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Tim Johnson

Assumed office 
January 3, 1997
Serving with John Thune
Preceded by Larry Pressler

In office
January 3, 1987 – January 3, 1997
Preceded by Tom Daschle
Succeeded by John Thune

In office
1983 – 1986

In office
1979 – 1982

Born December 28, 1946 (1946-12-28) (age 63)
Canton, South Dakota
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Barbara Brooks
Residence Vermillion, South Dakota
Alma mater University of South Dakota
Occupation attorney
Religion Lutheranism

Timothy Peter "Tim" Johnson (born December 28, 1946) is the senior United States Senator from South Dakota and a member of the Democratic Party. He was elected to a third term on November 4, 2008. He was the subject of national attention in December 2006 when his ill health raised the possibility that, were he to die, the Governor of South Dakota might appoint a Republican to fill his seat, thereby returning the Senate to Republican control after the November election had given the Democratic Party a slim majority. Johnson has since recovered.


Early life and state politics

Johnson was born in Canton, South Dakota to Ruth Jorinda Ljostveit and Vandel Charles Johnson.[1] Raised in Vermillion, Johnson earned a B.A. in 1969 and an M.A. in 1970 from the University of South Dakota, where he was a member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity. After doing post-graduate studies at Michigan State University from 1970 to 1971, he earned his J.D. from the University of South Dakota in 1975. Immediately after earning his law degree, he went into private practice.

Johnson served in the South Dakota House of Representatives from 1979 to 1982 and in the South Dakota Senate from 1983 to 1986. Johnson served as Clay County deputy state's attorney in 1985 during his tenure in the South Dakota Senate.

House of Representatives

Johnson was elected to the United States House of Representatives from South Dakota's At-large congressional district in 1986. During his first term, he introduced more legislation than any other freshman member of the House.[2] Between 1991 and 1994, he served as a regional whip for the Democratic Party. He left the House in 1997, when he took up his newly acquired Senate seat.

United States Senate career



Johnson defeated three-term Senator Larry Pressler (R) in the 1996 U.S. Senate election, making him the only Senate candidate to defeat an incumbent in a year that saw thirteen open seats. In 2002, he defeated his successor in the at-large House seat, U.S. Representative John Thune (R), by 524 votes to win re-election. Johnson's re-election race was widely seen as a proxy battle between President George W. Bush, who had carried South Dakota comfortably in 2000, and the state's senior Senator and Johnson's fellow Democrat, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who was subsequently up for re-election in 2004 and lost to Thune.

Positions and votes

Sen. Johnson (second from right) answers questions after he helped prevent the closure of Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. Left to right: Governor M. Michael Rounds, Rep. Stephanie Herseth, Johnson and Sen. John Thune.

While in the House, Johnson was among the minority of his party to vote in favor of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 – a welfare reform bill – and another bill to repeal the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. He was among the minority of Democrats to vote for President George W. Bush's 2001 tax cut. On January 31, 2006, Johnson was one of only four Democrats to vote to confirm Judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court. He has also called for "broadened use" of the death penalty.[3]

Johnson was, however, among the minority of senators to vote against the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which was strongly supported by pro-life groups. While a member of the House, he was one of only 16 congressmen to vote against the Telecom Act of 1996, which provided for deregulation and competition in the communication sector and was given firm support by Republicans, business groups, and most Democrats.

In May 2007, Johnson received an Honored Cooperator award from the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) for his support of cooperative businesses.

Paul Hazen, NCBA president, made the presentation to Johnson’s staff at the NCBA annual meeting in Arlington, Virginia. Hazen praised Johnson for consistently supporting the Rural Cooperative Development Grants (RCDG) program which, typically funded at $6 million annually, is the only federal grants program devoted solely to forming and expanding co-ops.

Committee assignments


Johnson was treated for prostate cancer in 2004 and further tests showed that he was clear of the disease.[4][5]

In Washington, D.C., on December 13, 2006, during the broadcast of a live radio interview with WNAX radio in Yankton, South Dakota, Johnson suffered bleeding in the brain caused by cerebral arteriovenous malformation, a congenital problem that causes enlarged and tangled blood vessels. He underwent successful surgery at George Washington University Hospital to drain the blood and stop further bleeding.[6] As of January 19, 2007, Johnson was undergoing physical, occupational, and speech therapy every day for three hours. This included strengthening exercises to gain mobility and work with parallel bars. His recovery was expected to take "several months."[7] In his 2007 State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush wished Johnson well.[8]

On February 10, 2007, it was reported that Johnson was reading news clippings and starting to do some office work from the hospital. "At this point, he has requested more contact with office and is looking for updates from staff," a member of his staff said in a statement.[9] On February 15, Johnson co-sponsored his first piece of legislation since his hospitalization, the Emergency Farm Relief Act of 2007.[10]

On February 20, he left the hospital and moved to a private facility.[11][12] On March 13, 2007, Johnson issued his first public statement:

I want to thank the people of South Dakota and all of our dear friends for their support and prayers. This has been an unexpected journey and there is a long road in front of me. I am determined and focused on my recovery, and I look forward to returning to the Senate on behalf of South Dakota.[13]

Johnson was discharged from the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington on April 27.[14] On June 11, 2007, his doctor said that he would be able to resume his full duties in the Senate.[15]

Though suffering from permanent brain damage, Johnson returned to work in the Senate on September 5, 2007 to both tributes and standing ovations. It was reported that Democrats and Republicans alike had tears in their eyes during his first speech on the Senate floor.[16]

2008 election

Johnson ran for reelection in 2008. While he was recovering earlier in the campaign season, fellow Democratic senators raised funds on behalf of his campaign. Early polls showed Johnson likely to beat the Republican challenger, Joel Dykstra,[17] and he did, with 62.5% of the vote.

In January 2008, Johnson endorsed Barack Obama for President in the Democratic primary.[18]

Personal life

Johnson's elder son, Brooks, serves in the U.S. Army, making him the only Senator with a child in the U.S. Armed Forces when the United States invaded Iraq. Michael Moore stated in his film Fahrenheit 9/11 that only one member of the Senate had a son serving in the military at the time; Moore was referring to Johnson, although he didn't mention his name. He and his wife Barbara, a professional social worker, have another son, Brendan, the current United States Attorney for the District of South Dakota, and a daughter, Kelsey.

Electoral history

South Dakota's At-large congressional district: Results 1986–1994[19]
Year Democrat Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct
1986 Tim Johnson 171,462 59% Dale Bell 118,261 41%
1988 Tim Johnson 223,759 72% David Volk 88,157 28%
1990 Tim Johnson 173,814 68% Don Frankenfeld 83,484 32%
1992 Tim Johnson 230,070 69% John Timmer 89,375 27% Ronald Wieczorek Independent 6,746 2% Robert J. Newland Libertarian 3,931 1% *
1994 Tim Johnson 183,036 60% Jan Berkhout 112,054 37% Ronald Wieczorek Independent 10,832 4%
*Write-in and minor candidate notes: In 1992, Ann Balakier received 2,780 votes.
South Dakota Senator (Class II): Results 1996–2008[19]
Year Democrat Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct
1996 Tim Johnson 166,533 51% Larry Pressler 157,954 49%
2002 Tim Johnson 167,481 50% John Thune 166,949 49% Kurt Evans Libertarian 3,071 1%
2008 Tim Johnson 237,866 62.5% Joel Dykstra 142,778 37.5%


  1. ^ "rootsweb Search". Retrieved 2007-10-26.  
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Tim Johnson on the Issues". Retrieved 2006-12-20. "Broaden use of death penalty. (Jan 1996)"  
  4. ^ "Biography of Senator Tim Johnson". Tim Johnson Senate website. Retrieved 2006-12-20.  
  5. ^ "Sen. Johnson recovering after brain surgery". (Associated Press). 2006-12-14. Retrieved 2006-12-23. ""He underwent prostate cancer treatment in 2004, and subsequent tests have shown him to be clear of the disease.""  
  6. ^ "Senator in Critical Condition". Retrieved 2006-12-14. "Johnson, 59, was in critical condition Thursday morning after surgery..."  
  7. ^ Jalonick, Mary Clare (January 19, 2007). "Ailing South Dakota Senator on the Mend". CBS (The Associated Press).  
  8. ^ Bush, George W. (January 23, 2007). "President Bush's 2007 State of the Union Address". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-01-24.  
  9. ^ "Recovering Sen. Tim Johnson Working from Hospital". February 10, 2007.
  10. ^ "Hospitalized Sen. Tim Johnson Co-Sponsors Bill". February 16, 2007
  11. ^ "Johnson Update". The Washington Post (The Associated Press): p. A13. February 21, 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-19.  
  12. ^"Sen. Tim Johnson leaves hospital" By Sam Youngman,, February 21, 2007.
  13. ^ Sen. Tim Johnson: Thanks for Support and Prayers. March 13, 2007.
  14. ^ "Statement from the Office of Senator Johnson" April 30, 2007
  15. ^ Sen. Johnson's Doctor OKs Return to Work
  16. ^ Mlbank, Dana (September 6, 2007). "Senate Family Welcomes Cousin Tim . . . Not So Much Uncle Larry". Washington Post.  
  17. ^ "Election 2008: South Dakota Senate". Rasmussen Reports. March 7, 2008.  
  18. ^ Johnson backs Obama
  19. ^ a b "Election Statistics". Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives. Retrieved 2007-08-08.  

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Tom Daschle
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Dakota's At-large congressional district

1987 – January 7, 1997
Succeeded by
John Thune
United States Senate
Preceded by
Larry Pressler
United States Senator (Class 2) from South Dakota
January 7, 1997 – present
Served alongside: Tom Daschle, John Thune
United States order of precedence
Preceded by
Dick Durbin
United States Senators by seniority
Succeeded by
Jack Reed
D-Rhode Island


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