Johnson discusses past, present, future of his political career

WILLMAR -- Two weeks after losing his Senate seat in an upset election, Sen. Dean Johnson held a news conference in Willmar with local media to "talk about the past, present and future" of his 30-year political career.

WILLMAR -- Two weeks after losing his Senate seat in an upset election, Sen. Dean Johnson held a news conference in Willmar with local media to "talk about the past, present and future" of his 30-year political career.

Although he had spoken with metro press since losing to Willmar Republican Joe Gimse for the District 13 seat, Wednesday morning was the first time Johnson, DFL-Willmar, had spoken to his hometown newspaper and radio station reporters.

In explaining that, Johnson said that he "simply wasn't ready" to talk to local reporters any earlier. He said it was "nothing personal" but suggested he was making a statement against the business practices of the media for accepting and running paid political advertisements that, in his words, were "false."

Those ads, he said, were part of a "swift boat" campaign against him that was bankrolled by groups outside of District 13 and outside of Minnesota that "interfered with the election process."

The residents of District 13 "had their government hijacked by outside forces," said Johnson.


He said campaign reform is necessary to prevent groups from using "soft money" to say whatever they want in ads without any accountability to the truth.

He said candidates should be required to put their voice and stamp of approval on all campaign ads.

Johnson said opposition ads that said he was for gay marriage and approved of Internet pornography in schools were some of the worst ads. The one that hurt the most was one that said Johnson "kills 12 babies every day."

The ads horribly distorted his record, he said.

"I am not for gay marriage," he said. "I am pro-life. I believe in the sanctity of life."

Two weeks prior to the election, Johnson said that DFL advisers urged him to fight back with negative ads of his own. During his 30 years in politics, he said, he had always won by running a positive campaign and he decided to continue that strategy to the end.

He said the three main groups that funneled money into the negative ads -- Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, Minnesota Citizens in Defense of Marriage and the Sportsmen for Change -- successfully ousted him from the Senate but in the end have harmed their own causes.

Johnson, who had been seen as a social moderate during his two-year tenure as Senate majority leader, said the Senate leadership is now made up of legislators who are pro-choice, unlikely to put the marriage amendment on the ballot and don't put a high priority on funding for hunting.


"I know these people," said Johnson.

He also said his absence as the Senate majority leader, combined with Kenyon Republican Steve Sviggum's loss of rank as House speaker, means "the political power has all gone to Minneapolis" and rural communities, like Willmar, have "lost a little bit of its punch."

Local ramifications

Johnson listed a number of Willmar projects that will likely suffer financially because he is no longer the Senate majority leader from District 13.

Locating the veterans nursing home in Willmar will be more difficult; securing additional funds for renovations at Ridgewater College, additional money for the dental training clinic at Rice Memorial Hospital and additional funds for the Willmar Municipal Airport will be very difficult, he said.

Willmar's desire to get state funds to offset the $80 million wastewater treatment facility "probably won't happen," he said. "I know how the system works."

He said District 13 went from having the majority leader to being represented by a freshman senator in the minority party who is on the bottom of the seniority list of the 67 senators.

Future plans


Johnson said he is "tired and worn out" after his 30 years of public service, which included the Willmar City Council, the House, Senate and the Minnesota National Guard. Losing his wife, father, several aunts and uncles and an election have made for a couple difficult years.

He said he doesn't know if he'll continue to live in Willmar, move to the Twin Cities or elsewhere.

He hasn't decided if he'll continue his job as a Lutheran minister at Calvary Lutheran Church in Willmar but was told this week the door is open there to him. He said he's also leaving the door open for future political races, including governor or the U.S. Senate.

"I care passionately about this state," he said.

Johnson said he was "disappointed and hurt" from the defeat and was "politically wounded" but "I didn't die. I'm still walking."

He said he does not intend to "fade away and do nothing" and is looking forward to the future. "I'm keeping my options open," he said.

Since moving to Willmar in 1973, he said the community has been "exceptionally kind to me." He said it was an "honor" to serve this community, which he called "one of the best" in the nation and he thanked residents for supporting him.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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