- Cullman, Alabama

National News

March 26, 2013

SD Sen. Johnson to retire, cites health and age

VERMILLION, S.D. — Entering the auditorium on a motorized scooter and delivering remarks in halting speech, South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson announced Tuesday that he would retire next year at the end of his term and acknowledged he remains limited by a 2006 health crisis that nearly killed him.

Smiling and joking at times as he made the announcement at a press conference in his hometown of Vermillion, the 66-year-old said the effects of his life-threatening brain hemorrhage had made speech and mobility increasingly difficult.

“I feel great, but I must be honest ... I appreciate my right arm and right leg aren’t what they used to be, and my speech is not entirely there,” Johnson said, his delivery slurred at times.

Johnson, who until recently relied on a cane to get around, has become dependent on the motorized scooter he used to enter the auditorium at the University of South Dakota where he made his remarks. He also said he hoped to spend more time with his five grandchildren and that “I think mostly it’s time to go.”

Johnson’s departure helps solidify GOP prospects of claiming the state’s first open Senate seat since 1978. Republican former Gov. Mike Rounds had announced plans last year to challenge Johnson, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and has rallied much of the state and national party establishment behind him.

In a sign Republicans are not yet lock-step behind Rounds, a Washington-based political action committee released a statement Tuesday criticizing Rounds’ spending during two terms as governor, and calling for a more conservative candidate to run for Johnson’s seat. The same fractures between tea party-aligned and more moderate Republicans cost the GOP seats that were seen as winnable in 2010 and 2012.

On the Democratic side, long-rumored possible successors including Johnson’s son, South Dakota’s U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, and former U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.

“I’ve talked to Brendan now and then, but I’m not leaning on him to run or not run,” Johnson told The Associated Press after the event. “I gather he is undecided.”

Brendan Johnson declined to comment on his political plans Tuesday. He has avoided public statements about the race, but has had conversations with party activists in the state, and advisers and potential donors outside South Dakota.

Herseth Sandlin, 42, is general counsel for Raven Industries, Corp., a position she began last year after returning to South Dakota from Washington, D.C. She had worked as a lawyer in Washington after losing re-election to a fourth U.S. House term in 2010.

“While I appreciate the encouragement I’ve received I haven’t focused on the future political opportunities,” she told The AP.

Although both prospects have political networks to tap, both also face potential liabilities.

The younger Johnson, 37, has never held political office and would face questions about his father’s involvement in the confirmation process to his federal post. Herseth Sandlin has taken some positions at odds with some South Dakota Democratic activists, including opposing the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which could hurt in a potential Democratic primary.

Republicans too could face ideological tension. U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, elected in 2010, has been courted to challenge Rounds by South Dakota conservatives. While Noem has shown little movement toward investigating a 2014 Senate campaign, aides said Tuesday: “She hasn’t ruled anything in or out.”

Nationally, Republicans said by stepping aside, the politically resilient Johnson, who also retains a $1.2 million campaign war chest, gives the GOP its best chance to gain a seat in its quest for the majority.  

“I believe South Dakota moves into the top slot as the most likely Republican pickup,” said Greg Strimple, a Republican pollster and past consultant to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Johnson, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, joins Democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey as seasoned and influential Democrats departing the chamber, where Republicans need to gain six seats to take control. Two Republican senators have announced their retirements, both in Republican-performing states Georgia and Nebraska.

South Dakota was carried by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney last year, adding urgency for Democrats hoping to keep their majority. Republicans must gain six seats to retake the chamber in 2014.

With his wife Barbara at his side, Sen. Johnson remained standing, leaning on his stronger left hand at the podium, taking questions from reporters then posing for pictures and shaking hands with supporters — reaching out with his left — for an hour.

“I look forward to serving the remaining two years as the country is facing difficult times on many fronts and I will work every day to find a bipartisan solution to these challenges,” he said.


Text Only
National News
  • Fort Hood (UPDATED) Officials: 4 dead, including gunman, at Fort Hood

    A gunman opened fire Wednesday at Fort Hood in an attack that left four dead, including the shooter, law enforcement officials said.
    One of the officials, citing official internal U.S. Justice Department updates, said 14 others were hurt. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information by name.

    April 2, 2014 1 Photo

  • Smartphone kill switches are coming

    Smartphones need kill switches. It's a relatively easy solution to the pricey (and irritating) problem of smartphone theft. But who would have thought that the big carriers would team up with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung and lots of other manufacturers to voluntarily begin adding the technology by July 2015? The cooperative spirit! It makes so much sense!

    April 18, 2014

  • Consumer spending on health care jumps as Affordable Care Act takes hold

    Nancy Beigel has known since September that she would need hernia surgery. She couldn't afford it on her $11,000 yearly income until she became eligible for Medicaid in January through President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

    April 17, 2014

  • mfp file Hoffner Fired coach unjustly accused of visiting porn sites

    The president of Minnesota State University-Mankato accused a football coach of looking at Internet porn on a work computer before firing him, an arbitrator has revealed. The official said the claim could not be supported, and the coach shouldn't have been fired.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • High School Stabbings 4 students seriously hurt in Pa. school stabbings

    A student armed with a knife went on a stabbing and slashing spree at a high school near Pittsburgh on Wednesday morning, leaving as many as 20 people injured, including four students who suffered serious wounds, authorities said.

    April 9, 2014 2 Photos

  • Obit Ultimate Warrior Former pro wrestler Ultimate Warrior dies at 54

    James Hellwig, better known as former pro wrestler The Ultimate Warrior, has died, the WWE said. He was 54.

    April 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_amazonfiretv.jpg Amazon introduces Fire TV to challenge Apple in living rooms Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos is stepping up efforts to win over customers in their living rooms with a $99 TV box for watching digitally delivered shows and movies, challenging Apple's TV device.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Washington Mudslide Death toll in Washington mudslide rises to 30

    As medical examiners painstakingly piece together the identities and lives of the 30 people known killed when a mudslide wiped out a small Washington community, one mystery troubles them.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • APTOPIX Fort Hood Fort Hood gunman sought mental health treatment

    An Iraq War veteran being treated for mental illness was the gunman who opened fire at Fort Hood, killing three people and wounding 16 others before committing suicide, in an attack on the same Texas military base where more than a dozen people were slain in 2009, authorities said.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Supreme Court Campaign Big donors may give even more under court’s ruling

    The Supreme Court ruling Wednesday erasing a long-standing limit on campaign donations will allow a small number of very wealthy donors to give even more than is currently the case, according to students of the complex campaign finance system, and could strengthen the establishment in both parties.

    April 2, 2014 1 Photo