Chris Rickert: 'Citizen legislator' title cute but false

2013-03-16T10:30:00Z Chris Rickert: 'Citizen legislator' title cute but falseCHRIS RICKERT | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6198

Ron Johnson is about as likely to be the "citizen legislator" he likes to call himself as Bob Woodward is to be a citizen journalist and FBI director Robert Mueller is to make a citizen's arrest.

There's no shame in that, of course. Being a U.S. senator is supposed to be a full-time job — not a selfless kind of part-time civic engagement.

But now that Johnson, a Republican, has decided to run for a second six-year term, the moniker is wearing thin.

In general, I respect Johnson's path to Washington and recognize that it's fairly unconventional.

He decided to give up the relative comforts of a successful career in business to make his first and so far only run at public office because, presumably, he wanted to make America a better place. Just because I don't necessarily agree with his politics doesn't mean I question his motivations.

He is different in this regard from, say, the other senator from Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin, who has been an elected official since 1986, and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, who's been in politics since his college days.

But citizen legislator?

Citizen legislators are local elected officials who work regular day jobs and sacrifice their nights to meetings on the latest student testing regimens and city finances.

Or lawmakers from states like Wyoming, where the legislature can meet in general session for no more than 40 days each odd-numbered year and for a 20-day budget-writing session in each even-numbered year. They make $150 per session day for the privilege.

Wisconsin legislators are not citizen legislators. They make full-time salaries of $49,943 and are among a group of states including Illinois, Florida and Ohio with full-time legislatures.

Similarly, Johnson's last Senate financial disclosure report, filed in May, shows the only position he held aside from senator was as head of a charitable foundation. And he reported only a 5 percent stake in the company he used to run, PACUR LLC.

If Johnson is clocking mere citizen legislator hours, in other words, I want part of his $174,000 salary back.

At least Johnson's reason for seeking another term was on the level.

After telling Milwaukee radio station WTMJ on Monday that he would "work toward bipartisan solutions" in the four years remaining in his first term, he said it might be best to stick around beyond that in hopes of being able to work with "somebody who's going to seriously look at really long-term solutions."

As Johnson was rated the fifth-most conservative member of the Senate last month by the nonpartisan National Journal, I can only assume that by "somebody" he means somebody Republican.

His spokeswoman did not respond to multiple requests for at least one example of a major piece of legislation Johnson had worked on with a Democrat.

Unfortunately, such partisanship is not a barrier to getting elected in America. It's also more compatible these days with being not a citizen legislator, but a career politician.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(13) Comments

  1. Tricolor Dog Patriot
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    Tricolor Dog Patriot - March 18, 2013 12:49 am
    Yeah, his business acumen is that he knew who to marry. That's it. He earned his money the old fashioned way by marrying a rich girl. Paul Ryan has the same claim to fame. He married a lobbyist, so what does that make her?
  2. hankdog
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    hankdog - March 16, 2013 4:29 pm

    Great comment. I'll bet there aren't many out there that know what your clupeidae reference means. Do you prefer yours smoke or pickled?
  3. madisoncabbie
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    madisoncabbie - March 16, 2013 4:16 pm
    cause there is no opinion section.....
  4. Cornelius Gotchberg
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    Cornelius Gotchberg - March 16, 2013 4:11 pm

    Mere words can't describe the euphoria generated by my finding you're still the self-anointed Gendarmerie of's message boards; I strongly suspect I'm not alone. Commenters have come to rely on your selfless efforts to ensure nothing you deem ideologically unpalatable will go unchallenged.

    You claim to have read and reread Mr. Rickert's fine article; rather odd you didn't note the subject dealt with a 'malapropism' (citizen legislator) some elected officials (Senator Johnson, in this case) feel compelled or entitled to use. Mr. Rickert correctly asserts that someone that belongs to 'the most exclusive club in politics, the United States Senate, ought not convey the idea that he/she is performing "...a selfless kind of part time civic engagement."

    The mention of other historical figures whose 'civic engagements' may have been similarly misidentified or overstated (intentional or otherwise) does have a tangential, or linear, relationship with the topic. And when you get right down to it, is "citzen legislator" that much different from "community organizer?"

    @scorp mentioned the President in terms less than flattering yet escapes your judgement. Curious; that. What you may find curious as well is that I did not vote for Senator Johnson.

    It would have been nice if the moderators had allowed your 'rather telling' spiked 03/11/2013 5:29 p.m. comment to "Do Ugly Online Reader Comments Matter?" to stand. Perhaps too many first person personal pronouns?

    The Gotch
  5. davidhery
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    davidhery - March 16, 2013 12:51 pm
    Why is this article in the news section on my App and not the Opinion?
  6. Mr_Deeks
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    Mr_Deeks - March 16, 2013 10:32 am
    I am a conservative independent voter. I always voted for William Proxmire because he had our best interests at heart. I voted for Herb Kohl because he proved to me that he was "Nobody's Senator but yours." I may agree with some of Senator Johnson's positions on issues but I never believed his shtick. A true citizen elected official would subject himself to term limits. Without that they are professional politicians. Senator Johnson defeated the last man to make that claim.
  7. scorp
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    scorp - March 16, 2013 10:21 am
    The only issue that has merit in legislator selection is whether the dude has anything in common with the populace and any experience in the business management. Management grade employment and experience in the private sector is a requirement in order to understand the capitalistic system upon which the economy is based. Johnson appears to be one of the few that has such qualifications ,thus the description is more applicable to him than the clueless "public servant" qualifications of many others ,including Pres Clueless.
  8. JakeWeery
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    JakeWeery - March 16, 2013 9:53 am
    Hmmm...I must have missed the paragraphs in the article pertaining to President Obama. Let me read it again, and......nope, still nothing about Obama.....maybe a side bar about the President.....and..........dang, nothing.....

    I thought this forum had the faint odor of clupeidae of the crimson variety when I first read it. Now I know why.
  9. Cornelius Gotchberg
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    Cornelius Gotchberg - March 16, 2013 8:37 am
    Rickert is spot-on here. Johnson may want to instead consider assuming the sobriquet of "Community Organizer." Some past Community Organizers of note (Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Pol Pot, Hugo Chavez, etc.) have certainly impacted history in indeed memorable ways.

    Our Commander-in-Chief is lovingly described as a Community Organizer by waxing philosophical Lefties everywhere, and they've never admitted to making a mistake. One could fairly say Obama's accomplishments speak for themselves; all flatteringly uttered in self-adulating first person personal pronouns.

    The Gotch
  10. davea
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    davea - March 16, 2013 8:27 am
    Chris - Please stay on top of who or what corp. donates to this rube, and how much!
  11. Whazzat
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    Whazzat - March 16, 2013 8:06 am
    I believe term limits would go a long way toward solving a lot of our problems in His country. Career politicians don't make decisions that are best for the country - they make decisions based on what will get them re-elected. Anybody who has ever spent time in Washington knows that lobbyists, not politicians, run this country. Next time you see your elected representative from the house or senate ask them how much time they spend each week groveling for money.
  12. dakref
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    dakref - March 16, 2013 7:59 am
    Let's face it. Most office holders are professional politicians who for the most part care only about preserving their jobs rather than representing the people because now they serve only those who pay for them.
  13. MagnusP
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    MagnusP - March 16, 2013 7:24 am
    I have thought for a long time that we should have term limits. I have no problem with an individual who moves from one office another but to sit in place for year after year means they are less accountable to the public.
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