March 11, 1997
Return to @the Capitol.
Scrutinize the work of several major Congressional committees in online forums with the chairs and ranking members.
Participate in an ongoing dialogue with twelve new members of Congress.
Follow the first year in Congress of Freshmen Reps. Kay Granger (R-TX) and Jay Johnson (D-WI)
Questions sent to Rep. Johnson from 9th grade North Appleton (WI) High School students
Question: How do you feel about the Crandon Issue? What steps will you take to help bring about a resolution for this situation?
Rep. Johnson replies: I'm very concerned about the potential contamination of the groundwater near the proposed Crandon Mine. Although the project promises good jobs for 30 years, the even longer term potential for harm to the water and the environment makes me want to take every precaution before we allow the mine to begin.
I will monitor the current Wisconsin DNR environmental impact statement regarding the proposed mine as well as the same impact statement being drafted by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I'm following the potential violation of a federal law banning the transfer of water from one area to another (the 1986 Great Lakes Water Diversion Act.)
Question: Who decides the President's salary? Are you comfortable with having Congress set their own salary?
Rep. Johnson replies: Congress decides the President's salary and it's own salary but according to the most recent amendment to the U. S. Constitution, the current Congress cannot set its own salary. It is only allowed to set the salary for the next incoming Congress (in this case, the one that will take office in 1999.) I think Congress has done a good job of trying to set a salary and expense provision that is fair for the work required and the demands of the job.
Question: What influences your decisions now that you are a Congressial member?
Rep. Johnson replies: There are all kinds of influences on the decisions I make--going back to my family, my grade school education, subjects I've studied as a joumalist, and lots of reading on the issues before us. I also try to reflect what I feel are the best interests and wisdom of the people that I represent. I've been sent as a sort of ambassador of the people to Washington from northeast Wisconsin and I always remember that their votes put me here in D.C. I also meet with constituents and lobbyists (most of whom simply deliver packets of information from organizations), read periodicals, attend hearings, take in debate on the House floor, and read the mail from people back home to get the best information I can before making decisive votes on behalf of the voters of the 8th Congressional District.
Question: How does it feel to be one of the few Democratic Congressmen to be chosen from the 8th District?
Rep. Johnson replies: I'm gratified that I'm one of the few Democrats ever elected from the 8th District, but I believe it's much more than a party label that got me here. I think my years of credible, honest television reporting to the citizens of northeast Wisconsin and long time community involvement with some of the best nonprofit groups in the country were strong ingredients in the mix of reasons that people voted to give me their trust and send me to represent them in Washington.
There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel privileged not just to be a Democratic Congressman, but a Congressman for all the people. I get a thrill every day walking to work to the Capitol of the United States and playing a part in the governing of our nation.
Question: What's the most embarrassing thing that has happend to you as a Freshman Congressman?
Rep. Johnson replies: The most embarrassing thing, thus far, was almost missing one of my very first votes in Congress--a vote to accept the report of the House Ethics Committee concerning House Speaker Newt Gingrich. I was in my office meeting with some constituents about their concerns when the first bell rang to warn us of an upcoming vote. A staff person popped his head into my office to remind me that I had 15 minutes to vote. That seems like a long time to go a half a block to the House Chambers to vote, so I continued to listen to the folks in my office when the 10 minute warning bell rang, 10 minutes still seemed like a long time, but both the constituents and I began to wind up our conversation -- it became a long series of mutual thanks and good wishes until the final five minute warning bell went off. At this point, I dashed out the doors to the elevator (I should have taken the stairs), then ran through an underground tunnel to the Capitol, and took another elevator to the second floor, getting to the House floor just in the nick of time. I have since learned to leave at the 15 minute bell -- better safe than sorry.
Question: What laws are you allowed to break while performing congessional duties?
Rep. Johnson replies: Members of Congress have to obey all the same laws as all other citizens. However, I have been told that (as in my previous answer) when a vote is being taken, Capitol Police can stop the traffic to allow Members of Congress to cross the street to get to a vote on time.
The Ninth graders at North Appleton High School in North Appleton, WI may be the most politically aware students in the country. Working with the Online NewsHour, and their teacher Mark Schoenbohm, the students are following Jay Johnson's first few months in Congress.
In February, Jay Johnson wrote his first letter home to his district detailing the fun and hassle of working in the House of Representatives. Schoenbohm reports it generated a lot of discussion. The class is also working on a bill simulation. After two days of debate on the floor, bills that were passed were sent to the President. Most bills were passed, one was vetoed, and another veto was overridden by a 2/3 vote in the house. The laws were then reviewed by the Supreme Court.
According to Schoenbohm, "the students now understand the tremendous amount of time it takes to pass legislation. They also understand the reason for the checks and balances. They agreed the system is not quick, but it results in the laws being carefully constructed and scrutinized."