Sen. Johnson’s staff to meet with constituent removed from Oshkosh office by police

Nonprofit director wanted to discuss health care
Sen. Johnson’s staff to meet with constituent removed from Oshkosh office by police
Ron Johnson

Staff for Sen. Ron Johnson plan to meet with the executive director of a Dane County nonprofit who was removed last week from the senator’s Oshkosh office by police as he requested to speak to someone about the health care bill.

Jeff Burkhart, who runs Literacy Network, said he stopped by the office May 9 because he had a conference in the Appleton area.

He recorded parts of his interactions with staff and posted them Monday on a blog.

Burkhart said he had a cordial conversation with a receptionist, who told him that she was the only one available to speak to him that morning. When he insisted on speaking with someone else about his concerns about health care legislation, she left the room, and Burkhart began audio and later video recording.

“There are three people here standing around doing absolutely nothing, and I wrote out my concerns to talk to somebody about this very important issue of 24 million people losing their health care coverage, and now they’re calling security on me,” Burkhart says in the first audio recording.

As the recordings continue, he asks to speak to someone and repeatedly rings a desk bell. Ultimately three uniformed police officers show up in the office and ask him to leave.

Ben Voelkel, spokesman for Sen. Johnson, on Tuesday called the interaction an “unfortunate situation.” He said Burkhart tried to enter a back office by putting his foot in a door as it was being closed, prompting staff to call police.

Burkhart admitted to trying to keep the door open to ask someone in the back to speak to him, but said he never tried to force his way inside.

That part of the interaction is not recorded on video, but Burkhart said the audio recording shows that he stepped aside to allow a staff member to enter the office unimpeded.

Johnson’s office has since set up a meeting with Burkhart for this week and called the concerns “a misunderstanding.”

“Our staff makes every effort to try and help people, and in fact our office mission statement is to help people,” Voelkel said. “This is going to end up that hopefully he’ll have a good conversation.”

Burkhart said he was glad to get a meeting with Johnson’s staff that he hopes it leads to more interactions with constituents.

“In one way I’m frustrated, but I’m a bit relieved that they’re willing to meet with me,” Burkhart said. “Hopefully this means Sen. Johnson’s office realizes that they’ve been inappropriately hiding from the public about this.”