Posted 12 months ago
By John Axtell
The 66-year old Johnson, who served a decade in the House before moving on to the Senate, had a serious brain hemorrhage 7 years ago and still suffers lingering effects that have him riding a motorized scooter.
He told a news conference yesterday he wants to spend more time with his grandchildren, but also acknowledged that as a result of his “health crisis…my right arm and right leg aren’t what they used to be and my speech is not entirely there.”
Johnson also said it will be “strange” and “odd” to not have an election looming after running for 36 years in a row, but that he’s certain he can get over it. He joked that his wife wanted him to run again, but that he refused
President Barack Obama…who served with him in the Senate…calls Johnson’s return to work after the brain hemorrhage “inspiring” and wished him, his wife, Barb, and their family the best.
The president also commended Johnson for his work to improve the lives of South Dakotans, says he worked tirelessly through 3 decades in office to protect the environment, help rural and Native American communities, and build a better financial system.
Former senator Larry Pressler, whose 22-year congressional career ended in 1996 when he was defeated by Johnson in a close and bitter election, says Johnson’s decision to continue to serve despite his medical difficulties made him a figure of national courage.
Pressler says Johnson served South Dakota with great courage, with his work on the Appropriations Committee making a huge difference for the state on water and education projects and Native American issues.
Pressler actually endorsed Johnson in his last reelection bid in 2008 when he was struggling with talking, saying it was based on his own childhood stuttering and his memories of how hard it is when you have something to say but can’t easily speak out.
Former South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds, the only announced candidate for Johnson’s seat, thanked the Senator for his many years of public service to South Dakota. He said that although they disagreed on policy over the years, he has always respected Johnson for his hard work on behalf of the state.
With Johnson out of the race and Rounds in, Republicans are favored to take the seat next year. Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, says he appreciates Johnson making his decision so early in the election.
Bennett says it gives the party the opportunity to build a winning ticket, adding that the committee will devote all of the necessary resources to win and that he’s confident that the seat can remain Democratic.
Former Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, defeated in 2010 by Kristi Noem, is seen as the best chance for the Democrats to hold the seat, but says she hasn’t focused on any “future political opportunities” yet.
Johnson’s son, U-S Attorney for South Dakota Brendan Johnson, has also been mentioned as a possible candidate, but the senator says he hasn’t “discussed in detail” who might follow him.