What happened at Senator Johnson’s office

Like many people, I’ve been calling and writing my senator regularly to express my concerns. US Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) has three offices — Washington, Milwaukee and Oshkosh. I’ve left messages on the phones at all three offices about three times a week for most of the year. Once, I talked to a staff member who said that she would record my views for the senator. Other than that one time, I haven’t ever heard back, despite leaving my phone number and address on the voice message each time I call, and despite my request for the senate staff to inform me about the senator’s views and about upcoming town hall meetings.

So last Tuesday,  I happened to be driving past Oshkosh and thought I’d stop by to see if I might be able to talk to one of Senator Johnson’s staff in his office. When I walked in at just before 9 am, the receptionist was busy answering the phone. When she was done with a call, I told her that I would like to talk to one of the staff members about some concerns I had. She told me that I would need to fill out a form with my contact information and summary of my concerns.  I did so. Then she came outside of the locked area and said, “Well you’ve got me, so what can I help you with?”

“It looks like you’re very busy with the phones. Is there someone else in the office I can speak with?”

“Nope, you’ve got me. So what is your concern?”

“My concern is with the health care bill that is going to be on the senator’s desk soon. Are you sure I can’t speak with someone else in the office?”

“Our office only deals with veteran’s affairs and social security.”

“Are you sure that there’s not someone else I can talk to?”

“No. We’re done here.”

And with that, she turned and entered the locked door. I was shocked. I looked in and there were three people sitting at desks facing the door. I put my foot in the door and said to them, “I would like to speak to someone in your office about my concerns about the health care bill.” I repeated myself. I got blank stares from everyone.

At that point, I decided that I would start recording the interaction.

After I realize that everyone in the office is hiding in the back office, I recorded a video with the intent of sending it to Senator Johnson’s office to share my disappointment about the way I was being treated by his staff.

At some point my phone stopped recording. I might have accidentally stopped recording and then realized it, and started recording while outside with the officers.

Eventually, my phone ran out of storage, so what you don’t see is the angry police officer with his hand on his gun several minutes after our interaction began, and while I’m clearly not being a threat to anyone. I asked him why his hand was on his gun, and he fumed and said it was standard procedure, and then said, “I’m out of here!” and then stormed off. In fairness to the Oshkosh police, the lead officer was understanding and pleasant, and when I asked him if I was being removed from the senator office, he said, “They don’t want you here, they don’t think they can help you.” He empathized with the frustration I felt about not being heard.

I walked away, still really emotional. I don’t expect Senator Johnson to agree with me. I do expect him to listen when I come to his office to respectfully express my concerns. So I’m willing to do this again until I am heard.

What are your thoughts?

10 Replies to “What happened at Senator Johnson’s office”

  1. Jeff I think this was really brave and I think perhaps this could be the start of a political career for you 🙂 Only if you wanted it of course. Seems like an incredibly tough road but holy hell we need good people right now. Stay safe, keep resisting.

    1. Thanks for your encouragement, Karen! I have to admit that I thought about running for Senate as I was walking away from that office, but then I took a breath and focused on what I can do here and now. I feel that bringing people together from different political perspectives to better understand one another is the best we can do to help get through this situation.

  2. It’s our taxes that pay these people to do their jobs. And, they owe it to their constituents, whether or not we voted for them, to hear us out. What they did was disrespectful but, for Senator Johnson’s office, not surprising. Every year I go to Washington DC to visit with our representatives and the most dismissive of all is Sen Johnson’s staff. They always make me wait, despite not being busy, and, when they finally do meet with me, are very clear that they do not support my message. (BTW, my message is informative only . . . letting Sen Johnson know how CDFIs have helped his WI constituents.) After the 3rd year of being held in clear contempt of staff, I stopped going. I was tired of being abused and dismissed by a bunch of rude and uncaring individuals. How they treat people has to be a directive that comes from the Senator who is clearly driven, not by his constituents but by the gifts he receives from his wealthy donors. They stuff his pockets so he is in theirs . . . sad state of affairs for WI and our country. Jeff, thank you for sharing this and let this be a reminder to all of us that every single vote does matter.

    1. Salli – I’ve had experiences that are similar to yours when meeting with Johnson’s staff in DC. It is really remarkable to see how different the reception is from his office as compared to our other representatives in DC.

      I do feel that active, positive and informed engagement with our representatives in Congress has an impact on them, and that we should continue to engage.

  3. OMG, Jeff! Kudos to you for following through on this impossible situation, when our democracy is in tatters and our representatives refuse to meet with constituents. We had a town hall meeting here in Bloomington on Thursday evening, without our representative, because he refuses to meet with us. I wasn’t going to speak but then I realized I had to. Our city government here is very supportive – and that includes the police – but the political situation is horrifying at every level.

    My thoughts – keep on being persistent and videotaping, and memorize your facts about why the current health care bill is immoral and why healthcare for profit is immoral and why the very rich should be paying their fair share of taxes, and why pre-existing conditions should be covered, etc. I know that I am also very emotional about this topic. I have to talk about it more so that my voice wavers less, and that I communicate effectively – my husband has lymphoma and I am passionate about single payer (or the ACA, at the very least),

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and for speaking out, Tamara! I am glad to know that many of us are working to hold our representatives accountable to doing the right thing.

  4. My first interaction with Senator Ron Johnson was not as dramatic, but was also frustrating. I wrote a letter to him expressing my interest in his position on an environmental issue and asking for his vote. His letter back basically informed me that I was wrong on the issue and that he did not need to hear further on issues from me because he and I fundamentally disagreed about the role of government.

    1. Brad – thanks for sharing your experience. At least you did get a response, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t need to hear from you in the future. Now more than ever we need to continue to have rational, strong voices raised to insist that those in Washington hear the voices of the millions of people who will be impacted by their decisions. Keep up the letters and calls!

  5. I have been calling my senators and congressmen, too, all year. I have to say, with one exception, my calls to senator Johnson’s office have been the most disappointing. His staff are the snarkiest of any I’ve called and that includes Paul Ryan’s office. (Ryan is not my congressman but I insist that as speaker of the House he should hear what I have to say.) I suspect they are snarky because they talk to a lot of people who are not happy. But, they need lessons in how to work with people.
    As far as your interaction I’m shocked at how threatened they perceived themselves to be. Can’t believe WI re elected this individual. He is not representative of the people of our state, IMHO.

  6. Senator Johnson’s staff needs retraining. Staff is only there to listen to the constituents and pass on the information. Clearly they are unaware of how to be polite, take notes and listen. Perhaps they are taking the que being given by Senator Johnson.

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