US Rep. Johnson to Retire
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Six-term Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) plans to announce he is leaving Congress at the end of his current term.
Johnson, 65, will make a formal announcement on Thursday. He recently won his party's nomination in the re-drawn 13th Congressional District, defeating two challengers.
Johnson's office issued a press release, stating only that an announcement is scheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday at the Urbana City Council Chambers.
The re-drawn Congressional district contains Champaign-Urbana, Bloomington-Normal, Decatur and Springfield, and trades away Republican strongholds in the northern part of the old 15th district in exchange for Democratically-leaning Madison county and Metro East area of St. Louis. The re-drawn district includes a large rural constituency and University communities.
Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said there is now a strong possibility a Democrat could take his seat.
"It really will depend on the eventual candidates, and then it will depend on national money," Redfield said. "That was a complex question to begin with, and it just got more complex."
Pat Brady is chairman of the Illinois Republican Party. He says the timing of Johnson's announcement wasn't unexpected, thanking Johnson for his six terms in office.
"He's been one of the hardest working public servants I've ever known, and I hope he enjoys he does whatever he does next," Brady said. "We're going to go a fair, open, and transparent process and pick the best candidate to win that district, and the Democrats have done us a big favor by nominating the most liberal Democrat they could find in the state."
Brady was referring to Bloomington physician David Gill, who appears to have won the Democratic nomination over Matt Goetten in the March 20 primary. However, that result will not be certified by the State Board of Elections until April 20. Goetten has challenged the results. So, more than two weeks after the primary, it is possible that neither party has a clear nominee.
"Open seats are usually the best opportunity to win a Congressional race," Gill spokesman Michael Richards said in a statement. "In this D+1 seat that President Obama won by double digits (11 points), David is ready to take on whatever corporate-backed politician Republican party bosses handpick to replace Johnson."
Brady named State Representative Dan Brady, former state GOP executive director Rodney Davis, and former Johnson Chief of Staff Jerry Clarke as possible candidates to replace Johnson. Brady says he's meeting with lawyers Thursday, and says the process for naming a nominee will be slow and methodical.
One of Johnson's two Metro-East opponents in the March primary, Michael Firsching, says the Congressman didn't seem as involved as in prior campaigns.
"It's a little bit disappointing to have someone who ran in the race who really wasn't intending to follow through to the seat," he said. "Again, maybe he was and this was a recent change for him. But I didn't have the impression that he had been engaged as he had been in the past."
Firsching says he'd be interested in pursuing the Republican nomination, and hopes the party considers him before endorsing any other names. But Firsching says the GOP can't be overconfident, or it's possible a Democrat is elected to the 13th District this fall.
A replacement candidate would be chosen by county officials from the congressional district, according to Habeeb Habeeb, interim chairman of Champaign County's Republican Party.
Johnson has sometimes taken positions at odds with most members of his party. He called last year for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and last month endorsed Ron Paul for president.
Johnson is a lawyer and University of Illinois graduate. He was first elected to Congress in 2000, after serving in the Illinois General Assembly since 1976. Before that he was a member of the Urbana City Council. Leaving now, he will have never lost an election.
While it is unknown at this point what Johnson would do after he leaves politics, he did hint at one possible career a few months ago. In January, he held a press conference describing a bill he planned to introduce that would allow members of Congress to work jobs outside of public office.
"I don't think those of you who know me think that I'm probably going to vegetate," Johnson said. "I'm not going to sit home and watch All My Children - soap operas all day. I probably want to do something else, and yes, if this bill passes, I would very much consider going back to the law practice. And that might be something I would do at some point in the future anyway."
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)