Tim Johnson (South Dakota politician)

Timothy Peter Johnson (born December 28, 1946) is a retired American politician who served as a United States Senator from South Dakota from 1997 to 2015. A member of the Democratic Party, he previously served as the United States Representative for South Dakota's at-large congressional district from 1987 to 1997 and in the state legislature from 1979 to 1987. Johnson chose not to seek reelection in 2014.[1]

Tim Johnson
Tim Johnson official portrait, 2009.jpg
United States Senator
from South Dakota
In office
January 3, 1997 – January 3, 2015
Preceded byLarry Pressler
Succeeded byMike Rounds
Chair of the Senate Banking Committee
In office
January 3, 2011 – January 3, 2015
Preceded byChris Dodd
Succeeded byRichard Shelby
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Dakota's at-large district
In office
January 3, 1987 – January 3, 1997
Preceded byTom Daschle
Succeeded byJohn Thune
Personal details
Timothy Peter Johnson

(1946-12-28) December 28, 1946 (age 72)
Canton, South Dakota, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Barbara Brooks
Children3 (including Brendan)
Alma materUniversity of South Dakota (BA, MA, JD)
WebsiteSenate website

Early life, education and careerEdit

Johnson was born in Canton, South Dakota, the son of Ruth Jorinda (née Ljostveit) and Vandel Charles Johnson. He has Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish ancestry.[2] 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.[citation needed]

After doing post-graduate studies at Michigan State University from 1970 to 1971, a period during which he worked for the Michigan State Senate, Johnson returned to Vermillion to attend the University of South Dakota School of Law and earned his J.D. in 1975. Immediately after earning his juris doctor, he went into private practice.[citation needed] He did not take the bar exam as he was admitted to the South Dakota bar under the state's diploma privilege.

Early political careerEdit

Johnson served in the South Dakota House of Representatives from 1979 to 1982 and in the South Dakota Senate from 1983-86. Johnson served as Clay County deputy state's attorney in 1985 during his tenure in the South Dakota Senate. He 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.[3] Between 1991-94, 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.[citation needed]

United States SenateEdit

Political positionsEdit


During his tenure in Congress, Johnson supported infrastructure projects that delivered clean drinking water to communities throughout South Dakota and into surrounding states.[citation needed] He authored several water project bills, resulting in clean drinking water being delivered to hundreds of thousands of South Dakota families.[citation needed]

During his first term in the House of Representatives, Congressman Tim Johnson authored the Mni Wiconi Project Act of 1988 (H.R. 2772, enacted into law as Public Law 100-516). The measure authorized construction of a water project serving an area of southwestern South Dakota that included the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, an area that had long suffered low water supplies and poor water quality. In subsequent years, Johnson authored legislation (H.R. 3954) to expand the Mni Wiconi Rural Water Project service area, and the expansion was incorporated into a broader bill and enacted as Public Law 103-434.

Johnson’s Mid Dakota Rural Water System Act of 1991 (H.R. 616) was incorporated into a larger package of infrastructure projects and enacted into law as Public Law 102-575. The Mid Dakota Rural Water Project was completed in 2006 and serves more than 30,000 residents of east-central South Dakota.[citation needed]

The Fall River Rural Water Users District Rural Water System Act of 1998 (S. 744 in the 105th Congress, enacted as Public Law 105-352) authorized the Bureau of Reclamation to construct a rural water system in Fall River County of South Dakota. After years of drought, residents in the southeastern area of that county had been left without a suitable water supply, and many of them were forced to either haul water or use bottled water because of poor water quality.[citation needed]

The Lewis and Clark Rural Water System Act of 1999 (S.244 in the 106th Congress) authorized construction of a water delivery system spanning a broad area of southeastern South Dakota, northwestern Iowa, and southwestern Minnesota. The system joined 22 rural water systems and communities.[citation needed]

The authorized project was intended to bring clean, safe drinking water to 180,000 individuals throughout the Lewis and Clark service region. The Perkins County Rural Water System Act (S.2117 in the 105th Congress and S.243 in the 106th Congress, enacted as Public Law 106-136) authorized the Bureau of Reclamation to construct a rural water system in Perkins County of South Dakota, serving approximately 2,500 residents including the communities of Lemmon and Bison.[citation needed]


Johnson worked to enact a requirement that meat and other agricultural products be labeled for country of origin. Having first authored legislation addressing the issue in 1992 (H.R. 5855), Johnson continued the fight until a meat labeling law was enacted in 2002 as part of the Farm Bill reauthorization (Public Law 107-171). The enacted law contained language Johnson had introduced as S. 280 earlier that Congress).[citation needed]

For more than a decade, executive branch opposition and legal challenges delayed implementation of the labeling law.[citation needed]

In May 2007, Johnson received an Honored Cooperator award from the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) for his support of cooperative businesses.[4]

In 2013, the National Farmers Union presented Johnson with its Friend of the Family Farmer award, an honor intended to recognize his commitment to helping small scale family farms remain viable.[5]


Johnson authored the bill establishing the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in western South Dakota. The measure was enacted as Public Law 106-115, creating a new unit of the National Park System. At the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, visitors can learn about the Cold War, and the nuclear missiles that threatened massive destruction while also serving as a deterrent to war.[citation needed]


Johnson was the only seated member of Congress to have a son or daughter serving in the active duty military when the Senate voted to approve the use of force in Iraq. Johnson’s oldest son, Brooks, served in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, which would surely be mobilized to fight in Iraq. Johnson ultimately voted to permit the use of force, and his son served in Iraq, having already served in other conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo. Brooks Johnson later also served in the conflict in Afghanistan.[citation needed]

As Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, Johnson secured full and timely funding for veterans' health care for the first time in 21 years. He was among a group of legislators that successfully pressed for enactment of legislation providing advance funding for veterans' health care, thereby preventing health services for veterans from being undermined by funding delays.[citation needed]

When the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission recommended closure of Ellsworth Air Force Base, Johnson assisted in making the South Dakota delegation's case to keep the base open. Ultimately, the base was preserved by an 8 to 1 vote of the BRAC commission.[citation needed]

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, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth, Johnson and U.S. Senator John Thune.


As Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Johnson pressed for confirmation and ultimately brought President Obama's nominee for CFPB chairman, Richard Cordray, to a committee vote despite Republican opposition.[citation needed]

The committee approved Cordray's nomination on a party-line 12-10 vote, and Cordray was ultimately confirmed by the full Senate on a 66-34 vote.


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 – [citation needed]and another bill to repeal the Federal Assault Weapons Ban.[citation needed] He was among the minority of Democrats to vote for President George W. Bush's 2001 tax cut.[citation needed] On January 31, 2006, Johnson was one of only four Democrats to vote to confirm Judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court.[6][7] He has also called for "broadened use" of the death penalty.[8]

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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

Johnson supported Obama's health reform legislation; he voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in December 2009,[9] and he voted for the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.[10]

In May 2010, Johnson introduced the Tony Dean Cheyenne River Valley Conservation Act of 2010, a bill that would designate over 48,000 acres (190 km2) of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland as protected wilderness. The act would allow the continuation of grazing and hunting on the land and would create the first national grassland wilderness in the country.[11][12]

On December 18, 2010, Johnson voted in favor of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010.[13][14]


Johnson was treated for prostate cancer in 2004 and further tests showed that he was clear of the disease.[15][16]

On December 13, 2006, during the broadcast of a live radio interview from Washington with WNAX radio in Yankton, South Dakota, Johnson suffered bleeding in the brain caused by a cerebral arteriovenous malformation, a congenital defect that causes enlarged and tangled blood vessels. In critical condition, he underwent surgery at George Washington University Hospital to drain the blood and stop further bleeding.[17]

Johnson then underwent a lengthy regimen of physical, occupational, and speech therapy to regain strength and mobility and restore his severely affected speech.[18] In his 2007 State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush sent Johnson his best wishes.[19]

On February 15, 2007, Johnson marked his return to Senate work by co-sponsoring his first piece of legislation since his illness, the Emergency Farm Relief Act of 2007.[20] Johnson returned to his full schedule in the Senate on September 5, 2007 to both tributes and standing ovations.[21]

Political campaignsEdit

Johnson narrowly defeated three-term Senator Larry Pressler (R) in the 1996 U.S. Senate election, making him the only Senate candidate that year to defeat an incumbent in a general election, 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 reelection. Johnson's reelection 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 subsequently ran for reelection in 2004 and lost to Thune. In his 2002 election, Johnson won 94 percent of the vote among the Oglala Sioux, South Dakota's biggest tribe.[22]


Johnson ran for reelection in 2008. While he was recovering earlier in the campaign season, fellow Democratic senators raised funds for his campaign. Early polls showed Johnson likely to beat the Republican challenger, Joel Dykstra,[23] which he did, with 62.5% of the vote. In January 2008, Johnson endorsed Barack Obama for president in the Democratic primary.[24]

Electoral historyEdit

South Dakota's at-large congressional district: Results 1986–1994[25]
Year Democratic 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[25]
Year Democratic 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%

Personal lifeEdit

Tim and Barbara Johnson have three children and six grandchildren. They live in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Sen. Tim Johnson to retire in 2014, giving GOP new pickup target". The Hill. Retrieved March 25, 2013.
  2. ^ "rootsweb Search". ancestry.com. Retrieved October 26, 2007.
  3. ^ "About Tim: Biography of Senator Tim Johnson". Archived from the original on June 26, 2008.
  4. ^ "Sen. Johnson Wins Honored Cooperator Award". Credit Union Journal. May 7, 2007. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
  5. ^ "Sen. Tim Johnson (D)". National Journal Almanac. Retrieved August 15, 2014.
  6. ^ Roll Call Vote 109th Congress - 2nd Session (on the confirmation of Samuel Alito of New Jersey), United States Senate, January 31, 2006. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  7. ^ Kirkpatrick, David D. (1 February 2006). "Alito Sworn In as Justice After Senate Gives Approval". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
  8. ^ "Tim Johnson on the Issues". OnTheIssues.org. Retrieved December 20, 2006. Broaden use of death penalty. (Jan 1996)
  9. ^ "U.S. Senate: Roll Call Vote".
  10. ^ "U.S. Senate: Legislation & Records Home > Votes > Roll Call Vote". Senate.gov. Retrieved August 29, 2010.
  11. ^ "Conservation Group Hails Introduction of Grassland Wilderness Bill". South Dakota Wild Grassland Coalition. May 5, 2010. Archived from the original on July 28, 2011. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
  12. ^ Cook, Andrea J. (June 16, 2010). "Neighbors disagree on grasslands wilderness". Rapid City Journal. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
  13. ^ "U.S. Senate: Roll Call Vote".
  14. ^ "Senate Vote 281 - Repeals 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 27, 2015.
  15. ^ "Biography of Senator Tim Johnson". Tim Johnson Senate website. Archived from the original on December 16, 2006. Retrieved December 20, 2006.
  16. ^ "Sen. Johnson recovering after brain surgery". MSNBC.com. Associated Press. December 14, 2006. Retrieved December 23, 2006. He underwent prostate cancer treatment in 2004, and subsequent tests have shown him to be clear of the disease.
  17. ^ "Senator in Critical Condition". CNN.com. December 14, 2006. Retrieved December 14, 2006. Johnson, 59, was in critical condition Thursday morning after surgery...
  18. ^ Jalonick, Mary Clare (January 19, 2007). "Ailing South Dakota Senator on the Mend". CBS. Associated Press. Archived from the original on November 23, 2007.
  19. ^ Bush, George W. (January 23, 2007). "President Bush's 2007 State of the Union Address". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 7, 2017.
  20. ^ "Hospitalized Sen. Tim Johnson Co-Sponsors Bill". February 16, 2007
  21. ^ Milbank, Dana (September 6, 2007). "Senate Family Welcomes Cousin Tim ... Not So Much Uncle Larry". Washington Post.
  22. ^ Johnson, Dirk (October 22, 2008). "In South Dakota Race, Gauging the Impact of a Senator's Health". New York Times. Retrieved November 7, 2014.
  23. ^ "Election 2008: South Dakota Senate". Rasmussen Reports. March 7, 2008. Archived from the original on March 11, 2008.
  24. ^ "Johnson backs Obama". January 9, 2008. Archived from the original on January 13, 2008.
  25. ^ a b "Election Statistics". Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives. Archived from the original on July 30, 2008. Retrieved August 8, 2007.

External linksEdit

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

Succeeded by
John Thune
Party political offices
Preceded by
Ted Muenster
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from South Dakota
(Class 2)

1996, 2002, 2008
Succeeded by
Rick Weiland
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Larry Pressler
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from South Dakota
Served alongside: Tom Daschle, John Thune
Succeeded by
Mike Rounds
Preceded by
Chris Dodd
Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee
Succeeded by
Richard Shelby