Ron Johnson (U.S. politician)

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This article is about the American politician. For other people with the same name, see Ron Johnson (disambiguation).
Ron Johnson
Ron Johnson, official portrait, 112th Congress.jpg
United States Senator
from Wisconsin
Assumed office
January 3, 2011
Serving with Tammy Baldwin
Preceded by Russ Feingold
Chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee
Assumed office
January 3, 2015
Preceded by Tom Carper
Personal details
Born Ronald Harold Johnson
(1955-04-08) April 8, 1955 (age 61)
Mankato, Minnesota, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Jane Johnson (1977–present)
Alma mater University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Religion Lutheranism
Website Senate website

Ronald Harold "Ron" Johnson (born April 8, 1955) is the senior United States Senator for Wisconsin and a member of the Republican Party.[1][2] Prior to his election to the Senate, he was chief executive officer of PACUR, LLC, a polyester and plastics manufacturer.[2][3]

Early life and education[edit]

Johnson was born in Mankato, Minnesota, the son of Jeanette Elizabeth (née Thisius) and Dale Robert Johnson. His father was of Norwegian descent and his mother was of German ancestry.[4] While growing up, Johnson delivered newspapers, worked as a caddy at a golf course, baled hay on his uncle's dairy farm, and worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant.[5] He attended the University of Minnesota while working full-time and graduated in 1977 with a degree in business and accounting.[6]

Business career[edit]

In 1979, Johnson moved to Wisconsin with his wife Jane, and both started working for PACUR, a custom sheet extruder company, with his wife's brother, Patrick Curler, for whom the company was named. PACUR had been created a few months before Johnson arrived in Wisconsin with funding from Patrick and from Jane's father Howard Curler. PACUR's sole customer for the first several years of the company's existence was a company called Bemis, which was run by Howard Curler.[7]

For nearly a year, Johnson worked as the accountant and as a machine operator, trading 12-hour shifts with his brother-in-law, with whom he also shared a small cot. The company later expanded into the area of medical device packaging, which involved hiring salespeople and exporting products to other countries. In the mid-80s Pat Curler left PACUR and Johnson became CEO. In 1987, the Curler family sold PACUR to Bowater Industries for $18 million. Bowater kept Johnson on as the company's CEO. In 1997, Johnson purchased PACUR from Bowater; he remained as the company's CEO until he was elected to the US Senate in 2010.[8]

US Senate[edit]


Johnson speaking in February 2011.

The 2010 US Senate campaign was Johnson's first run for elective office. He was described as a "political blank slate" because he had no history of campaigning or holding office.[9] He attracted the attention of the Tea Party movement when he gave two emotional speeches at Tea Party rallies. According to The New York Times, he said he "did kind of spring out of the Tea Party" and is glad to be associated with it,[10] although he did not subsequently join the Senate Tea Party Caucus.[11] In the September 14, 2010, Republican primary, Johnson, running a largely self-financed campaign,[12] defeated Watertown businessman Dave Westlake, taking 85% of the vote, with 10% going to Westlake and the remaining 5% going to Stephen Finn.[13][14]

As a candidate, Johnson opposed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. He launched his campaign by telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that, "We would have been far better off not spending any of the money and let the recovery happen as it was going to happen." The newspaper later reported that the education council Johnson led considered applying for stimulus money in 2009, but ultimately elected not to do so. The Johnson campaign stated that non-profits consider "many possibilities," but that the council "made no application."[15]

In the November 2, 2010, general election, Johnson defeated Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold with 52% of the vote.[16]

Johnson contributed $9 million of his own money to his campaign, which raised a total of $15.2 million.[17][18] In June 2011, Johnson's financial disclosures showed Pacur, where he was CEO for 13 years until elected to the Senate, had paid him $10 million in deferred compensation in early 2011. The compensation covered the period from 1997–2011, during which he took no salary from PACUR. Johnson said that he, as CEO, had personally determined the dollar amount and that the amount was unrelated to the contributions he had given to his campaign.[19][20]

After being elected to the Senate, Johnson "sold every liquid asset so there would be absolutely no chance for conflict of interest," although he was not required to sell these holdings.[21]


In March 2013, Johnson announced that he would seek re-election to the US Senate in 2016. In November 2014, he was endorsed by the fiscally conservative Club for Growth;[22] that month, he said he would not self-finance his re-election bid.[23] In December 2014, the Washington Post rated Johnson the most vulnerable incumbent US Senator in the 2016 election cycle.[24] In May 2015, Feingold announced he would run to win the Senate seat back.[25]


Regulatory reform[edit]

In July 2011, Johnson introduced S. 1438, the Regulation Moratorium and Job Preservation Act. The bill would impose a moratorium on significant new federal regulations until the national unemployment level falls to 7.7 percent – just below where it was when President Obama took office.[26] Johnson cited the EPA "Boiler MACT" rule as one example of a new regulation which would be blocked.[27]

Fiscal issues[edit]

In the Senate, Johnson has established a reputation for working behind the scenes to address fiscal issues. He has been particularly focused on limiting federal spending in order to reduce the deficit, and has been active in attempting to drive consensus on fiscal issues between Republicans in the Senate and the House. He was involved in the deals to raise the debt ceiling in July 2011 and January 2013.[11]

Johnson said that 2011 debate over whether to increase the US debt ceiling presented an opportunity to establish hard caps on federal spending.[28] He argued that Congress could not keep raising the debt limit, and needed to prioritize spending.[29] Johnson called for open negotiations over the debt ceiling, saying that the closed-door talks were "outrageous" and "disgusting." He said that default should not have been a concern, because the government had plenty of funding to pay interest on debt, Social Security benefits, and salary for soldiers.[30]

In January 2013, Johnson voted for the fiscal cliff agreement that reduced pending tax increases and delayed spending cuts that were precipitated by the 2011 debt ceiling deal.[11]

Health care[edit]

In 2013, Johnson co-sponsored legislation that would have allowed people at risk of losing their healthcare coverage due to Obamacare to keep their current healthcare plans. In an editorial for the Wall Street Journal on April 13, 2015, Johnson said that he would propose legislation to allow current Obamacare enrollees to keep their healthcare plans through August 2017 and to continue to receive existing subsidies. New enrollees would not receive subsidies. However, the individual and employer mandates would end. Mandated coverages would also be terminated to enable less expensive policies.[31][32]

In early 2014, Johnson criticized the ability of Congress to continue using pre-tax employer contributions to help pay for their medical care, rather than being subject to the full text of the Affordable Care Act that the rest of the nation must follow.[33] Johnson initiated a lawsuit against the Obama Administration offering ACA exemptions to members of Congress and their staff.[33] "I really do believe that the American people expect, and they have every right to expect, that members of Congress, the political class here in Washington, should be fully subject to all of the rules, all the laws that Congress imposes on the rest of America...", Johnson said.[33] In July 2014, a court ruled that the Senator did not have standing and dismissed the case. In April 2015, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit also said Johnson lacked legal standing to bring the case forward.[34][35]

Johnson has declined to support efforts to tie funding the federal government with defunding Obamacare, stating: "Even if we were to not pass the continuing resolution [to fund the federal government], you're not going to be able to defund Obamacare, absent of President Obama signing a law, which I think is highly unlikely."[36]


As chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Johnson introduced the Secure the Border First Act of 2015.[37]

Committee assignments[edit]

Political positions[edit]

Statute of limitations for sex crimes[edit]

In January 2010, prior to holding elective office, Johnson opposed a Wisconsin bill that would have eliminated the time limit for future child sex abuse victims to bring lawsuits while allowing an additional three years for past victims to sue.[38] Johnson testified before the Wisconsin Senate that "punishment for the actual perpetrators should be severe," but questioned whether it would be just for employers of perpetrators to be severely financially damaged or destroyed by lawsuits.[39] He added that the bill, if enacted, might actually reduce the reporting of child sex abuse.[9][38] At the time of his testimony, Johnson was on the Finance Council of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Green Bay.[9][38] In June 2010 he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "I can't think of a penalty that would be too harsh for these guys"[40] and in late September 2010, Johnson indicated that the legislation would have financially crippled organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs and that the punishment for child sex abuse should be, "severe and swift."[38] He also sought to address reports about his testimony, saying “I sought to warn legislators of those consequences in order to correct legislative language so that any bills that passed would punish the perpetrators and those that protect them, not honorable organizations that do so much good for our communities. We must rid our society of people who prey on children.”[41]

Fiscal issues[edit]

Johnson has opposed increased government spending and the federal stimulus. He has supported broad reduction in federal tax rates, simplifying regulations on business and free-market health care options.[42]

When asked if Johnson would get rid of home mortgage interest deductions (claiming mortgage interest as a tax-deductible expense), he said he "wouldn’t rule it out" as part of an effort to lower taxes and simplify the tax code.[43]

Climate change[edit]

In a 2010 interview, Johnson called scientists who attribute global warming to man-made causes "crazy", saying the theory is "lunacy" and attributing climate change to causes other than human activity.[44] In February 2016, Johnson said "I've never denied climate change. The climate has always changed, and it always will".[45] While on a radio talk show August 1, 2015, on Racine, Wisconsin's WRJN-AM, Johnson said that "the climate hasn't warmed in quite a few years. That is proven scientifically."[46] Johnson is a cosponsor of the Energy Tax Prevention Act, which would block the EPA from imposing new rules on carbon emissions.[47]

Health care[edit]

Johnson is opposed to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In an op-ed article written for the Wall Street Journal, Johnson spoke of his personal experience with his daughter, who was born with a congenital heart defect, and suggested that the life-saving treatment she received was only possible because of the United States' free-market health care system.[48] Johnson says the PPACA "will lead to rationed care, lower the quality of care, increase medical costs and severely limit medical innovation… this law will add trillions of dollars to our nation’s debt and deficit".[49] He is a cosponsor of legislation to suspend implementation of PPACA while legal challenges to the bill are decided.[50]

Domestic oil production[edit]

When asked about allowing additional drilling for oil in the continental US, including the Great Lakes if oil was to be found there, Johnson responded: "We have to get the oil where it is, but we need to do it responsibly. We need to utilize American ingenuity and American technology to make sure we do it environmentally sensitively and safely." After criticism from the Feingold campaign, Johnson said in July 2010 that his answer did not mean he supported drilling in the Great Lakes.[51] Johnson argues that America's dependence on imported oil creates "both security and economic threats to the nation".[52] Johnson is a cosponsor of legislation to encourage job growth, reduce energy costs, and increase tax revenue by expanding domestic oil production.[53]

Social issues[edit]

Johnson opposes abortion except in cases of incest, rape, or when the mother's life is in danger.[54][55] He opposes the funding of research that uses embryonic stem cells. Johnson has stated he disagrees with it morally and also has said that eliminating the funding of the research would help balance the federal budget.[56]

In March 2015, Johnson voted for an amendment to establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund to allow employees to earn paid sick time.[57]

Gun policy[edit]

Johnson is a strong supporter of gun rights. He is cosponsor of S.570, a bill that, if passed, would prohibit the Department of Justice from tracking and cataloging the purchases of multiple rifles and shotguns.[58] In April 2013, Johnson was one of 12 Republican Senators who signed a letter threatening to filibuster any newly introduced gun control legislation.[59] That month, Johnson joined 45 other Senators in defeating the Manchin-Toomey Amendment, which would have required background checks on all commercial sales of guns.[60]

Electoral history[edit]

Wisconsin U.S. Senate Republican Primary 2010[14]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ron Johnson 500,925 85
Republican Dave Westlake 61,303 10
Republican Stephen Finn 29,005 5
Wisconsin U.S. Senate Election 2010
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ron Johnson 1,125,999 51.86
Democratic Russ Feingold (incumbent) 1,020,958 47.02
Republican gain from Democratic

Personal life[edit]

Johnson and his wife, Jane, have three children, all of whom are graduates of the University of Wisconsin.[8] He is a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.[61]

During his time in the Senate, Johnson has endorsed the Joseph Project which provides training in soft skills for the unemployed, some of whom have criminal records, in the Milwaukee area and assists them with finding jobs. Johnson has lobbied local companies to hire "graduates" of the program.[62]


  1. ^ Jeremy Pelofsky and Frances Kerry (November 2, 2010). "Wisconsin's Feingold loses Senate re-election bid, NBC projects". Reuters. Reuters. Retrieved February 27, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Catanese, David (July 6, 2010). "Johnson balances GOP, tea party". Politico. Retrieved February 27, 2011. 
  3. ^ "The Polyester and Lenticular Plastic Specialists". PACUR. Retrieved October 19, 2010. 
  4. ^ "Ron Johnson ancestry". Retrieved 12 August 2016. 
  5. ^ Almanac of American Politics 2014, p. 1822.
  6. ^ "Ron Johnson Biography". Ron Johnson Senate. Retrieved 18 November 2014. 
  7. ^ Bollier, Jeff (October 5, 2010). "Johnson's Pacur LLC began as Curler family enterprise". The Oshkosh Northwestern. Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  8. ^ a b "Meet Ron Johnson". Ron Johnson for Senate. June 10, 2010. Retrieved February 27, 2011. 
  9. ^ a b c Daniel Bice (June 10, 2010). "Ron Johnson's record includes opposition to victims' bill". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved February 27, 2011. 
  10. ^ Zernike, Kate (October 14, 2010). "Where Tea Party Candidates Are Running – Interactive Feature". The New York Times. Retrieved February 27, 2011. 
  11. ^ a b c "The Rise of Ron Johnson". Milwaukee Magazine. August 1, 2013. Retrieved April 27, 2016. 
  12. ^ Camia, Catalina (November 19, 2014). "Wisconsin Sen. Johnson won't self-finance 2016 race". USA Today. Retrieved 22 February 2016. 
  13. ^ "Wisconsin Senate – Feingold vs. Johnson – Final Result". Real Clear Politics. Retrieved February 27, 2011. 
  14. ^ a b "Wisconsin Primary Results". The New York Times. September 14, 2010. Retrieved February 27, 2011. 
  15. ^ Don Walker (October 30, 2010). "Johnson's PIE inquired about federal funds". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved February 27, 2011. 
  16. ^ "Election 2010 Wisconsin Results". The New York Times. November 3, 2011. Retrieved February 27, 2011. 
  17. ^ "2010 Race: Wisconsin Senate". Center for Responsive Politics. Retrieved 22 February 2016. 
  18. ^ Opoien, Jesse (June 23, 2015). "Ron Johnson, Russ Feingold trade barbs on PACUR payment, PAC spending". The Capital Times. Retrieved 22 February 2016. 
  19. ^ Daniel Bice (June 23, 2011). "Johnson proves to be a big spender – and taker: Firm pays him $10 million". Journal Sentinel. 
  20. ^ Sarlin, Benjy; Crabtree, Susan (June 28, 2011). "Ron Johnson Ducks TPM Questions On His $10 Million Payday: 'It's A Private Company'". Talking Points Memo. Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  21. ^ "Sen. Ron Johnson of Oshkosh cleans up stock holdings". Appleton Post Crescent. June 16, 2011. Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  22. ^ Cahn, Emily (November 12, 2014). "Club for Growth Endorses 6 Senators for 2016". Roll Call. Retrieved 10 December 2014. 
  23. ^ Camia, Catalina (November 19, 2014). "Wisconsin Sen. Johnson won't self-finance 2016 race". USA Today. Retrieved 10 December 2014. 
  24. ^ Cillizza, Chris; Blake, Aaron; Sullivan, Sean (November 7, 2014). "Why Republicans' Senate majority could be very short-lived". Washington Post. Retrieved 10 December 2014. 
  25. ^ Bauer, Scott (May 14, 2015). "Wisconsin's Feingold to Run for US Senate". Associated Press. 
  26. ^ "Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Wants a Regulatory Moratorium Pegged to Unemployment". The Weekly Standard. August 5, 2011. Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  27. ^ "Press Releases: Johnson Introduces Regulation Moratorium and Job Preservation Act". July 28, 2011. Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  28. ^ Korbe, Tina (April 13, 2011). "Sen. Ron Johnson: Debt Ceiling Debate Should Net Spending Cap". Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  29. ^ Johnson, Ron (June 20, 2011). "Congress can't keep raising the debt limit". Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  30. ^ McCormack, John (July 7, 2011). "Sen. Ron Johnson: Closed Door Debt Ceiling Negotiations "Outrageous," "Disgusting"". The Weekly Standard. Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  31. ^ Strong, Johnathan (October 28, 2013). "The Corner: The one and only. Ron Johnson's Bill to Protect Existing Plans". National Review. Retrieved April 17, 2014. 
  32. ^ Johnson, Ron (April 13, 2015). "A Make-or-Break ObamaCare Moment". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 15, 2015. 
  33. ^ a b c "Senator Sues Obama Administration To Block His Own Health Care". Huffington Post. January 6, 2014. 
  34. ^ "Appeals Court Rejects GOP Senator's Obamacare Challenge". Huffington Post. April 14, 2015. 
  35. ^ "Implementing Health Reform: Senator Rebuffed In Challenge To Congressional Participation In ACA Exchanges". Retrieved 12 August 2016. 
  36. ^ Blake, Aaron (14 August 2013). "Sen. Ron Johnson opposes Obamacare defunding effort". Washington Post. Retrieved 14 August 2014. 
  37. ^ Coren, Courtney (January 21, 2015). "Sen. Ron Johnson: Border Security Bill Is 'First Step' in Reform". Newsmax. Retrieved March 8, 2015. 
  38. ^ a b c d Patty Murray (September 30, 2010). "Senate candidate Johnson defends position on child sex crimes". Wisconsin Public Radio. Fox21. Retrieved February 27, 2011. 
  39. ^ "Ron Johnson Testifies Against child Abuse Victims, Opposed Child Victims Act in wisconsin". YouTube. September 24, 2010. Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  40. ^ Bice, Daniel (June 6, 2010). "Ron Johnson's record includes opposition to victims' bill". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  41. ^ Stiles, Andrew (September 29, 2010). "Wisc Sen Race Takes An Ugly Turn". National Review Online. Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  42. ^ "Real Reforms for Health Care". Ron Johnson for Senate website. June 10, 2010. Retrieved February 27, 2011. 
  43. ^ Bob Schaper (August 20, 2010). "Johnson willing to 'horse trade' mortgage interest deduction". Madison, WI: WKOW. Retrieved February 27, 2011. 
  44. ^ Steve Schultze (August 16, 2010). "Sunspots are behind climate change, Johnson says". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved February 27, 2011. 
  45. ^ Moore, Greg (February 5, 2016). "Johnson: Jobs, health care as important as terror fight". Star Tribune. Associated Press. Retrieved 19 February 2016. 
  46. ^ Tom Kirtscher, "No climate warming in quite a few years, Sen. Ron Johnson says -- but records were set in 2014, 2015", Politifact Wisconsin, Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel, August 12, 2016, Retrieved August 12, 2016
  47. ^ "Energy". Retrieved October 14, 2015. 
  48. ^ Johnson, Ron (March 23, 2011). "ObamaCare and Carey's Heart". The Wall Street Journal. 
  49. ^ "Press Releases – Newsroom – Ron Johnson, United States Senator for Wisconsin". Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  50. ^ "Press Releases – Newsroom – Ron Johnson, United States Senator for Wisconsin". Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  51. ^ Dave Umhoefer (July 15, 2010). "Feingold, Johnson spar over oil drilling". Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Retrieved February 27, 2011. 
  52. ^ "EnergySolutions". 2010-06-10. Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  53. ^ "S.706: 3-D, Domestic Jobs, Domestic Energy, and Deficit Reduction Act of 2011 – U.S. Congress". OpenCongress. Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  54. ^ "Ron Johnson – The Jerry Bader Show – WTAQ News Talk 97.5FM and 1360AM". June 7, 2010. Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  55. ^ "Wisconsin Right to Life toes GOP line". Madison, WI: The Capitol Times. July 5, 2010. Retrieved February 27, 2011. 
  56. ^ "Johnson opposes funding for embryonic stem cells". Manitowoc, WI: The Herald Times Reporter. October 2, 2010. Archived from the original on October 12, 2010. 
  57. ^ Sullivan, Sean (March 27, 2015). "Senate passes budget after lengthy, politically charged 'Vote-a-rama'". Washington Post. Retrieved April 9, 2015. 
  58. ^ "S.570: A bill to prohibit the Department of Justice from tracking and cataloguing the purchases of multiple... OpenCongress". OpenCongress. Retrieved January 15, 2013. 
  59. ^ "12 GOP senators back Rand Paul on gun-control filibuster". Politico. Retrieved May 1, 2013. 
  60. ^ "U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 113th Congress – 1st Session". Legislation & Records. United States Senate. Retrieved 2013-07-30. 
  61. ^ "Metro Lutheran - 112th Congress opens with new and returning Lutheran representation". Retrieved 12 August 2016. 
  62. ^ "Running to Survive in the Year of Trump". WSJ. Retrieved 13 August 2016. 

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Tim Michels
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Wisconsin
(Class 3)

2010, 2016
Most recent
United States Senate
Preceded by
Russ Feingold
United States Senator (Class 3) from Wisconsin
Served alongside: Herb Kohl, Tammy Baldwin
Preceded by
Tom Carper
Chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee
United States order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Marco Rubio
United States Senators by seniority
Succeeded by
Rand Paul