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Sen. Ron Johnson stops by Ellsworth

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) spoke to people during a roundtable discussion at Pierce Pepin Cooperative in Ellsworth, Wis., on May 2. Johnson discussed many topics including the Farm Bill, President Donald Trump, and steel tariffs, just to name a few. Matthew Lambert / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 3
Pierce County Board Supervisor Dean Bergseng asked Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) a question about the likelihood the Farm Bill would pass in its current form, with few to no alterations during a roundtable discussion at Pierce Pepin Cooperative in Ellsworth, Wis., on May 2. Johnson response was that it was unlikely. Matthew Lambert / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 3
Larry Dokkestul, the president and chief executive officer at the Pierce Pepin Cooperative in Ellsworth, Wis., listens to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) speak during a roundtable discussion at the location on May 2. Matthew Lambert / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 3

At the beginning of his roundtable discussion at Pierce Pepin Cooperative on May 2, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked the room, with a show of hands, how many people believe the federal government is efficient and effective?

The response: no hands were raised.

Johnson then asked how many people believe it's the opposite.

The response: many hands were raised.

To a room of around 30 people, Johnson took a variety of questions that spanned steel tariffs, the Farm Bill, mental health funding, and more.

Before taking questions, Johnson took the time to address his thoughts on the perception of the federal government. Johnson called the lack of trust in the federal government "a pretty sad fact that the vast majority of Americans take a look at the federal government as, pretty much, a joke."

Johnson said that for 12 years he's been on a "one-man-mission" to strengthen people's belief in their own state and their rights.

"I guess what I'm trying to convey to people is, please, jealously guard your individual liberty and freedom," Johnson said. "Recognize reality. You're not going to fix that place. Now there's certain things that, it is as it is. We're going to try and fix what we can. We're going to try and make improvements. But please don't send people to Washington dedicated to growing it. Try to control more and more of your life. Elect people for federal office that understand that reality and are going to limit it. And over time, long game plan, took us decades to get in this position, over time returning the governing authority, as our founders recognized it, closely governed. Where local government is going to be a little more efficient, hopefully a whole lot more efficient, more effective, certainly more accountable. And a whole lot more non-partisan."

One of the first questions posed to the senator concerned the Trump tariffs. President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on solar panels and washing machines in January and tariffs on steel and aluminum in March.

The tariffs on steel and aluminum would equal a 25 percent and 10 percent tariff rate, respectively.

Shortly after Trump's announcements on the tariff increases, Johnson said in a March 7 interview with Bloomberg News that he hopes "this administration tailors this specifically to address the real abusers and hold harmless our allies and our trading partners."

Johnson expounded on this in Ellsworth, hoping Trump's aggressive stance is "just a negotiating tactic." Johnson also criticized Trump, who has said Canada has treated Wisconsin farmers horribly.

"And when President Trump started talking about Wisconsin he said 'Canada is treating our Wisconsin farmers horribly, just horribly,'" Johnson said. "Well, Mr. President, now that you mention Wisconsin, let me give you some facts. First of all, Wisconsin has a trade surplus with both Canada and Mexico. And having NAFTA is extremely important for not only Wisconsin agriculture, but all the manufacturing you do and these steel tariffs are going to be really harmful to all of our steel using, aluminium using manufacturers that export. It'll put them at a competitive disadvantage."

Johnson said the constant need for more workers in the United States in a looming issue.

"I've been privately and publicly pushing back on what the Trump administration is doing in terms of trades," Johnson said. "You do not win a trade war. You might lose less. But everybody loses."

However, Johnson praised the president for calling for more free, fair and reciprocal trade options.

Pierce County Board Supervisor Dean Bergseng asked if there would be a possibility for the current Farm Bill to stay intact, citing areas that he, as well as Wisconsin Farm Bureau, believe are positive.

"Probably zero," Johnson said. "The bill that will pass is the one that will be hammered out between Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) in the Senate [agriculture] committee. I'm not even aware they've published any of their efforts on it yet. Now, I don't know, maybe they'll take some stuff from the House, but again, a bipartisan bill is going to be looking quite a bit different than the Republican bill from the house."

An individual asked Johnson why some Republicans in the House and Senate are either hesitant or don't support Trump in the media.

Johnson was critical of the "mainstream media" saying he's never "seen such a concerted effort to sabotage an administration."

Johnson said it's not always easy to agree with Trump on every facet.

"In terms of the difficulty of a member of Congress on the Republican side totally supporting Trump in every aspect, I mean he doesn't make it very easy," Johnson said. "I never endorsed Trump during the campaign, but I was happy to say that I would support the areas of agreement. As I would with any president. I'll support those areas of agreement and I have. But where I disagree, I think it's my duty to do it as positively as possible to try and council toward a better policy. But I'll tell you, during the campaign, I saw Republican senators that were running for re-election who endorsed Trump, I saw the commercials. That's just what the mainstream media want to do. 'Oh, you endorse this.' Then they've got the whole string of things that, no, I don't endorse that. I believe in marital fidelity. I endorse that. He makes it pretty tough."

Johnson was also critical of his colleagues, Republican and Democrat alike, asking what people think the primary focus is for most members of Congress?

One man's response was to get re-elected. Johnson agreed.

"How do you get reelected?" Johnson asked. "You don't get reelected telling people you're going to fix these problems. Just promise them more benefits. And mortgaging our kids' future. You realize there's been an enormous transfer of wealth from young to old. We are impoverishing our children, the future generations as we demand these benefits. We say, 'that's my money,' well Social Security largely is. Medicare, every dollar you pay in for Medicare, you're going to get $3 off in benefits. It's completely unsustainable. And yet, there's few elected officials that'll tell you that because it's not popular, it's not their ticket to get reelected. I made two promises when I ran in 2010: I'll always tell you the truth, never vote with my reelection in mind. I've honored those promises, easily, because I'd rather be in Oshkosh. I love being here. I'd rather be in Wisconsin."

Johnson's term in the United States Senate ends in 2023.

Matthew Lambert

Matthew Lambert joined the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal in December 2016 covering government, school board, and writing features about the community. He is a graduate of Winona State University with a Bachelor's degree in Journalism. 

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