The Ocheyedan lawmaker changed his voter registration to “no party” in June 2016, joining a growing number of statehouse independents across the nation.
“While my fellow independents from Maine to Alaska don’t share a rigid issues agenda, we do share the undeniable view that the two-party system is badly broken. Our goal is to find common ground in our respective statehouses,” Johnson said. “Politics in Des Moines has reached a bitterly partisan tipping point. Principle must come before party. Constituents must come first, of course, but there are times that call for leadership. This is one of those times.”
He represents Senate District 1, which comprises Clay, Dickinson, Lyon, Osceola and Palo Alto counties. Johnson said constituents of all political stripes have encouraged him to run again. “They are Republicans, Democrats and independents, and I am honored and humbled by their support. I believe in representing everyone to the best of my ability.”
Johnson was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives as a Republican in 1998 after winning a three-way primary. Voters gave him a second House term, then Johnson went on to win four Senate terms. Now running as an independent, if re-elected Johnson would be the first declared independent to win an Iowa Senate seat since 1923. The last independent House member served in 1971-72.
“This challenge is nothing new in the Iowa General Assembly,” he said. “The storied history of the House and Senate includes legislators who have not been affiliated with major parties.”
Johnson, 66, was a journalist over three decades, including 10 years as the award-winning owner of the newspaper in his hometown of West Branch, Iowa. After moving to northwest Iowa, he worked full-time and part-time on an Osceola County dairy farm for 15 years.
He continues to be a sharp critic of the state’s move to privatize its Medicaid program, the state-federal compact providing health care to lower-income and disabled Iowans. “Our former governor made the change without legislative input or approval. Putting three private insurance companies in charge of Medicaid is failing the entire health delivery system, from hospitals to medical and dental clinics, from mental-health treatment to drug and alcohol abuse prevention,” Johnson said. “That means we are failing the least among us who need a hand up. It’s yet another blow to rural Iowa.”
He also wants to do more for K-12 schools and Iowa’s community colleges. “This will be another tough budget year, but the best economic development program is a solid, skills-based education. We can’t continue to slowly starve our schools and expect a growing economy.”
In addition to being an assistant Senate leader for 10 years, Johnson was Republican chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee for four years and co-leader of the Senate Health and Human Services Budget Subcommittee. He has been a leader in protecting Iowa’s natural resources and promoting child-safety policies. Johnson is the recipient of numerous legislative awards and honors.
He currently serves on the board of directors for Iowans for Life, a leading pro-life advocacy group, and the Herbert Hoover Presidential Foundation Board of Trustees. He is a member and lector at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Milford.