican opposition to the health-care law stemmed from the fact that Obama was "the wrong color." That led an angry Johnson to respond to Rockefeller: “It was regrettable and I would say it was offensive … that you would play the race card.” Johnson's enmity toward the Affordable Care Act led him to file a lawsuit challenging the provision that lawmakers and some of their employees obtain insurance through the state exchanges that the law created. A federal judge in July 2014 dismissed the suit, saying Johnson could not prove that the policy legally impaired him.

Johnson initially got seats on the Appropriations and Budget committees, but left Appropriations for Foreign Relations in 2013 after saying he was tired of being the only committee member opposed to more spending. In May 2011, he notably did not support fellow Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan’s controversial budget plan to dramatically reduce the deficit and transform Medicare on the grounds that Ryan’s proposal did not cut spending enough. In late June 2011, Johnson blocked a resolution to support military action in Libya as a way of calling attention to debt reduction, saying on the floor that the debt is “the single most important issue facing this nation.” Hoping for more radical spending cuts, he joined 18 other Senate Republicans in opposing the August 2011 deal that raised the debt limit.

Johnson launched a bid in December 2011 for a Senate Republican leadership post as conference vice chairman. The race was a classic outsider versus insider battle, with the maverick Johnson up against establishment candidate Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. Republicans favored Blunt over Johnson, 25-22. When Roll Call reported that Johnson had alienated some Senate Republicans, he blasted the article, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “it’s pretty clear there is some discomfort with an independent voice pushing for solutions.”

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-5323

(202) 228-6965

HSOB- Hart Senate Office Building Room 328
Washington, DC 20510-4905

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-5323

(202) 228-6965

HSOB- Hart Senate Office Building Room 328
Washington, DC 20510-4905

DISTRICT OFFICE

(920) 230-7250

(920) 230-7262

219 East Washington Avenue Suite 100
Oshkosh, WI 54901

DISTRICT OFFICE

(920) 230-7250

(920) 230-7262

219 East Washington Avenue Suite 100
Oshkosh, WI 54901

DISTRICT OFFICE

(414) 276-7282

(414) 276-7284

517 Wisconsin Avenue Room 408
Milwaukee, WI 53202

DISTRICT OFFICE

(414) 276-7282

(414) 276-7284

517 Wisconsin Avenue Room 408
Milwaukee, WI 53202

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

(920) 230-7070

601 Oregon Street Suite B
Oshkosh, WI 54902

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

(920) 230-7070

601 Oregon Street Suite B
Oshkosh, WI 54902

Staff

Sort by: Interest Name Title

Abortion

Sean Riley
Legislative Counsel

Agriculture

Meris Petek
Legislative Assistant

Banking

Tom Petri
Senior Legislative Assistant

Budget

Patrick McIlheran
Senior Communications Advisor

Commerce

Tom Petri
Senior Legislative Assistant

Communication

Carol Foster
Legislative Assistant

Disaster

John Lambert
Legislative Correspondent

Carol Foster
Legislative Assistant

Lydia Westlake
Legislative Director

Education

Sean Riley
Legislative Counsel

Jenna Mathis
Legislative Correspondent

Energy

Meris Petek
Legislative Assistant

Deborah Weigel
Legislative Assistant

John Lambert
Legislative Correspondent

Justin Stebbins
Legislative Correspondent

Environment

Meris Petek
Legislative Assistant

Tom Petri
Senior Legislative Assistant

John Lambert
Legislative Correspondent

Finance

Lydia Westlake
Legislative Director

Foreign

Deborah Weigel
Legislative Assistant

Carol Foster
Legislative Assistant

Lydia Westlake
Legislative Director

Justin Stebbins
Legislative Correspondent

Govt Ops

John Lambert
Legislative Correspondent

Lydia Westlake
Legislative Director

Health

Meris Petek
Legislative Assistant

Sean Riley
Legislative Counsel

Jenna Mathis
Legislative Correspondent

Homeland Security

Deborah Weigel
Legislative Assistant

John Lambert
Legislative Correspondent

Lydia Westlake
Legislative Director

Justin Stebbins
Legislative Correspondent

Housing

Tom Petri
Senior Legislative Assistant

Immigration

Deborah Weigel
Legislative Assistant

John Lambert
Legislative Correspondent

Carol Foster
Legislative Assistant

Intelligence

Deborah Weigel
Legislative Assistant

Carol Foster
Legislative Assistant

Justin Stebbins
Legislative Correspondent

Intergovernmental

Lydia Westlake
Legislative Director

Judiciary

Carol Foster
Legislative Assistant

Jenna Mathis
Legislative Correspondent

Labor

John Lambert
Legislative Correspondent

Lydia Westlake
Legislative Director

Logistics

Lydia Westlake
Legislative Director

Military

Deborah Weigel
Legislative Assistant

Carol Foster
Legislative Assistant

Lydia Westlake
Legislative Director

Minorities

Camille Solberg
Central Wisconsin Regional Director; State Minority Outreach Director

National Security

Deborah Weigel
Legislative Assistant

Carol Foster
Legislative Assistant

Native Americans

Tom Petri
Senior Legislative Assistant

Public Works

Meris Petek
Legislative Assistant

Science

Meris Petek
Legislative Assistant

Tom Petri
Senior Legislative Assistant

Small Business

Meris Petek
Legislative Assistant

Tax

Patrick McIlheran
Senior Communications Advisor

John Lambert
Legislative Correspondent

Technology

Meris Petek
Legislative Assistant

Telecommunications

Meris Petek
Legislative Assistant

Trade

Meris Petek
Legislative Assistant

Lydia Westlake
Legislative Director

Transportation

Meris Petek
Legislative Assistant

Tom Petri
Senior Legislative Assistant

Veterans

John Lambert
Legislative Correspondent

Lydia Westlake
Legislative Director

Welfare

Patrick McIlheran
Senior Communications Advisor

Election Results

2010 GENERAL
Ron Johnson
Votes: 1,125,999
Percent: 51.86%
Russ Feingold
Votes: 1,020,958
Percent: 47.02%
2010 PRIMARY
Ron Johnson
Votes: 504,644
Percent: 84.78%
Dave Westlake
Votes: 61,633
Percent: 10.35%

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