The greatest threat to the United States' security is its unsecured borders, especially the southern border, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson says.
Citing dangerous borders caused by the demand for illegal drugs in the United States, the Wisconsin Republican suggested at a meeting in Superior Wednesday that a better national public relations campaign to decrease drug use is needed. He also called for better fencing along the border, technology to track illegal immigration and a guest worker program.
Johnson stopped in Superior to discuss national security concerns with residents as well as his actions as chairman of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The senator hosted similar meetings in Wausau and Green Bay earlier in the day before a change in his schedule created opportunity for a last-minute meeting with about 10 residents in Superior.
He pointed out that the U.S. Coast Guard estimates that it intercepts 11 to 18 percent of drugs crossing the United States' maritime borders.
"We really do need to begin a far more robust effort at education, public relations, trying to persuade Americans, particularly our young people, from engaging in drug abuse. It literally ruins people's lives. It's just a tragedy. There's nothing glamorous about it. We need to start getting that point across," he said after the meeting.
He said he hears from police chiefs and sheriffs that the largest problem they face is drug use in their communities.
Although he said he understands the argument for legalizing drugs to address the demand for them, he wants a national campaign to discourage people from using them in the first place, citing the success with anti-smoking campaigns.
A concern was raised that the Twin Ports - with port traffic, the oil refinery and railroads - should be considered a priority for federal emergency-service funding.
Keith Kesler, emergency management director for Douglas County, told Johnson during the meeting that the federal grants and equipment to respond to emergencies has dried up in recent years and is instead going to large cities. The equipment the county received when the money was flowing is nearing the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced, he said.
"What needs to be considered, in the Twin Ports, if we were to have a terrorist attack or even a domestic terrorist attack, it takes the same resources, the same amount of money and resources, as it does in New York City. We're not getting the resources," he said.
Johnson responded that federal spending should be prioritized, with national security at the top. The government could implement some programs more efficiently and some programs could be taken over by the states, thus freeing up funding that can go toward the Department of Homeland Security.
He explained after the meeting, "There should be plenty of funds flowing into the defense of this nation and things like grants from the Department of Homeland Security. But we're not, unfortunately."
Johnson is facing a re-election fight this year against Russ Feingold, the Democrat who held the seat for three terms before losing to Johnson in 2010. Johnson, a businessman who self-funded his campaign in 2010, became a well-known candidate after giving Tea Party speeches. He became Wisconsin's first Republican senator in 18 years when he toppled Feingold.
"I predict it's going to be an interesting election year," he said after the meeting. He added that he's focused on doing his job and unifying rather than exploiting differences.