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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Grading the District 8 House Candidates: Jerry Johnson

Yesterday, I laid the odds for our District 8 State House candidates:
I explained why I rank Stricherz the longshot; now let's grade Jerry Johnson.

The short form: If you're looking for an inspiring, dynamic leader, Jerry Johnson is not your man. If you're looking for quiet, competent governance, well, then you might be able to make case for Johnson.

The Excitement Factor: there is none. In the AAUW forum a couple weeks ago, Johnson referred to a "passion and desire" to serve. Passion and desire aren't the first words that pop to mind when listening to Jerry Johnson speak. Watching his SDPB video is less exciting than watching paint dry. (Drying paint at least sometimes changes color.) His campaign website doesn't demonstrate a lot of effort. The Johnson website still has no Issues (which could be a good thing, depending on your interpretation of issues), no Photos, and no News, just a duplication of his Events page. His Speech Gallery does offer one exemplar of Johnson oratory, his 2008 Lincoln Day address, four paragraphs inexplicably posted as a bulky PDF document rather than simple text, in which his rousing closing argument for why he should be elected appears to be, "Why not?"

Why not? Johnson just doesn't sound very excited to be running for office. It's as if the Lake County GOP got together, and Julie Gross said, "Well, darn, Russ wants to run for Senate; who are we going to get to run for House?" and Dwaine Chapel raised his hand and said, "Well, why don't I ask Jerry?" And Jerry shrugged and said, "Why not?"

Of course, I am an outlier, a devoté of dazzling, dramatic political rhetoric surrounded by laconic Midwesterners. If Jerry Johnson is... quiet, he may be the perfect legislator for my neighbors who want government officials to keep quiet and just do their jobs. And Jerry Johnson does his job, competently if not flashily. His trucking business makes money. Madison didn't collapse in scandal or bankruptcy during his two terms on the city commission.

Johnson has said some good things in his campaign. At both the AAUW and Chamber fora, he has opened by saying, "I don't have a chip on my shoulder; I don't have a hidden agenda." Such humility is a dutiful nod to the expectations of South Dakota voters... although one must wonder there statement carries a suggestion that folks might think he does have a chip or a hidden agenda, or that one of his opponents does.

Johnson has also emphasized that he's not about party politics, but just about serving the District and getting the job done. His Lincoln Day address didn't use the word Republican once. At the Chamber forum, he noted that he would break with his party and advocate spending more of the state reserves to give more funding to education.

Still, Johnson hasn't said much else. Other than the above comment about spending down state reserves, Johnson has outlined no clear action that he would take as a legislator. Johnson has said the right things about encouraging communities to cooperate on regional economic development and educational opportunities, but his answers have mostly resolved around private or local action rather than specific legislative action.

So will Jerry Johnson win? He's not doing much to fire up the voters. But then District 8 voters may not need much firing up. He's got name recognition, a record of public service, and good community business connections. He's got this district in his blood, having graduated from Madison HS and DSU and built his business here. And he can keep up with Gerry on the tennis court.

As it stands, I put Johnson even with his old professor Gerry Lange but just slightly behind young, dynamic campaigner Mitch Fargen. We'll talk more about that in the coming days.


  1. "Still, Johnson hasn't said much else. Other than the above comment about spending down state reserves, Johnson has outlined no clear action that he would take as a legislator."

    Scary phrase. Hidden agenda?

  2. That is kind of odd, Stan: Johnson has said he has no hidden agenda, but other than that one suggestion about the reserves, he hasn't really shown us an agenda. Is the agenda hidden, or does it simply not exist?

  3. You must not know Jerry Johnson. He is a passionate leader who has strong political connections, and who can get things done. He has been involved in many community organizations, and is a devoted and active family man. While his speeches might be lacking in flashy rhetoric, he is the best man for the job.

  4. I remember City Finance Director, Jeff Heinemeyer, commenting one time at a meeting that Jerry Johnson, while a City Commissioner, probably knew the budget as well or better than Jeff did. That is how well-read and passionate Jerry is about being fully informed before he makes decisions. I'm sure he expects a learning curve in Pierre prior to proposing major legislation. He's a great person to have in Pierre as we sort out the Highway Fund shortfall and get back on schedule with safer roads and bridges.

  5. Cory, my fiscal-conservative antennas buzzed when I read that phrase, spending down state reserves.

    If our reserves go down to zero, what then? A state income tax? I'm against that unless it's done according to your plan, where the sales and property taxes go away.

    I came here from Wisconsin, a state that was forever in "debt crisis" and yet had taxes among the highest in the nation. Massachusetts and California are so hard-up that they have asked about the possibility of getting federal bailouts. (If the obese orangutans of Wall Street can get it, why not them?) Those two states are also among the highest-taxed in the country.

    That said (it was off topic, I admit), I know very little about Jerry Johnson, and am not in his district anyhow. So I don't mean to throw any mud his way. Spending down state reserves has been suggested by others too.

  6. I don't think anyone is going to be spending down any reserves this year, thanks to the national credit mess. I see a pretty big belt-tightening instead.


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