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Roberts challenging Johnson for 6th district congressional seat

LISBON — U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson hopes to again defend his Sixth Congressional District seat against a challenge from Democrat Shawna Roberts.

Johnson, a Republican, who has held the seat since 2011, said he feels Ohio has been making good responsible progress in their battle against COVID-19. Although there were a lot of jobs lost during the shutdowns, Johnson said he sees the area starting to make a comeback.

His own family faced the same issues as others in district, which Johnson said was fortunate to have a lot of rural counties making it easier to socially distance. His own son is a 16-year-old high school junior, who was frustrated as many students were as his school went from the hands-on learning he prefers to online school from home.

Although Johnson said he does not have a crystal ball, he sees positive progress toward a vaccine. In conversations with the FDA and the CDC, Johnson said people are impressed with the speed and all the resources being placed into developing a vaccine and therapeutics.

“I believe when the vaccine shows up it will be safe and effective,” Johnson said. “I don’t have any qualms about it.”

On the day Johnson spoke to this newspaper about his re-election run, he was in Washington D.C., working to try to get a stimulus package that made sense for people. Johnson said stimulus checks for individuals and families making less than $75,000 and $150,000 made sense, but he questions those wanting to continue to give $600 per week, more than some people make to work, in order for them to stay home instead of going back to work. Johnson said he also was in favor of the Paycheck Protection Loans, which he said brought thousands of loans to businesses in the Sixth District and saved more than 100,000 jobs in the region.

He believes future stimulus needs to be targeted toward businesses and individuals, but he is against attempts by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to give checks and amnesty to illegal immigrants, while cutting money to law enforcement. He said at that point he felt it will be difficult to get to an agreement on another round of stimulus. Part of a Problem Solvers Caucus of 25 Republicans and 25 Democrats, Johnson said he was disappointed when their ideas for a compromise relief bill were ignored by Pelosi recently.

The pandemic has further highlighted the urban and rural digital divide. Long concerned with the lack of high-speed internet, Johnson said when the coronavirus arrived, many jobs and schools went to more online and technology-based productivity. He notes students and businesses without high-speed internet are going to be at a greater disadvantage in a future that will include more online activities.

At the same time, he supported a temporary lifting of the regulations regarding Medicaid patients utilizing telehealth. That led to a large use of telehealth especially in rural parts of the country, giving people another option instead of going to see the doctor in person.

“That’s a lifeline for people who have to drive hours for a doctor or a specialist,” Johnson said.

Locally, the Lisbon Community Health Center was awarded a grant from the Federal Communications Commission to improve their ability to provide telehealth.

After serving nearly a decade in congress, Johnson currently serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee, as well as the Budget Committee. He has been working on legislation regarding telehealth, an act that will allow telehealth to continue permanently after the COVID-19 situation ends. He also is working on the Wireless Broadband Competition Act and Efficient Deployment Act, as well as bill that supports bringing supply chains back from China.

Johnson, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, said the law and order issue is a big one. While he has no issues with people peacefully assembling to express their concerns, he is absolutely appalled by the rioting and violence, which he said are driven by Black Lives Matter and Antifa. He said these people are insurrectionist, screaming things like “death to America.” Johnson believes most police officers perform a “difficult and thankless job.”

He believes providing more opportunities for everyone, while giving them a chance to learn about the importance of serving their communities is a way to help with some of the tensions so prevalent this year. Johnson said he has introduced legislation called the Scholarship for Service: Building Better Americans Act, which would provide two years of college tuition for those high school graduates who serve the nation or their community in the military, EMS, police departments, fire departments or as a teaching assistant.

“America is not systematically racist,” Johnson said. “It’s simply not true … This is the most fair and free place to live on the planet. We’re not perfect and we’ve got work to do, but we’re not systematically racist.”

Roberts did not reply to numerous requests for an interview. However, she did post recently to Twitter that she had to apologize because family responsibilities have led to her campaign being inactive this year.

Roberts detailed some of the difficulties her family has faced in 2020 and noted that she has been unable to talk to people about the things that matter in the district and let people know that they have a choice in leadership in the Sixth Congressional District.

“There are so many folks suffering and in need, and our electeds seem unwilling or unable to find ways to support ordinary folks,” Roberts wrote. “I wish I had the energy and the resources to fight the good fight on behalf of folks this year. You deserve people willing to fight for you. God bless you all.”

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