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MILLER: Tea Party leadership

The GOP needs to promote a solid conservative in the Senate

- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2011

In less than a year, Ron Johnson has gone from small-business owner to contender for a seat at the Senate Republican leadership table. In November, Mr. Johnson beat longtime liberal Sen. Russ Feingold out of his blue-state Wisconsin seat as part of the Tea Party tidal wave. Now Mr. Johnson is in a smaller but higher-stakes election for Senate Republican Conference vice chairman.

The position becomes vacant in January when Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee will step down as the third-ranking leader, opening up the bottom-rung position as others advance. The Badger State freshman's voice would be welcome. "I have a different perspective," Mr. Johnson told The Washington Times in an interview. "I've been outside of politics all my life - as a manufacturer, an accountant, someone from the private sector, a citizen legislator."

The upper chamber's conservatives are lining up in support. As of late Thursday, that list included Florida's Marco Rubio, New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte, Oklahoma's Tom Coburn, South Carolina's Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham, Tennessee's Bob Corker and Utah's Mike Lee.

Mr. Rubio is rounding up additional support for his freshman colleague. "Ron Johnson is a natural leader who understands job-creation policy from decades devoted to actually creating them in the private sector," the Floridian told The Times.

"Ron has brought a much-needed real-world economic perspective to the Senate." Mr. DeMint, who's also whipping the vote, told The Times. "Ron Johnson is a rising star on the right and a business leader with real-world experience. He's already proven he's willing to stand up for founding principles and take the fight to Democrats for their failed economic policies."

Mr. Johnson once told us, "I will not vote with my re-election in mind." He has stayed true to his word.

In nine months on Capitol Hill, he's led an effort to stop Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, from recessing the Senate to force the Democratic-controlled body to deal with the budget fiasco. Just last week, he was the first senator to come up with concrete spending cuts to meet the joint select committee's mandate. He also proposed common-sense legislation that would put a moratorium on any new federal regulations until the unemployment rate drops to 7.7 percent.

Mr. Johnson sees the conference post as an opportunity to engage the public in Washington's political debate. "I think you need to respect the voters' intelligence enough that you actually tell 'em the truth," he said. "You give them facts and figures, numbers, information and not just tired old political phrases."

"Ron's style is to tell it like it is, and I like that," the current conference vice chairman, Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, told The Times. "He’s completely in tune with what America’s job creators want and need.  

Other Republican senators, including Missouri's Roy Blunt, are thinking about throwing their hats into the ring. Mr. Johnson has announced, and it certainly would be a good thing to have an earnest conservative playing a role in the decisions that determine the country's future.

In November, the Tea Party coalesced around citizen legislators because its members believe career politicians will never cut spending and bring the massive federal government down to size. Elephants ought to rally behind a citizen leader like Mr. Johnson.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.

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