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Johnson offers words of wisdom for conservatives
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Former gubernatorial candidate Eric Johnson discussed the recent elections and other issues with the Effingham Rotary Club. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

One of the state’s foremost conservatives said fellow conservatives need to think about who they talk to — and how they get their message across.

Former state Sen. Eric Johnson, who was a 2010 Republican candidate for governor and also was president pro tem of the state Senate, said conservatives share their opinions with each other and don’t do a good enough job of getting their message out to others.

“There’s a tendency for conservatives to talk to themselves or talk like they are on talk radio shows,” he said. “I think there is a lack of compassion in that tone of voice. I don’t think conservatives need to change their principles. They need to change how they talk about it.”

Johnson said there is an attitude now is that achievers didn’t earn what they have.

“Now, it’s ‘who did they steal that from?’” he said. “There’s a whole lot of people who don’t understand free enterprise and free markets.”

He also cautioned fellow conservatives to be mindful of those who have lost their jobs in the recession, because its effects have cut across all lines.

“In this economy, we all know people who have been hurt by it, good people, who have been looking to the government for help,” he said. “The challenges from top to bottom are very serious.”

Johnson discussed the impending “fiscal cliff,” a mixture of tax hikes and sharp spending restrictions scheduled to be enacted after the start of the new year if Congressional leaders and the Obama White House can’t reach an agreement on a fiscal plan.

Georgia stands to lose about $200 million through sequestration budget cuts if no deal is reached, according to Johnson.

“Those cuts are going to hurt all those other programs,” he said. “There seems to be less incentive for Democrats to cut a deal.”

Johnson also said not everyone understands the ramifications of the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare, and he said the government has to do something about the growing debt.

“The debt is something that affects us all,” he said. “Look at Greece, Portugal and Italy. There’s going to be ramifications on debt.”

The interest on $16.3 trillion in debt is $360 billion, Johnson added, with the nation sending $6 million to China each day to cover debts. “That could be going to education, health care or to tax cuts,” he said.

The state had to find $300 million to plug funding holes in Medicare and Medicaid, Johnson said, and education and higher education have taken significant funding cuts.

“Health care is weighing on every sector of government,” he said. “We have infrastructure and transportation needs.”

Johnson used to tell his caucus to consider what the impact of their legislation would be, asking them what it would look like in 30 years. But there are a few reasons, he believes, for a disconnect between lawmakers and their constituents.

There once was, he said, “a little more of ‘what’s in the best interest of the country.’ There wasn’t as much partisanship,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with redistricting. There are literally only a handful of seats like John Barrow’s that could go both ways.”

Isolation, he said, also affects lawmakers, who are “treated like kings” by lobbyists, Johnson said.

“I’d get home and my wife would say take out the trash, and I would look around for a lobbyist to do it,” he joked.

It’s a naturally corruptive environment, Johnson explained, and there is also a sense of entitlement with legislators.

“Tough issues continue to be put off,” he said.

The nation is getting more diverse and whites are no longer comprise the majority of the population they once did, he said. Though pundits said GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney faced a gender gap with women, he had a double-digit advantage in white women voters over President Obama.

Democrats picked up two seats in the U.S. Senate and eight in the U.S. House, though Republicans still hold a comfortable majority in that chamber. Johnson also complimented U.S. Rep. John Barrow (D-Savannah) on his re-election, calling his campaign one of the best he’s seen.

“We’ll see if Barrow continues to maintain an independent streak,” he said.

On the state level, Republicans are near a super-constitutional majority, needing just one more seat in the 180-member House to achieve that distinction.

“That’s key when you try to propose a constitutional amendment,” he said.