WISCONSIN Ron Johnson's record includes opposition to victims' bill
Ron Johnson's record includes opposition to victims' bill
Republican Senate candidate's slate not so blank
Posted: June 6, 2010 |(106) Comments
Ron Johnson, the Republican blessed by his party to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, is often described as a political blank slate:
No history of messy campaigns.
No legislative voting record.
Just a few interviews on conservative talk radio and some tea party speeches.
But there is one issue that Johnson feels passionately about - passionate enough to insert himself into the debate.
Prodded by a Catholic official, the Oshkosh businessman earlier this year jumped into the controversy over legislation aimed at making it easier for victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue their abusers.
Johnson, a Lutheran, sided with Catholic Church leaders in opposing the so-called Child Victims Act before a state Senate committee in January. The bill failed to win approval.
Here was the heart of his testimony:
"I believe it is a valid question to ask whether the employer of a perpetrator should also be severely damaged, or possibly destroyed, in our legitimate desire for justice."
Johnson had little to say about the victims of sexual abuse in his testimony. His was largely a financial concern.
He followed that up with this suggestion.
"This bill could actually have the perverse effect of leading to additional victims of sexual abuse," he argued, "if individuals, recognizing that their organizations are at risk, become less likely to report suspected abuse."
That argument doesn't sit well with victims of pedophile priests.
Peter Isely, the Midwest director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the Catholic Church has been more likely to cover things up if it is not faced with court action.
"He's just wrong," said Isely, who was not aware that Johnson had testified.
Not surprisingly, a Feingold spokesman took a shot at his likely GOP opponent for his stance on the issue.
"People want a senator who is going to fight for victims of abuse, not lobby against them," said John Kraus, a senior strategist for the incumbent Democrat. "If he won't stand with children who are victims of abuse, who will he stand with?"
Here are the key political questions:
Why did a guy considering a run for statewide office decide to jump into a controversy that cuts across party lines? What upside could there be?
Only Johnson can answer those.
In an interview last week, he said he was first contacted on the issue by Deacon Tim Reilly, director of administration for the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay. Though a Lutheran, Johnson is a big backer of Catholic schools and was serving on the diocese's finance council at the time of his testimony.
The proposal would have eliminated the statute of limitations for future victims of child sex abuse and opened a three-year window for past victims.
It was opposed by the insurance industry and church organizations, including the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, which argued the bill could bankrupt it. The measure had the support of several police organizations, social workers and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm.
Late last year, Johnson attended a briefing on the legislation for various Catholic officials held by state Sen. Randy Hopper, a Republican from Fond du Lac. During that meeting, Johnson, who sits on the boards for various nonprofits, said he became concerned about the unintended consequences of the bill on groups in addition to the Catholic Church.
"I think it was actually Randy Hopper who said, 'That's a perspective that would be handy to have,' so after that meeting, I got an e-mail from Tim saying when the (Senate Judiciary Committee) hearing would be," Johnson explained.
Johnson emphasized that his statement represented his own thoughts, not those of the diocese.
Isely finds the whole arrangement bizarre.
"It's interesting they send a Lutheran down to fight a Catholic cause," Isely said. "What would Martin Luther say?"
A couple of hours after Johnson talked to No Quarter, a top Republican Party official sent an unsolicited defense of the candidate's actions. The state party has endorsed Johnson, who is running against Watertown businessman Dave Westlake for the Republican nomination.
First, Mark Jefferson, executive director of the state GOP, suggested that the newspaper focus on Assembly Majority Leader Tom Nelson for his role in killing the bill. Jefferson also said the measure was poorly crafted.
"The fact that the bills went nowhere, in a Dem-controlled Legislature no less, shows that this well-intentioned bill wasn't fully thought out or ready for prime time," he wrote.
Actually, the legislation can't be easily pigeon-holed as a partisan effort.
While many sponsors were Democrats, there were a dozen Republicans in both houses who signed onto the bill. Johnson's own representative in the Assembly, Richard Spanbauer, backed it in committee.
More important than any of that, Isely said, is that Johnson sits on the Green Bay Diocese's finance council. Isely asked what Johnson had done in that post about the 51 priests there who SNAP says are the subject of credible claims of abusing children and minors.
"Regardless of the bill, he's in an extremely unique position that very few people are in to insist and demand accountability and transparency from the organization that he is defending here" in his legislative testimony, said Isely, who has no ties to Feingold's campaign.
In response, Johnson emphasized that the finance committee meets only three times a year and focuses primarily on balancing the budget. He resigned from the post to run for the Senate.
He wanted to emphasize that he has no sympathy for clergy sex offenders.
"Actually, had I not been put on the clock (in the state Senate), I would have made another statement," Johnson said. "I can't think of a penalty that would be too harsh for these guys. I don't think people that prey on children deserve a second chance. I guess God can give them one, but I sure don't think our courts and legal system should."
Taking the side of pedifiles AGAINST their victims (aka children) is NOT a minor issue.
I'm NOT sure Wisconsin is ready to have a Senator that has sympathy for perverts and NO SYMPATHY fot their victims.