A Horse of a Different Color

A Horse of a Different Color

A few months ago I made my annual pilgrimage, along with a few fishing buddies, to Canada’s Lake of the Woods, an amazing fishery with over 14,000 islands and 65,000 miles of shoreline that are abundantly inhabited by deer, bear, bald eagles and a profusion of other flora and fauna. 

The day we arrived was sunny and absolutely beautiful. The temperature was in the upper 70’s and the gentle breeze created a perfect “walleye chop.” It seemed every fisherman from every camp was on the water that day.

My buddy Ron captained one of our boats and wasted no time racing off with his team to his favorite haunts.  I captained the other boat and did the same. Although we motored off in different directions, our goal was the same; catch enough walleyes in the 16 to 19 inch range for shore lunch.

It wasn’t long before my team boated several fish. Unfortunately, they were larger walleyes in the 25 to 27 inch range,  the ones we throw back to ensure plenty of fish for future generations.  Fortunately, Ron and his shipmates came through in the clutch and boated enough eaters for lunch.

The next morning I woke at 3:30 a.m., made a pot of coffee, and briefly stepped outside, where I was greeted by fierce winds and driving rains.  As I sat at the kitchen table pondering my next move and wondering if anyone else was going to join me, Ron came busting out of his room and said, “Let’s go. It’s starting to get light.”

As everyone else in the entire camp slept in, we donned our rain gear and ventured down to the dock.  Now, Ron and I both prefer to captain the boat, but when it’s just the two of us, I usually defer to him.  It takes a skilled boatman to keep off the rocks, especially since one of Mother Nature’s prized possessions is her collection of dinged props, and she’s always looking to add more.  Ron has been navigating these waters far longer than I have, and he might — just might — be more skilled at it.

Ron is also a darn good fisherman who relentlessly pursues his goal of catching enough fish for shore lunch, regardless of the external forces and conditions working against him.

Since he was captain that morning, he decided we would fish the windward side of the islands in the 10 to 12 foot range, trolling crankbaits.  It was tough fishing, but we caught a couple dozen walleyes and several northern pike.  Everyone else in camp caught a grand total of zero.

In 1910, President Teddy Roosevelt delivered a speech at the Sorbonne, in Paris, titled, “Citizenship in a Republic.” A short excerpt from that speech follows and is widely known as “The Man in the Arena.”

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I hope Mr. Roosevelt, rest his soul, doesn’t mind, but I changed the words a little to make it more relevant to our fishing outing that morning. My version is called “The Man Who Dragged His Butt Out of the Sack and Went Fishing.”  You are one of the first to read what I hope will become a timeless gem:

“It is not the person still in camp who counts; the person who points out how small your fish are or that, had he gone, would have caught bigger ones.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually on the lake, whose bones are aching from the wet and the cold; who trolls, casts and jigs relentlessly; who gets snagged time and time again, because there aren’t enough crank baits interred on the bottom of the lake; but who actually strives to catch shore lunch; who knows the thrill of the hit of a large fish and a good net job; who spends himself in the honorable cause of providing for those who slept in; who at best catches a personal record fish or his limit, and who at the worst, shall never be with those wusses who are still in the cabin snugly tucked into their warm, dry fart sacks.” 

When we got back to camp, I couldn’t help but draw some similarities to what we experienced that morning and what we often experience at work.  You see, when he is not fishing, my friend Ron is serving in Washington as one of Wisconsin’s U.S. senators.  I am honored to serve as his chief of staff.

Ron is a citizen legislator, a statesman who has valiantly entered the political arena where the wind, rain, snags, tangled lines and battering rocks show themselves as the biased media, uninformed citizenry, and others on “The Hill” who are motivated by something other than an intense desire to save this 238-year-old experiment we call America.

When he was elected, he promised two things.  The first was that he would always tell us the truth.  He always has.  Recently, I received an email from a man who said that when he sees Ron Johnson in the news, his BS meter is stuck at zero.  That’s because Ron doesn’t BS.  He believes America is on an unsustainable path and that we don’t have time for BS.  Many have called him the most forthright man in Washington. I often hear others on the other side say, “I may not agree with him on much, but I will say the man does have integrity.”

The second thing he promised was that he would never vote with his re-election in mind.  He never has.  He wakes up each day with a choice.  Does he take the easier path and go along with his colleagues because it satisfies the donors and voters?  This would be akin to fishing the leeward side of the islands during high winds and rain.  Or does he maintain his integrity, stick to his principles, and do what is right for this nation?  This would be analogous to fishing the windward side.

Ron is a “horse of a different color” who always chooses the latter.  He too believes we should release the larger walleyes to spawn – because keeping them would be, in some ways, like committing intergenerational theft. We wouldn’t intentionally do that to our kids and Ron is committed to preventing us from doing the same with our national debt and deficit.


When we must catch enough fish for shore lunch, I am happy to let Ron Johnson captain the boat.  Likewise, I am thankful he is at the helm of our fight to ensure my children, and yours, prosper in a country whose future is currently in peril.


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