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Bill Johnson, Republican candidate, Secretary of State

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By Stephen Lega

 

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1. Why are you running for Secretary of State?
BJ: I think like so many people I'm concerned about the future of our state and, of course, our country. And I believe that with my business background, I can take those private sector experiences to Frankfort and help automate business-to-government interactions, make government more efficient, cut waste and really make it easier for businesses to set up shop in Kentucky. I think the easier it is for businesses to come to Kentucky and get in business quickly, get incorporated, get all the permits and inspections and licenses and everything else out of the way so they can open up those doors and start selling a product or service, I think that helps our state. And I think that's something that I can do as secretary of state through that one stop shop initiative. And I have a background in the private sector of doing those types of things. I've managed multi-million dollar IT projects. I worked in the field of process improvements, Six Sigma process improvement, and I've also worked in procurement. So, I have skill set that fits what needs to be done in Frankfort around the one stop shop. That's one reason.
Number two, having served in the military, I'm very passionate about protecting the vote, making sure we have honest and fair elections. And so, I want to take the picture ID at the polls initiative and ask the legislature to pass that legislation so that everyone needs to show a picture ID before they vote just to make sure we have safe and secure elections. I think it's just a common-sense security measure.
And finally, civics education. I was asked to serve in high school during a primary election at the request of a principal to come teach math. I'm eligible to teach math. I'm certainly not a teacher by profession, but I was asked to come help and I did because I'm very committed to public education. And I think education's a local responsibility. And I want to work in the state to really talk about civics. We not only have rights - and we certainly have great rights in this country - but we have duties as well. Civics is our rights and duties of citizens, but people don't talk about those duties. I felt a duty to serve our country. I did that. I think there's a duty to go out and vote. There's a duty to be involved in your community and to be a good citizen. We need to talk about those things with our students.

2. What experience and qualifications have prepared you for this office?
BJ: I can build on that a little bit, of course. I spent 10 years in the Navy as a nuclear compulsion engineer. And I certainly learned a lot of problem-solving skills and leadership skills during that experience. I've been in the private sector for over 13 years, working at various large and small companies, both nationwide and with international responsibilities. And during those years in the private sector, I saved over $300 million, for example, in my procurement role. In my information technology role, I worked to roll out global information security programs. I was a part of the Y2K remediation efforts that we all were worried about back in 1999 and several other large IT projects. I have a lot of experience there. And certainly process improvement was something I learned in the mid-'90s at General Electric, how to really make processes efficient, cut waste, and improve quality. So I think those are some of the experiences combined with my experience in the classroom.

3. One of the primary responsibilities of the Secretary of State is oversight of elections. If elected, what will you do to encourage participation in the voting process?
BJ: Well, I think civics education is one thing that is very important. You know, build that sense of duty at a young age in the school to make everyone understand that our right to vote has been paid for by the blood of patriots through the generations. Out of respect for their sacrifice, we ought to go and take advantage of that, and we ought to go vote. So I think getting in the schools at an early age is very important. But also making sure we have voter registration drives around the state that, you know, it's sort of festival season right now in Kentucky. So, you know, going to the festivals and fairs and having voter registration drives, getting people registered to vote, and educating them on how they can go to register and vote. So, I think that's very important as well.

4. You and your opponent disagree about whether voters should be required to present a photo ID before being allowed to vote. Please explain your position and why you feel that way?
BJ: I think it's a common sense security measure. Today, you really can't do anything without a picture ID. You can't cash a check. You can't open a bank account. Even cold medication requires a picture ID. So, a picture ID is just a fundamental way of life anymore. You can't even buy a pack of cigarettes without a picture ID or fly commercially. There's just numerous examples of where a picture ID is important. Why do they ask you for a picture ID? It's because they want to make sure you are who you say you are before you get on that airplane, before you buy that pack of cigarettes if you're old enough. Before you open that bank account, that they know your address is correct and that you are that person in the picture. So, it's just a common sense security measure.
Most people have picture IDs. It's something that we all have to have today. So I just think it's important that when you show up to vote that the person matches the picture with the face, that the address on that ID matches the address on the voter registration file, and then you're allowed to vote. So I think a picture ID is just a common sense security measure.
And by the way, in states where they have implemented this, the voter participation has actually increased. And it's highly supported, I have some statistics, I'd have to go down and get them. When they asked, for example, Hispanics in Florida, do you support picture ID? Overwhelmingly they said yes. So, there's a lot of broad-based support across party lines for this type of common sense approach.

5. Another issue that has come up is homeless voting. What is your position on this issue, and why do you feel that way?
BJ: Well, first, people always call it homeless voting. It's really not about the homeless. It's about opening our elections up to fraud. Today, if you live in a homeless shelter, if you provide that address, you certainly have the right to vote. You can put that as your address if that's where you live. And it doesn't even have to be a conventional address. If you live someplace unconventional. If you're in a tent in a campground or someplace else that's a lawful place to live, in other words, the local community says that's OK to live there, then you can use that address as well.
The problem and the concern I have that I have said over and over and over again is that our current secretary of state and the Board of Elections, as well as my opponent, keeps saying it's about the homeless. What they are saying is if you have your registration card and you put place to place - and nothing else, no other identifiable location, just place to place - they go ahead and register you anyway. And they say they arbitrarily assign you the address at the courthouse. Now, that's a very, very dangerous precedent to say that anyone can arbitrarily assign the address by which we're going to have somebody vote. Just common sense tells you, boy that opens things up to manipulation.
In addition, the constitution says - our state constitution -  under Section 145 says you can only vote in the precinct in which you live. Well, we know they don't live at the courthouse. So, it's in violation of our state constitution, and it's also a violation of our state statutes that say you must provide an address. So, again, it can be an unconventional address, just someplace that you return to and remain and can be communicated with, and that's fine. But I have a lot of concern when we are registering people with nothing more than place-to-place on the voter card. That to me is just against the state constitution, against state statutes, and  common sense tells you that opens us up to election fraud. What's to stop anyone from anywhere in the country just putting place-to-place with their name, showing up in Kentucky on Election Day and voting. There's nothing to prevent because you can't determine residency. You can't determine precinct. So it really concerns me a lot that we're allowing that type of approach.
I would rather honestly stop discussing whether or not an address is needed and start figuring out a way to make sure that everyone has an appropriate address. That's the compassionate thing to do because homeless can't get out of that situation without an address. But I think there's fraud. There are groups, obviously, wanting to commit fraud, and when we give them an opening like that where they can just put place-to=place even if they're not homeless and even if they don't live in the state of Kentucky. I think that really opens us up to the potential for fraud.

6. Voting rights for felons is another issues that has been discussed regularly. Now, felons can apply to have their voting rights restored after they have served their sentences. Should those voting rights be restored automatically, or is the current system appropriate?
BJ: I support the current system. I don't think it should be automatic. The governor makes the decision today, and we can hold the governor accountable. Now, I will say that our governor has provided these partial pardons allowing people to get their voting rights back to a very, very high number of violent felons. I saw statistics in 2008 that he had already restored over 14 rapists, 22 convicted felon sex crime, I didn't say that very good, but 22 who had committed violent sexual crimes. I think eight murderers. So there's a lot, we can hold the governor accountable. I don't agree with his decisions to do that, but I support the current process. I do not think it should be automatic.

7. The Secretary of State's office also handles a variety of business records for the State of Kentucky. If elected, what steps can you take to assist individuals looking to start small businesses?
BJ: I think that's where that one-stop shop comes into place. I believe it's Senate Bill 8 that really gives the secretary of state the responsibility for taking automation to the next step. Trey Grayson did a fantastic job getting that started. But as I said earlier, I can see a vision where we really tie together the various government agencies. So that, for example, you enter your business address once. I know you can relate to that in your own personal life. How many times do you have to give your address? And you ask yourself, why isn't everybody communicating with each other? So, when you're starting a business, I think we need to have an online portal, a business portal that allows you to enter your address, answer a few simple questions about your location and type of business, and that information is shared with all the various agencies that need it. It provides a checklist where you can schedule inspections, file for permits, apply for licenses, as well as incorporate the business. So I want to tie all of the government agencies together into one online portal that makes it very, very easy and very, very quick to get your business up and running.

8. Online services are increasingly being used both by governments and businesses to reach out to citizens and customers. What are some ways you would like to improve or enhance the existing online services offered by the Secretary of State's Office?
BJ: That's what I was just saying. That all would be online. The business one-stop shop would be an online portal for government-to-business transactions or business-to-government transactions. So today it's somewhat limited. Today you can certainly work through the incorporation process. You can do an annual filing, but there's so many other things that a business has to do to get started. I want to try to reach down to the local community level as well because there's statewide requirements but there's also local community requirements. So let's tie all of this together, everything that a business needs to do into one portal so, again, they can just get it done.

9. The Secretary of State's Office also has to work with other government officials, including members of the executive branch and the legislature. If elected, how well do you think you will be able to work with other state officials?
BJ: I think in the private sector, particularly in the large companies I worked for with international responsibilities, you had to work across diverse teams that are also spread around the world. So, I'm very experienced working across different groups to get things done. I feel very confident we can work with to move these initiatives forward. I'm already getting a tremendous amount of support for picture ID at the polls. There's not shortage of people who want to sponsor that bill and work to get that through the legislature. I think we'll work with them very well.

10. Are there any other issues you would like to discuss?
BJ: One of the key things obviously that everybody is concerned about is jobs. We have to create jobs. Our unemployment exceeds the national average, so we need to make it easy for businesses to set up. We need to make the elections honest, but civics as well. I think it's an important job. People need to focus on these statewide elections. A lot of people don't even realize there are statewide elections going on.
I think if there is one point I would like to make to people about the importance of these election, it's that no matter who we elect as president - we've had Republican presidents and we've had Democrat presidents - but has our situation in Kentucky improved? I don't think it has. It's only gotten worse. So, in many ways, we, as Kentuckians, can't keep looking to the federal government to fix our problems. There are other states who are prospering in spite of all of the challenges with the federal government. I'm not excusing the federal government, but we can't just keep blaming them. There are other states that are doing well even with the federal government causing all kinds of problems.
If we want to improve our quality of life in Kentucky and make Kentucky grow, we need to have strong leadership in Kentucky. And today, we just don't have that. I'm looking forward to being part of that team that helps Kentucky move forward in a positive way.

11. What else would you like voters to know about you?
BJ: I'm just excited to get on and help Kentucky and I would just ask for their support across party lines. I think it's important also that I don't think this is a race between Republicans and Democrats. I think this is a race between conservative ideas and liberal ideas. I would reach out to conservatives of all parties and ask them to support me.