Ronald Harold Johnson is an American accountant, businessman, and politician serving as the senior United States senator from Wisconsin, a seat he has held since 2011. A Republican, Johnson was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, defeating Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold. He was reelected in 2016, defeating Feingold in a rematch, and in 2022, narrowly defeating Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes.
Born in Mankato, Minnesota, Johnson attended high school in Edina, Minnesota, a suburb of the Twin Cities, and received a degree from the University of Minnesota. Before entering politics, he was chief executive officer of a polyester and plastics manufacturer in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, founded by his brother-in-law.
A staunch ally of President Donald Trump, Johnson voted for Trump's Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017, supported Trump's decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), launched investigations into his political opponents and promoted false claims of fraud in relation to Trump's defeat in the 2020 presidential election. He has rejected the scientific consensus on climate change. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnson voted for the CARES Act, resisted stay at home orders, used his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee to invite witnesses who promoted fringe theories about COVID-19 and spread misinformation about COVID-19 vaccinations.
Early life and education
Johnson was born in Mankato, Minnesota, the son of Jeanette Elizabeth (née Thisius) and Dale Robert Johnson. His father was of Norwegian descent and his mother of German ancestry. Growing up, Johnson delivered newspapers, worked as a caddy at a golf course, baled hay on his uncle's dairy farm, and worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant. He attended Edina High School but skipped his senior year and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1977 with a bachelor's degree in business and accounting. He continued his studies but did not receive a graduate degree.
In 1979, Johnson moved to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with his wife, Jane. He worked for his wife's family's plastics company, PACUR, an abbreviation of "Pat Curler", Jane's brother. Curler created the company with funding from his and Jane's father, Howard Curler. Howard Curler had been named CEO of the plastics giant Bemis Company in 1978, and for the first several years of PACUR's existence, Bemis was the company's only customer.
According to his campaign biography, Johnson worked as PACUR's accountant and a machine operator. The company later expanded into specialty plastics used in medical device packaging, which involved hiring salespeople and exporting products to other countries. In the mid-1980s, Pat Curler left PACUR and Johnson became its CEO. In 1987, the Curler family sold PACUR to Bowater Industries for $18 million; Johnson remained the company's CEO. In 1997, he purchased PACUR from Bowater; he remained CEO until he was elected to the Senate in 2010.