Rep.-elect Johnson spins a yarn

On the side

Top of the heap: While he did next to no campaigning, James A. Traficant Jr got 16.1 percent of the vote in last month’s 17th Congressional District election, the highest percentage for any independent or third-party candidate in a U.S. House race contested by both Democratic and Republican candidates.

Smart Politics, the political news site of the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, reviewed every House race to provide that bit of statistical information.

Traficant finished last in a three-man race won by U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat from Niles, who received 53.7 percent of the vote.

Tough loss: Two weeks ago, I criticized outgoing U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson of St. Clairsville, D-6th, for not taking press calls to discuss his election defeat. A week later, Wilson called to apologize and discuss his difficulty in accepting the loss.

To his credit, Wilson didn’t defend his actions and said he deserved the criticism.

Did U.S. Rep.-elect Bill Johnson commit an error of omission or a failed attempt to deceive the public?

There are those who say Johnson of Poland, R-6th, caused the criticism when he sent an email to news organizations touting his decision to turn down health-care benefits.

Johnson said his decision “is one substantial way I can show that my commitment to the people of Eastern and Southern Ohio is to help them, not to gain exclusive benefits for myself.”

Johnson also said: “I oppose ObamaCare because government-controlled health care will create more debt and huge bureaucracy. We need to reverse the government takeover of our health care.”

Johnson also turned down the government’s 401(k) program and the associated matching portion paid by taxpayers.

What wasn’t included in the statement is Johnson, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, has and will continue to receive federal health-care benefits from that branch of the military.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern singled out Johnson in a teleconference call with Ohio journalists.

“It’s a joke to say he deserves credit for rejecting health-care” benefits, Redfern said.

Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras, who is likely to be Johnson’s most vocal and frequent critic, said he is “dismayed and disappointed that” Johnson is “less than truthful” about his health-care benefits.

“If Mr. Johnson is truly opposed to government-run or financed health care then he should stop being a hypocrite, refuse the coverage he receives as a military retiree, and purchase insurance on the open market,” Betras said. “... If he refuses to do so, then he needs to explain why he wants to deny Mahoning County constituents the type of coverage he now and will continue to enjoy.”

Also, Americans United for Change, a liberal advocacy group in Washington, D.C., called Johnson’s decision “an empty gesture.”


If that doesn’t happen, Betras said, “It won’t take long for people in the Valley to recognize they’ve elected a hypocrite who has a tenuous relationship with the truth,” and will have “buyers’ remorse that will make Mr. Johnson’s tenure in Washington very, very short.”

I asked Johnson’s campaign for a response.

What the campaign sent was a statement from former Navy SEAL Gene Wentz of Washington County.

“What a shame that supporters of Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama are insulting military veterans like Bill Johnson by suggesting that those who dedicated their lives for the cause of freedom didn’t earn their benefits,” he said. “Bill Johnson turned down comprehensive congressional health care coverage and will, instead, maintain the same plan he and other veterans rely on.”

Point missed

I told Johnson’s campaign that the response wasn’t enough and they were either ignoring or missing the point. No one is suggesting Johnson didn’t earn his military medical benefits.

I gave them the chance to expand on the statement, which they declined.

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