Monthly Archives: January 2016

Carly & Sushi

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The Iowa Caucus will be all over in a week, so the candidates are making one last buzz though the state. On Monday, Carly Fiorina dropped into the Dixie Quicks on Broadway after getting snowed out once last week. I took Hannah to meet the one Republican woman running for president. I’d shown Hannah a video of Fiorina on CNN Saturday, and she told me “I want to run for President when I grow up.” Mrs. Fiorina had a nice, brief chat with Hannah (and her dinosaurs) before taking the stage.

Around 50 people braved the snowy roads to come out to participate in the town hall, including a few familiar faces in the crowd. Grandpa Johnson also came along for the visit and seemed very impressed with the former HP CEO, enough so that he took a yard sign home.

IMG_0701Assorted Sushi at Tokyo Sushi in Omaha

The next day, Vivian and I celebrated nine years of “officially” dating by having our traditional sushi binge down at Tokyo Sushi. We both got our fill of sashimi, assorted rolls, grilled squid, and green tea ice cream. Then we took a brief walk around the Old Market. We dropped by Ted & Wally’s to look at their exhibition of 6900 or so paper cranes, and then we ducked into Hollywood Candy down the street. The place had grown since we’d last visited, with a tiny movie theater and a maze of hallways and corridors containing random memorabilia, vinyl records, and other oddities (in addition to candy).

It was a fun, albeit brief mid-week date night to celebrate nine years of actually dating. Even though we’re rapidly approaching middle age, that doesn’t mean we have to act like it.

Meeting the next President

Imagine what it would be like to watch American Idol, except every week you would get to meet all the contestants in person before voting for any of them. That’s what it’s like to be a political junkie living near an early primary state like Iowa.

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My goal was to get our book into the hands of every presidential candidate I met.

This year, I had the unique opportunity of meeting (or seeing up close) nearly every candidate running for president, fifteen in total (and a couple presidents). After discovering how accessible some of the candidates were, I made it part of my job as marketing manager at the Pope Paul VI Institute to give each one a copy of our Director’s new book, An Insider’s Look at the War on Women. This gave me a reason to leave the office and meet up with candidates during the workday or whenever they happened to be in town.

As I got to meet the different candidates, I found it interesting that I’d see the same people at many of these events — regardless of party affiliation. My guess is that they’re “fellow travelers” like me who enjoy seeing these news makers up close and personal (though some may also be collecting autographs to sell on eBay, which I’ve discovered is quite lucrative). Below are my impressions of each of the candidates in the order in which I met them. (All pictures were taken by me, of course.)

IMG_7880Marco Rubio: I got to meet Rubio three times during his primary campaign, and he’s still the candidate I like the best. At every event, he began with a brief stump speech given without any notes or teleprompter. Then he would take unscreened questions from the audience, always giving thoughtful and detailed answers. He also stayed and greeted every single person who wanted to meet him at each event, staying until the last person left. This is no small feat when you have multiple events each day and no control over how many people will show up. I don’t even agree with him on every issue, but I found Rubio to be the most likable of all the candidates, and I would love to see him debate Hillary Clinton (or Bernie Sanders).

Scott WalkerScott Walker: I’ve been following the Wisconsin Governor since his battles with Union thugs got national attention a few years ago. In person, he seemed very much like Governor Guy-Next-Door, very friendly with everyone and not letting things like death threats against his family dampen his “aw shucks” demeanor. He dropped out surprisingly early, and I feel it’s because he wasn’t nearly the hard-nosed fighter on the debate stage that the Republican voters were looking for. He was one of my personal favorites, and I was sorry to see him go so early.

Ben CarsonBen Carson: Ben Carson’s Family Festival in Bayliss Park was by far the most fun campaign event of the year. There were activities for kids, free corn on the cob, an appearance by Mary Rice Hopkins, and live music by an oldies cover band. It was one big party. The Doctor impressed me as well, giving a one-hour unscripted speech, having an hour of meet-and-greet time, and then having another hour of unfiltered Q&A, all in the hot sun without a single bathroom break. He also has the softest hands of anyone I’ve ever met. As a candidate, however, I felt he was way too “green” and far too nice to run for President. He got tripped up by basic things during the Q&A, such as advocating for a flat tax that would eliminate all tax exemptions, but then proposing tax-free health savings accounts (pointed out by an attendee). I watched his bio-pic on Netflix shortly after the event and was impressed with his life story, but I felt Dr. Carson would make a much better Surgeon General than a President.

Rick PerryRick Perry: I got to meet Gov. Perry at the very end of his campaign. The man seemed tired and beaten at the time, and his event didn’t seem to have any media present to cover his appearance (aside from KFAB’s Chris Baker, who introduced him). He stayed upbeat and had a good back-and-forth with the handful of people who came to see him and ask questions. He brought up one point that I’m surprised hasn’t come up before: he’s the only candidate running for president who had any meaningful military experience (aside from Jim Gilmore, who most people forget is running). This would have been a huge issue in the past for anyone running for commander-in-chief, but now gets barely any notice, even in the midst of fighting a war with ISIS. He seemed like a great candidate on paper, but having run once for president already, it seemed like his time had past.

Bobby JindalBobby Jindal: Gov. Jindal was one of the friendliest candidates I’d met, not only greeting everyone who came to see him, but having extended, personal conversations with each person. Two key points he and his advocates seemed to repeat were that he was the only candidate to “shrink the size of government,” and that he also intended to repeal Obamacare and not replace it with something similar. One disappointment, however, was that his entire campaign seemed to be pushed by the Believe Again PAC, which it made me wonder who was actually funding his campaign. I hoped to see more of him down the road.

Chris ChristieChris Christie: Gov. Christie seems to prefer hosting town-hall style Q&As packed into tiny venues like the tiny Glory Days bar and grill or the Quaker Steak and Lube in Council Bluffs. He took several tough questions from the audience on topics like the “Bridge-gate” scandal and an EPA lawsuit, and he answered them directly without any sugar-coating. I wish Christie and other candidates would pick venues that would accommodate more people, but I’m guessing lower-tier candidates prefer tiny places that look much more crowded with only a handful of visitors (like the local Village Inn).

Rand PaulRand Paul: Sen. Paul reminded me of Mr. Spock — cool, logical, and unemotional. He’s the most libertarian of the candidates, embracing free trade and medicinal marijuana while eschewing metadata collection without a warrant, differentiating himself from more “hawkish” candidates like Rubio and Santorum. His first event started off with the “picture line” so schlubs like me can get that obligatory selfie before his stump speech instead of rushing the stage afterward. He also seemed the most introverted of the candidates, and he didn’t seem to enjoy the whole experience of campaigning for President as some others did. I think I agreed with him on more issues than any other candidate, but he didn’t have the likeable charisma of a Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz.

Carly FiorinaCarly Fiorina: Mrs. Fiorina impressed me as a very knowledgeable candidate despite never having held office before. At her first event, a Veterans’ Town Hall, she took only a few screened questions and had no official meet-and-greet time, though I approached her after her talk without any trouble. She made a second appearance at a Town Hall at Dixie Quicks, where she got to meet my daughter Hannah and took several unscreened questions from the group gathered there. She has several talking points that she tends to repeat whenever she speaks, such as making two calls on her first day in office (to her “good friend” B.B. Netanyahu and the Supreme Leader of Iran) and implementing “zero-based budgeting” to move, examine, and cut any dollar. She’s not my first pick for president, but she has a great presence on the campaign, and I would love to see her debate Hillary Clinton.

Mike HuckabeeMike Huckabee: I got to see Gov. Huckabee at a forum hosted by Dr. Mark Christian of the Global Faith Institute and moderated by Scott Voorhees of KFAB. He answered a handful of screened questions from the audience, but he had no meet-and-greet time afterward, aside from shaking a few hands on the stage before walking off. It wasn’t an official campaign event or a town hall, but I still got to hear most of his campaign platform, and I was impressed. I’d thought of him as a socially conservative preacher type, but he knew quite a bit about the Fair Tax, foreign policy, and major issues a commander-in-chief would have to deal with.

Bernie SandersBernie Sanders: I believe party politics is the closest thing most democrats have to a religion, and that was definitely the case with Sanders’ rally. Those who attended were serious devotees, chanting and cheering “Feel the Bern” and “Not for sale” right on cue. What amazed me was how much common ground Sanders had with candidates like Donald Trump. They both oppose free trade with countries like China and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and they both vocally eschew special interest money (though in Trump’s case he can afford to self-finance). I disagree with most of what Sanders stands for, but he seemed to stand on specific principles rather than party labels, unlike Hillary Clinton, whose major selling point was that “the economy does better under Democrats.” Strangely enough, I found Bernie to be one of the more honest and principled politicians out there (even though I think his principles are wrong).

Donald TrumpDonald Trump: Nobody draws a crowd like Donald Trump, and his visit to Council Bluffs was no exception. I was disappointed that the area he’d reserved at the Mid-America Center was sectioned off, very small, and had no seating whatsoever. His speech was even less impressive — some 80-minutes of bloviating on random topics, mostly about his own poll numbers. He’s also the only candidate I’ve met whose cursed, even after acknowledging children in the crowd. He did spend a good deal of time signing autographs and greeting those who were lucky enough to squeeze to the front at the end of his speech. He even signed a bobble head doll for a guy when Secret Service told him no. I expect he more than enjoys the limelight — he lives for it.

Ted CruzTed Cruz: I almost didn’t get to meet Sen. Cruz. His one stop in Council Bluffs was back when I had a goodbye dinner planned for Pastor Drew, so I had to miss it. Then he came by Missouri Valley, about 30 minutes away, for a late-night 10:45 pm stop at Penny’s Diner. I was dead tired the next day, but I’m very glad I went. The place was packed with about 200 people, and Cruz made sure to meet and greet everyone in the place before he left. He reminded me of Marco Rubio, but much more combative and less likely to work with the other side, which is either a plus or minus depending on your viewpoint.

Hillary ClintonHillary Clinton: What can I say about the former First Lady? She’s been in the headlines for decades, and her career and life have been public record and the topic of countless books after she and Bill were jointly elected in 1992. She covered the usual democrat talking points, and I felt quite eager to see someone like Rubio or Cruz grind her to pieces in a debate. She also seemed to be a bit of a diva, showing up forty minutes late, refusing to sign autographs, and insisting on holding people’s cell phones when they took a selfie with her. The crowd was an interesting mix of supporters and people I recognized from rallies for Republican candidates, and the supporters in the room were very subdued compared to the cultist fervor that Bernie Sanders’ supporters had. While I disagree with pretty much everything Mrs. Clinton stands for, she takes a better picture than nearly any other candidate I’ve met, likely because she’s spent most of her adult life in the media spotlight.

Rick SantorumRick Santorum: I got to meet Sen. Santorum when he visited my workplace back in March 2015. He hadn’t even announced his candidacy yet, but he told people here that it was apparently a “done deal.” I decided to meet him again when he hosted a House Party in Council Bluffs in mid-January. Despite winning several primary elections in 2012, he’s been in the bottom of all the polls this season, having been labeled an “also-ran.” He ran a very modest campaign consisting of house party appearances and town halls at local Pizza Ranch restaurants. He would even spend the night at people’s homes rather than spend money on a hotel room. This allowed him to continue his campaign long after others like Jindal, Perry, and Walker had dropped out. He’s more “hawkish” on issues like collecting metadata without a warrant, unlike his more libertarian opponents, and his talk focused more on foreign policy than I expected from a candidate best known for being a social conservative. He’s also a serious Catholic, and after his house party he retreated to a bedroom in the house for private prayer with his campaign staff. I respect that.

IMG_0058John Kasich: Kasich has been on my radar since the Republican revolution in the 90s, and my parents got to meet him during his brief run for president in 2000. This time around, Kasich was focused very much on his “record,” i.e. his years spent in congress on various committees and working to balance the budget. He’s a moderate candidate and rejected ideas like Ted Cruz’ plan for a 10% flat tax in favor of a “simplified” tax code with three brackets that he thought would have a better chance of passing. He’s a bit out of place in the current political climate, having started in congress in the days when Phil Gramm was a democrat and he could easily “reach across the aisle” to work with the other side. Both parties are more polarized more than ever, and someone like him is seen as a “RINO” by a beaten GOP that is sick of getting stepped on by the left and wants a fighter on their side.

Conclusion

It’s been an exciting election year so far, and it’s really only getting started. My hope now is that I’ll be able to place a picture of me and the President of the United States on the wall behind me at the office. (And I’m still hoping that’ll be Marco Rubio at this point, partly because I have three pictures with him, including one with my wife!)

Pigs in blankets

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The long, cold weeks of January always seem to need something to brighten them up (after all the holiday bliss of December), so Vivian and I have been having alternating post-Christmas parties involving food for our friends. This year, it was time for the hors d’oeuvres party. We invited our usual cluster of hilarious friends to bring their best bite-sized nibblets, including Korean Tacos, bacon-wrapped jalapeños, peanut butter and jelly bites, and other Fantabulous goodies. Amanda won this year’s pig in a blanket for her Cheddar Bacon Pecan Pizza, a close second to Frank’s grilled pepper sirloin on a baguette.

We finished off the evening with some Fact or Crap and Just Dance down in the basement.

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Then on Saturday, I got to see my second President of the United States in less than a week — William Jefferson Clinton. Yes, he’s gotten a bit older since the days of Monica, but Willie’s just as slick as ever. I actually enjoyed his speech much better than that other President who came to town, and his call for bipartisanship even seemed genuine. The usual cast of characters was there, of course, including Fake Security Guy waiting to get a picture autographed.

I must say, as a solid conservative who’s now seen Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and now Bill Clinton in person, there’s something to be said for crossing the red/blue divide. I’ve found democrats seem to want many of the same things republicans do, but each side sees the world in a completely different way. There’s much we can learn from one another if we let our guard down and listen.

I’m still planning on voting for Marco Rubio, though.

Obama visits Omaha

It’s not every day you get to see a President of the United States, but somehow I’m going to see two in less than a week. Such is the draw of the Iowa Caucuses, I suppose.

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On Wednesday, Barack Obama paid a rare visit to Omaha fresh off his final State of the Union address. I hadn’t planned on attending, but when I learned he would be speaking at the Baxter Arena across the street from where I work, I decided to look into getting a free ticket to attend. It was surprisingly easy — I just showed up at the nearby Kroc Center and picked one up. On the day of the event, I had to wait about an hour in line with hundreds of other people (and a few protesters) to get through security as the UNO jazz band kept us company. The arena was nearly full when I finally got inside, and I didn’t think I’d get to sit anywhere close to the stage, but much to my surprise I was ushered into the second row right behind it. That means you can probably see me playing with my camera in some of the televised wide shots. It was the perfect spot for getting snapshots of Obama himself (and other dignitaries) when he finally showed up, fashionably late, per the norm.

As for the speech, I was largely unimpressed. Obama spoke about working with other countries to combat climate change and terrorism, but he won’t even work with congress on basic legislation, eschewing the People’s House for legislating by executive order. He’d met with the family of slain Officer Kerrie Orozco earlier in the day, so I thought he’d talk about gun control, but he didn’t even mention his visit. Instead, he talked about meeting a Papillion schoolteacher who wrote to him worried that climate change would bring a permanent end to Nebraska winters (and her son’s sledding). Obama also seemed to avoid all the heavy, important topics in favor a lighthearted speech on how things aren’t all that bad.

I’ve never been a fan of Obama, and I never voted for him, but I have a certain respect for the office, and I was glad to be able to see him in person. The full text of the speech is here (if you’re having trouble sleeping tonight). More of my photos here.

Hanging with the One-Percenters

If it seems like I’m posting a lot about politics lately, that’s because the Iowa Caucuses are a few weeks away, and the whole state Iowa is overrun with politicians. I’ve met everyone in the race but Jeb so far.

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On Friday night, I got to meet Rick Santorum at a house party in the hills of Council Bluffs. Struggling at one-percent in the polls, the former Senator is running a modest campaign consisting of town halls at Pizza Ranch restaurants and small gatherings at “house parties” like this one. A couple dozen people showed up, and it was very easy to ask the Senator a question or get a selfie with him before or after his talk (which you can view in its entirety here, for now).

Policy-wise, Santorum talked almost entirely about foreign policy, the Iranian nuclear deal, fighting ISIS, etc. It surprised me, since he’s known for being a socially conservative Catholic, but his knowledge of foreign affairs impressed me. He’s more “hawkish” like George W. Bush, however, and has no problem with collecting mass metadata without a warrant, which many in the party believe now is a clear violation of the fourth amendment.

Once the party was over, Santorum and his staff retreated to one of the bedrooms for a prayer meeting before the end of the day. Before he did, however, I suggested to him, he visit Brickway or Upstream across the river, as I knew he was a man who enjoyed a good beer.

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On Saturday, we had a lovely day with our kids visiting grandma and grandpa Johnson. We got to watch MST3K episode 609 “The Skydivers” and then had some tomato bisque and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. Afterward, we took Hannah and Aaron downstairs for an hour or two so they could play with the old Brio train set that I had as a kid. It’s amazing how well our kids can entertain themselves with such simple, wooden toys.

That evening, Omaha had a bit of tragedy as an explosion and subsequent fire at M’s Pub in the Old Market destroyed the entire building. Firefighters battled the blaze in near zero temperatures, causing the entire corner to be covered in sheets of ice and jagged icicles by morning. When I visited the following day to see the damage up close and personal, it was astounding. The smell of smoke and natural gas still hung heavy in the air as a lone fire hose continued to spray into the building. Some reporters were there covering the story, and several others lingered about taking photos, but the tragedy left everything dead quiet fort he most part. Fortunately, a waitress discovered the gas leak in time to evacuate the building before anyone was hurt.

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On Sunday evening, I dropped by Barley’s in Council Bluffs to meet Governor John Kasich. I’d been following his career since his first run for president back in 2000 (when my parents got to meet him), and I’d even watched him fill in for Bill O’Reilly, so I’m glad I got the chance to say hello. Like Rick Santorum, he’s also hovering around 1% in the polls in Iowa, but he does well enough nationally to make it to every prime-time debate. He’s an old-school “moderate” republican from the days when Phil Gramm was a democrat and Bill Clinton reformed welfare. He touted his record rather than new ideas, eschewing Ted Cruz’s 10% flat tax for a vaguely “simplified” tax code with three brackets. He also brought a 12-year-old girl from the crowd up on stage as an example of who would be paying the nation’s $18 trillion debt in a few years. It was a fairly modest crowd, with more than enough time afterward for me to get my obligatory photo with the Governor before heading home.

I apologize for the constant political posts, but in a few weeks it’ll all be over. In the meantime, however, I’m actually going to be seeing two Presidents of the United States within a week — Obama on Wednesday and Clinton on Saturday. Let’s just see how close I can get to a selfie with either of them.

Ted & Hillary

We’re getting closer and closer to the Iowa Caucuses, and that means the candidates just keep on coming. In just two days, I was able to meet two of the biggest fish in the pond: Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton.

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I’d wanted to meet Senator Cruz for a while, but the only other stop he’d made in Council Bluffs was back on the night we’d planned a goodbye dinner for Pastor Drew and his family, so I’d had to miss it. Then on Monday, Ted Cruz kicked off his “Cruzin to Caucus” bus tour, which included five different meet and greet events and ended in Missouri Valley, which was about half an hour outside of Omaha.

It was a late event starting at 10:45 pm and set at the tiny Penny’s Diner just off the I-29. I arrived early enough to get a good seat, but soon the place was packed with 200+ supportersreporters, cameramenswag-sellers, and other oddballs. Once Cruz arrived (ten minutes early — a first for any candidate I’ve seen), I had to stand precariously on top of a cushioned diner seat to a decent picture of him when he arrived. Congressman Steve King introduced him as he poured coffee in a clever photo op. Then Cruz spoke for twenty minutes, covering all his standard talking points on Radical Islamic Terrorism, abolishing the IRS with a flat tax, and rescinding all of Obama’s unconstitutional executive orders.

Once Cruz was done, he immediately started shaking hands and greeting nearly every person in the diner who came to see him. He signed autographs, posed for pictures, and even gave one attendee a hug, something I hadn’t seen any other candidate do. It was a good night, though I was paying for it with sleepy eyes the next morning.

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The very next day, I got to see Hillary Rodham Clinton. I’ve been following politics since I was a freshman in high school, and the Clintons have always been at the forefront, so seeing Mrs. Clinton up this close was daunting to say the least. The crowd, though respectable in size, seemed smaller than the one Bernie Sanders drew a few weeks ago. Both had sycophantic hipsters in attendance, but I also recognized a couple people who were regulars at republican events. There was also a notice that said I might get my picture taken for use in Hillary’s campaign ads — so keep an eye out for that.

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Hillary Clinton politely refused to take my book. Or sign any autographs. Or talk to local media.

As for Mrs. Clinton herself, she arrived forty minutes late and then covered most of the same liberal talking points that Bernie Sanders had gone over. One difference was that she didn’t condemn any of the “big banks,” preferring to blame Republicans exclusively for the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

She did spend some time greeting attendees from behind the security barrier after her speech. Anyone who wanted a selfie with her had to let the First Lady personally hold the cell phone camera and take the photo herself. She didn’t do autographs, either. Instead, her staff collected items people wanted signed with “no promises” as to what would happen to them. I had a mission of my own, however — to hand Mrs. Clinton a copy of An Insider’s Look at the War on Womenwritten by my boss at the Pope Paul VI Institute. I’ve been trying to give a free copy to every other candidate running for president, and I’ve never had a problem before. This time, though, Hillary’s handlers physically pushed the book away when I got within reach.

So for the record, I now have only two candidates left on my list: John Kasich (who I plan to see Sunday) and Jeb Bush. We have about three weeks left until the Caucus. That’s more than enough time, I’m sure.

New Year 2016

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Happy New Year, everyone! The Johnson Family welcomed 2016 with some family and friends on New Year’s Eve. Daddy got off work early and came down to the Bellevue Public Library, where Hannah and Aaron (and mommy and grammy) were ringing in the New Year with confetti, noisemakers, and some books read by Mrs. B.

Then that evening, we had both sets of grandparents over along with our friends Jenny, Kody, and Lydia to have some hors d’oeuvres and cheese fondue together. Then we watched the time-delayed ball drop in Times Square downstairs, marking another one of Earth’s trips around the sun.

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We still had plenty of snow to enjoy over the long, three-day weekend, so on Saturday we took the kids outside to play in some of it. Aaron got his first experience tossing around the white stuff, Hannah made some snow angels, and Vivian showed them both what it means to throw a snowball. We even dropped by Grandma and Grandpa’s house to play in their snow for a bit. Dad snapped a new, wintry family picture for us, and then we went inside for some hot cocoa — another lovely first for our little ones.