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Johnson meets IHS students

Talks about how he went from farm to congress

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson made a stop at Ironton High School on Friday morning to talk to 50 students in the school’s Career Research class. He told them how he went from being a farmer to an Air Force officer to running information technology companies to being a U.S. Congressman.

Johnson is the representative for Ohio’s Sixth District, which stretches north from Youngstown to Portsmouth in the south. He said that in 2009, he became concerned about the turn the country was taking. People suggested he run for public office, which he found a difficult concept at first, because as a member of the military, he didn’t follow politics much. He spent 27 years in the Air Force, retiring in 1999 as a lieutenant colonel.

“In the military, you are never political. You don’t wear your politics on your sleeve,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who the Commander in Chief is, you owe that person and our nation your loyalty and your service when you wear the military uniform. We never got involved in politics, I didn’t even know what politics was about.”

When people suggested a public office; he thought they meant a local office like county commissioner or township trustee.

“When they suggested the House of Representatives, I thought they were crazy,” Johnson said. However, he did run in 2009 and won the election. He now serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Johnson recounted his childhood, growing up so poor they had to borrow a mule to farm the land.

“We couldn’t afford a mule,” he said. “Everyday was a survival day.

He had an alcoholic father and moved around a lot and attended 13 schools in 12 years.

After graduating at 17, he was too young for most jobs, so he mowed lawns and did other odd jobs. He didn’t want to go to college because he felt he was a terrible student, especially in math and science. So when he turned 18 in 1973, he joined the Air Force.

A turning point came about five years into his career when he was up for an award. He was told he should go to the education center and sign up for some night classes to show that he was doing self-improvement.

“I had a wife, a kid, a good car and I was on the unit softball team,” Johnson said. “I was a happy camper. I didn’t want anything to change.”

When he tried to decline, he was told that they weren’t asking him, but telling him to go. So he did.

Johnson told the education officer he wanted to take sociology, psychology or history, anything other than science or math. And wanted to work in a missile silo. Instead, he found out he accepted the Reserve Officers’ Training Corp and told he was to take computer science and pilot training.

“And my life changed,” Johnson said. After he retired from active duty, he co-founded the information technology company Johnson-Schley Management Group, Inc. He later left to join to form J2 Business Solutions, Inc., a company that provided IT support as a defense contractor to the U.S. military. From 2006 through 2010, Johnson served as chief information officer of a global manufacturer of highly engineered electronic components for the transportation industry.

After he spoke about his many careers, he took questions that ranged from if the media played up the division between political parties to gun control.

He said there were several things that have lead to the current state of the media and its coverage of events. That included the American public seeing the horrors of the Vietnam War on their TV screens in the 1960s to the rise of the 24-hour cable news channels in the 1980s to the popularity of social media.

He said news executives figured out that their viewers watched more when it seems like the two parties are fighting rather than when they work on solutions.

“Most of the time, the solution is boring,” he said, adding that people will tune it to watch political fights “just like it was a soap opera.”

He said there is a lot more collaboration between both parties than people think because that is that what has to be done to “move the ball forward. Because that’s the way the system works.”

Johnson was asked how busy Congress was after the Feb. 14 mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“Well, we don’t just talk about how to keep kids safe in schools after something like the Parkland shooting occurs,” he said. “We talk about it all the time.”

He said while school shootings are mainly a state and local issue, that one of the things they have to do is identify those who are mentally unstable and get them the help they need before they try to carry out a shooting.

“So, we weren’t more busy, but the conversation did ramp up,” Johnson said.

He was asked about the issue of some type of control on assault weapons and whether more regulation would change anything.

Johnson said the Second Amendment of the Constitution was unambiguous on guns.

He said that the ban or regulation of certain types of assault type weapons wouldn’t solve anything, pointing out that even as they spoke there was a hostage situation in France with two people killed and 10 more being held hostage.

“What do you think the bad guy used to shoot those people with? A gun,” he said, pointing out that France had laws against personal gun ownership. “We can do better at keeping guns out of the hands of people with mental instability, we can do a better job of that.”

After his talk, the students were dismissed to lunch and Johnson spoke to a few students before heading to speak at the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Wyngate at RiversEdge Senior Living Community in Proctorville.