GOP Freshman Rep. Bill Johnson Shifts Gears

Johnson Talks About Life as a New Member of Congress

Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) first won office in the 2010 midterm elections that swept many Tea Party-backed candidates like Johnson into office. Johnson is a retired military officer and co-founded an information technology consulting company prior to seeking office. He now represents the rural 6th district along the eastern border of Ohio.

He spoke with The Christian Post about what it is like to be a member of Congress. In part II of the interview, Johnson answers questions about the Tea Party Movement, debt ceiling debate and presidential race.

CP: Now that you are an elected Member of Congress and have to spend time in Washington, where do you live during the week. Do you still sleep in your office?

I do still sleep in my office. I was elected to serve in Washington, not to live in Washington. Everything that I need to do for my constituents is in my office.

My day starts at about 6:00 in the morning, it ends at around 8:00 when I finish my last series of meetings, seminars, or whatever the day's schedule presents, and then I have a couple of hours of research, reading and preparation for the next day. So, I need to be where the information is.

For me to travel off the Hill to some other location would diminish my ability to represent the people that sent me there, because most of the work is back in the district.

CP: You've described a typical day for you in Washington, D.C. What about a typical day in your district?

The days here in the district are even longer than the ones in Washginton. It's not unusual for us to have 7:30, 8:00 meetings up in the northern part of our district that we have to get up and leave home about 4:00 in the morning, meet all day, get home at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. I pulled in at 1:45 am this morning after we started meeting yesterday morning in Salem. The last meeting was over at 10:00 p.m. last night, outside of Youngstown, and then we drove back for three hours.

CP: During a normal work week, which days would you spend in Washington and which days would you spend in your district?

It varies. Typically, we are in session four days a week, sometimes that is Monday through Thursday, sometimes that is Tuesday through Friday. Occasionally, depending on the legislative agenda and the priorities, you might be in session all five days. There are rare instances where you are in session only three days in a week and that's normally around a major federal holiday.

It is a gross misunderstanding, though, of the American people to think that when we are not in session in Congress that we are just lounging around the pool or sitting at home sipping Mai Tai's, because, that is not what we are doing. There is no such thing as a break. Saturdays, Sundays, weekends don't exist.

I was on the road both days this past weekend. It is a packed schedule. I'm not complaining, I'm just giving you the facts, because, I knew what I was getting into.

Our Founding Fathers, what they had to do, the miles and miles and miles they had to ride on horseback to get to where they needed to go put this thing called America together, and my wife and I understood when I ran for election that this was going to be a tough job, so we do not complain. We understand the pace and we understand the sacrifice.

CP: Some, such as presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, have complained about the current congressional recess, saying that Congress should return from their “vacation.” President Obama, on the other hand, said that members of Congress should spend some time in their districts listening to their constituents. Where do you stand on that debate?

I'm in the middle of that. I think Newt Gingrich, his point is, the American people elected Congress to govern, our nation is in crisis, why aren't we there?

Part of the problem is this, there are two chambers of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives, and they have their own schedules. The Senate is not necessarily in session when the House is in session and vice-verse.

I can tell you from the House of Representatives perspective, what would we do if we went back? There are pieces of legislation that are sitting in the Senate right now, that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could bring to the floor of the Senate, give the Senate an opportunity to debate and move on that legislation that would answer some, many of the economic problems that our country is facing.

What would we do if we went back to Washington? We would simply pass those same pieces of legislation? And, in the Senate, is there any likelihood that Harry Reid is going to take it up a second time? Probably not. So, it is more productive for us to be here in our district, listening to the people that sent us there, and then bringing their concerns back with us.

CP: It also sounds like you would disagree with the characterization that you are on vacation?

Definitely not a vacation.

CP: You haven't been to Disney World, have you?

I have not been to Disney World, nope.

CP: As a freshman member of Congress, what did you find most surprising once the session started?

The pace, quite honestly, was a surprise. I spent 27 years in the United States Air Force. I'm used to being able to plan and prepare, execute and follow up, and then to keep that cycle up.

I find in Congress there is very little time for me to plan, because of the rapid pace of meeting with constituents, meeting with interest groups that are advocating for one thing or another, meeting with opposition groups and trying to hear from them about why they might be opposed to a particular position I have.

So, I have very little time for planning and preparation and very little time for follow up. Having a good staff is critically important. That is a little bit of a surprise to me and I've had to adjust. It's not that I don't do preparation. I spend a couple of hours reading legislation that might be coming up the next day, reading constituent letters, position papers, whatever it might be to prepare for the next day, so I work it in where I can, but the pace is the biggest surprise.

CP: How has being in Congress affected your family life? Is it difficult with the pace you're talking about?

It's a challenge. Nathan [Johnson's son] has his days where he says, “Dad, do you really have to leave, why do you have to leave tomorrow?” I find that when I'm at home I've had to change my focus. I don't get a chance to watch the PGA tournament on Sunday afternoon. I take that time to go fishing with Nathan or to throw the football, or to horse around with him and do things that a second-grader wants to do because I don't have time during the week. I have to make up for that lost time.