Thursday, April 5, 2012

Knowing when to leave

I gained a little bit of respect for Tim Johnson, the member of Congress from Urbana who previously represented the area around Champaign County in the state Legislature.
JOHNSON: Soon to be former

For Johnson on Thursday, according to the Chicago Tribune and the Capitol Fax newsletter out of Springfield, is supposed to tell us that he has decided he does not want to seek a seventh term on Capitol Hill. He’s stepping down voluntarily.

HE’S NOT GOING to go down to defeat like Donald Manzullo did a couple of weeks ago, nor is he going to die in office. Johnson has the sense to know when his time has come.

And his time was rather extensive – 24 years in the Illinois House of Representatives, followed up by 12 years in the U.S. House. He wasn’t some fly-by-night member of Congress like Mike Flanagan or Debbie Halvorson.

Admittedly, I would have respected him even more if he hadn’t gone through the process of getting his name on the ballot for the March 20 primary. But that primary wound up making Johnson the Republican nominee for re-election, who would run against David Gill of Bloomington, who won the Democratic Party nomination in last month’s primary.

But when one considers that this is Gill’s fourth attempt at winning the central Illinois seat in Congress, it becomes obvious that he most likely is a perennial candidate with little chance of winning.

GILL IS THE rural Illinois equivalent of Ray Wardingley.

Which is why Johnson feels “safe” in dropping out and letting the GOP big-wigs of central Illinois decide who will get to fill his slot on the ballot in the Nov. 6 general election – and most likely his seat in Congress.

And the Chicago Tribune noted that among the people being considered for Johnson’s replacement on the ballot is state Sen. William Brady, R-Bloomington, who may wind up getting the “up and out” treatment of Illinois politics – a post in Washington as his “reward” for running against Gov. Pat Quinn in 2010.

For those who have been paying attention, Johnson has had his own health issues in recent years (although he has always had a certain sickly appearance to him, even some two decades ago when I dealt with him when I was a Statehouse correspondent).

SO I’M SURE that plays into the 65-year-old’s decision that 36 years as a government official is long enough.

But a part of me feels compelled to write this commentary because I suspect many people haven’t been paying attention. There may well be some people who consider themselves politically aware who read the name “Tim Johnson” and presumed I was referring to the senator from South Dakota.

Others may think I’m referring to the one-time Milwaukee Brewers’ reserve infielder who later got a shot at managing the Toronto Blue Jays (although his tall tales about his “war record” later brought that to an end).

But the thing I remember about Johnson the central Illinois politico is that he wasn’t one for telling “tall” tales. I remember a guy who was more straightforward in his talk than a lot of political people are capable of being.

IF THAT MEANT he could cut through the bull more than many other legislators or congressmen, well then perhaps we need more elected officials like that.

It is why it doesn’t surprise me to learn that he was among the members of Congress who created the Center Aisle Caucus – a group of political people who are willing to put aside their party labels in hopes of actually trying to achieve solutions to problems confronting our country.

It also is why it was almost expected that Johnson was the lone Republican official of significance in Illinois who did NOT join in the GOP effort to try to get the federal courts to overturn the political boundaries that were drawn by Democratic Party-leaning officials.

He said Republican officials should accept that the boundaries were set, and should focus their attention on trying to figure out how to win elections in the upcoming decade despite the handicap.

PERHAPS HE WAS just being realistic enough to know that had his political party managed to gain control of the redistricting process, the boundaries for legislative and congressional districts would have been equally as slanted against the opposition.

Complaining just came across as hypocritical – which is a word I would never use to describe Tim Johnson.


No comments: