© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A non-interview with Sen. Ron Johnson: Where he stands on the issues and the questions that remain

Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson speaks at a rally with supporters Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022, in Waukesha, Wisc.
Morry Gash
Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson speaks at a rally with supporters Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022, in Waukesha, Wisc.

How do you do an interview without the person you’re supposed to be interviewing?

It’s a question WUWM has been grappling with as some Wisconsin politicians have been increasingly unwilling to speak with us. On Lake Effect, you'll hear from the Democratic politicians running for three big offices in Wisconsin: governor, U.S. senator, and attorney general. But you won’t be hearing from any of the Republican candidates, including Sen. Ron Johnson. 

>> Ahead of Wisconsin's U.S. Senate election, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes shares his policy positions

I invited Johnson to join me on air to share some of his policy positions. For weeks, I sent emails, spoke with members of his team, and never got an answer on whether or not he would do the interview — despite giving them clear deadlines.

As part of our election coverage our mission is to inform people what their elected officials and political candidates believe in and what they plan to do in office; hold elected officials and candidates accountable; and report facts and correct misinformation. To do that, we want to provide you with Johnson's policy stances as we understand them and with some of the questions we are hoping to ask him.

We want to include Johnson’s voice and perspective as much as possible, though all of it comes from debates, where he is often decrying his opponent, sometimes through misinformation.

Public Safety

Public safety has been central to Johnson’s campaign, but he has not given firm policy proposals to tackle the issue. He has said his solutions are “renewed faith, stronger families, and more supportive communities,” but fails to detail how these things would be achieved; aside from school choice, which he calls his “public policy prescription” for solving violent crime, despite having no control over such programs as a U.S. senator.

At a debate, he said, "If you want to reduce crime first of all, you have to fully fund the police and, of course, my opponent is opposed to fully funding police budgets, but we need to keep criminals in jail."

Note, in our interview with Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, he said he does not support defunding police.

When Johnson had an opportunity to help fund law enforcement with $10 billion in federal funds, he voted against the bill. Johnson has also spread misinformation about bail reform, implying that removing cash bail would allow all criminals out of jail. Instead, ending cash bail is intended to keep people in jail based on their danger to the community, instead of their access to money. The rise in crime in Wisconsin mirrors what’s happening in other states and has happened during Johnson’s time in office. 

Our questions for the Senator are: If you support fully funding police departments, why doesn’t your recent voting record reflect that? What are your policy proposals, outside of school choice, that would curb this rise in violent crime? And what can you do with a new term in office, that you haven’t been able to achieve in the last 12 years?


Johnson has had his own issues with law enforcement, specifically the FBI, which in 2020 informed the Senator he was a potential target for Russian misinformation. Here is Johnson, discussing his conversation with the FBI: "The FBI set me up with a corrupt, with a corrupt briefing, and then leaked that to smear me."

Johnson is suggesting there’s a government conspiracy led by the nation’s top, domestic law enforcement, to paint him as a threat to national security, but his own actions — including his investigation into Ukraine — suggest he believes Kremlin officials over American intelligence agencies.

Our questions for Johnson are: Why are you inclined to believe the Russian government over U.S. intelligence agencies? Are you concerned that by not aligning with U.S. intelligence you could be acting as a Russian asset? And are you concerned about the impact that could have on the safety of the nation?


We’re facing another international crisis with major domestic implications: inflation. Here is Johnson talking about it at one of the debates: "You have to grow our economy but stop the deficit spending and become energy independent, stop the war on fossil fuel."

Johnson has proposed becoming “energy independent,” a term that lacks a solid definition and which experts say is likely impossible, since the U.S. has always imported at least some of its energy resources. With energy independence in mind, Johnson proposes increasing domestic drilling and fossil fuel production. 

As he said in the debate, Johnson has voted against what he calls “federal deficit spending,” and has proposed making entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare discretionary funding. He’s denied that, but has used misinformation to obscure the process of how these funds are allocated.

Here’s what he had to say: "What I’ve been saying is we should be looking at all spending so we can prioritize, and Social Security, Medicare would be at the top of the priority list. I’ve never, ever said I would cut it or put it in the chopping block, that is a false attack."

But currently, Social Security and Medicare are entitlement programs — meaning they’re guaranteed funding each year. Johnson’s proposal would move these programs into discretionary funding, meaning each year lawmakers could debate whether or not to renew the programs. Some of Johnson’s Republican colleagues have made it clear they want to see major cuts to these programs. 

Our questions for Johnson are: Why should the U.S. no longer guarantee funding for Social Security and Medicare, and how would moving them to discretionary funding better support the programs?


Abortion which remains top of mind for many Wisconsinites, due to the state’s strict, criminal abortion law. Johnson doesn’t support abortion rights and believes nearly all abortions should be banned. He currently doesn’t support a national prohibition despite previously co-sponsoring six federal bills that would have limited abortion access. He believes Wisconsinites should have the opportunity to directly vote on the parameters of a statewide law governing abortion. 

Johnson said, "I propose a one-time, single-issue referendum to decide at what point does society have the responsibility to protect life, balancing the rights of the mother with the rights of an unborn child. I can’t think of a better way of solving this problem once and for all, where most people would accept the results." 

But direct referendums aren’t legal under Wisconsin law and would require a change to the state’s constitution. Republicans leading the Legislature have gaveled in and out of sessions where they could have talked about such a proposal. As a U.S. senator, Johnson has no authority to compel them to hold a direct referendum. There are also proposals to create a national prohibition on abortion.

So, the question for Johnson is: Will you commit to voting against any federal law regulating abortion?


When it comes to climate concerns, Johnson says he is powerless to combat climate change — saying it’s a “unsolvable problem.” 

"The climate has always changed, always will change, so I don’t deny climate change. The question is can you really do anything about it when China, when India, they’re going to be burning fossil fuels; America’s going to have to burn fossil fuels. Eighty percent of our energy comes from fossil fuels right now and that’s not going to change any time soon, because wind and solar are not reliable, they make our grid very unreliable," he said.

Power outages haven’t been linked to the use of renewable energy and at times have been more prominent in areas that heavily rely on fossil fuels. The Senator has no plan on how to combat climate change or ease its impact.

Our question is: How can you lead the nation through a climate crisis, when you don’t believe you are capable of doing anything about it? 

Election security

Election security is a concern for many Americans. Johnson has been a major proponent of the baseless election fraud claims made by former President Donald Trump.

Johnson was involved in the attempt to overthrow the 2020 election, and attempted to give a list of fraudulent electors from Wisconsin to then-Vice President Pence. He has at times denied his participation and tried to downplay it through conflicting statements about what happened.

Here’s what he had to say about the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol: "I immediately and forcefully and repeatedly condemned the violence on January 6th."

But he’s also downplayed the actions of the mob, by saying, “It’s not what an armed insurrection would look like.”

Our questions are: What do you say to those who believe your actions — delivering a list of fraudulent electors — is sedition against the United States? And how can you ensure we have free and fair elections, when results are met with violent coup attempts, then downplayed by the party it would most benefit? 

Wisconsin's midterm elections are Tuesday, November 8, 2022. If you have a question about voting or the races, submit it below or check out WUWM's voter guide.


Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Related Content