Nicolet students talk tough politics with Ron Johnson

Sophomore Ben Hayes and other Nicolet High School students greet U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson who came to the school on May 9.

Sophomore Ben Hayes and other Nicolet High School students greet U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson who came to the school on May 9. Photo By C.T. Kruger

May 14, 2014

Glendale — When Sen. Ron Johnson visited Nicolet High School Friday, he probably wasn't expecting to withstand a litany of questions about gay marriage, Benghazi and campaign finance reform.

The Republican senator from Oshkosh visited the high school because Lucas Kasle, a senior in the school's law and government class, was portraying him for a mock legislative hearing. Lucas was assigned to depict Johnson's position in a fictional debate about whether Wisconsin should repeal its constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Lucas wasn't able to find a specific gay marriage stance on Johnson's position on his website, so he called Johnson's D.C. office to do his research before the debate.

Johnson later offered to visit Lucas at Nicolet. After introducing Johnson to his fellow Nicolet students, Kasle got the opportunity to publicly question Johnson's position on gay marriage. Johnson said he believes marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman, but he also believes states have the rights to define marriage for themselves.

"We're seeing state after state after state vote democratically - the way it should be - to allow gay marriage, and I'm happy to accept that verdict" Johnson said. "Of course there will be some issues, because not all states are agreeing, that will have to be covered by the federal government."

Johnson's federalist argument is exactly what Kasle had anticipated during his mock legislative hearing.

"It was like Johnson's words were coming out of his mouth," said his teacher, Phyllis Santacroce.

Johnson used his opening remarks to remind students that they are born in a land of opportunity, emphasizing "the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence. He offered the students three tips for a successful life: finish high school, don't get addicted to drugs and alcohol; and don't have children until after marriage.

"If you follow (those three steps), you have a pretty good chance of being successful," he said.

Some students questioned Johnson's life advice, setting the stage for a long string of specific issues-based questions and follow-up questions.

One student from the law and government class piped in to question Johnson's stance on the Supreme Court's recent ruling lifting the ban on aggregate campaign donations. Johnson said he supported the high court's ruling, arguing that the First Amendment provides donors with the right to give as much money as they desire.

That provoked a follow-up question from a different student in the audience:

"You talked about just because you have money and are successful you should be able to spend it any way you want, but what happens when you live in a country with a million people who all have one dollar in their hand and you have one man who has a million dollars," the student asked. "Would you not say that that man and his million dollars stretches farther than everybody else? Doesn't he control the government? Shouldn't we put a limit on that?"

Johnson maintained his position.

"No, because those million people can all band together and give a dollar and have the same rights of free speech....I don't see money as a huge threat in the political process, particularly in the age of the Internet," he said.

While several students took issue with Johnson's positions, all of them maintained a respectful tone in their questions.

"It's really hopeful that these kids are this engaged, this involved and this inquisitive," he said. "It's a good sign."

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