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Rep.-elect Johnson spins a yarn

Published: Fri, December 10, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

By David Skolnick (Contact)

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.


1author50(1121 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

Military benefits are not as good as the benefits that Congresspeople enjoy.

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2Silence_Dogood(1677 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

How well do you think this story would go over if it ran next to one of the dozens of stories that they run each year about how bad a job the VA health care system is doing.

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3Crowe(20 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

Someone who refuses the Rolls Royce he's entitled to while hanging onto the Cavalier he earned did, in fact, refuse something significant. I'm not surprised Betras and Redfern wouldn't note the qualitative difference and its significance--they're politicians--but news organizations and news analysts ought to.

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41970mach1(1005 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

Dave Betras PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE continue attacking a retired soldier for taking the health care he earned! PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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5300(573 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

Soldier? I thought he was retired from the Air Force?

Getting a Navy SEAL to justify his hypocritical gesture is like a librarian getting an undercover narcotics agent to back up his claims as a public employee.

I can't wait to hear him speak on CNN or on the floor with R-OH behind his name. People will wonder when Ohio moved down next to Alabama.

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6redeye1(5669 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

I don't really care what branch of the military Mr Johnson was in. He earn his health care benefits that's more than I can say about any of our politicans. He deserves to get credit for what he did. Mr Betras I was wondering ? Did you ever serve in the military? Are you just another whining Demoncrat who can't stand defeat so you will now make a mountain out a mole hill.Maybe its time about your party elects a new leader, Because as far as I'm concern you help Good old Charlie lose just as much as he did.

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7chuck_carney(499 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

Well stated Crowe.

Betras and Redfern tag team to go against Mr. Johnson, while Bob Hagen attacks Mr. Kasich.

Wasn't Chairman Mao Betras promoting his idea of lifetime tenure for local congressmen as opined by his Mentor Chairman Hannn?. Wasn't Hagen calling us racists if we didn't vote for Obama?

Not once did I hear Betras criticize Strickland for appointing Sylvester Patton to a nice paying state commission after Syl botched getting public funding for the Chevy-covelli Centre?

Congressman Johnson earned his health care as valued veteran of this country. On the other hand Timmy Ryan got his gold plated health care from day one of his inaugeration as Pelosi's party planner and echo chamber.

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8Dafine(14 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

As a Congressman,doesn't he have to pay 1/3 of the cost for health care vs. free VA.

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