Rep. Tim Johnson (R)
Illinois 15th District
South of Chicago, the Illinois Central Railroad heads to the city of New Orleans on a railbed elevated a few feet above the rich black soil of the Illinois prairie, topsoil reaching down not just inches but feet. This land dazzled its first settlers, who were accustomed to land that had to be cleared of trees and stumps before it could be plowed. This treeless prairie could be cultivated almost immediately, and with bounteous results. Today, the region is still farming country, made up not of small family farms, but of large and profitable commercial operations, typically of 1,000 acres or more. Cultivating this soil is a business, requiring judgments about crop selection, maximizing yields, proper pesticides, marketing, export prospects, and government programs. The chief crops are corn and soybeans. The prairie landscape of rural, eastern Illinois is marked by only a few towns, the largest of which are the sites of universities: the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois State in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois Wesleyan, also in Bloomington. Politically, these prairie lands incline much more to the party of former House Speaker Joseph Cannon, a Republican from the manufacturing city of Danville east of Urbana, than to the party of Vice President Adlai Stevenson, a Democrat from Bloomington, who served under laissez-faire Democrat Grover Cleveland and was the grandfather of the Adlai Stevenson nominated by Democrats for president in 1952 and 1956.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 15th Congressional District of Illinois occupies much of this prairie, beginning in Iroquois County and covering some 130 miles south to the old National Road and U.S. 40, traditionally the line between northern Republican and southern Democratic downstate Illinois. The biggest city here is Champaign-Urbana and the district includes parts of Normal and next-door Bloomington. The twin cities of Normal and Bloomington are split mostly along U.S. 51. Downtown Normal and Illinois State University are in the 11th District, while southern Normal and eastern Bloomington are in the 15th. The district also features a narrow corridor of land extending more than 100 miles along the Wabash River border with Indiana as far south as the Ohio River, with an extension to the town of Eldorado. The university towns are somewhat liberal, but the prairie counties have long been Republican, and on balance, this is a Republican-oriented district.
Rep. Tim Johnson (R)
Elected: 2000, 5th term.
Born: July 23, 1946, Champaign .
Education: U. of IL, B.A. 1969, U. of IL, J.D. 1972.
Family: Divorced; 9 children.
Elected office: Urbana City Council, 1971-76; IL House of Reps., 1976-2000.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., Johnson, Frank, Frederick & Walsh.
The congressman from the 15th District is Tim Johnson, a Republican first elected in 2000. Johnson was born in Champaign, grew up in Urbana, and graduated from the University of Illinois and its law school. He was elected to the Urbana City Council while still in law school and served four years before winning election to the state House in 1976. In the Legislature, Johnson worked his way up to deputy majority leader. He is a trial lawyer and managed a small farm operation until he sold it in 2005. Johnson ran for Congress after Republican Rep. Tom Ewing announced his retirement in 1999. Ewing and then GOP Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois had been close friends in Congress and previously in the state House, and Ewing backed his election as speaker. But Hastert was unhappy that Ewing delayed his retirement announcement until his 29-year-old son, Sam, could move back to the district from Texas to launch his candidacy to succeed his father. The speaker endorsed state Rep. Bill Brady, the scion of a prominent real estate family from Bloomington. Johnson had more political experience than either of the other Republican candidates and was a ferocious campaigner. The primary results broke along regional lines. Brady won his base of McLean County with 62% of the vote, while in Champaign, Johnson led Brady with 61%. Johnson carried seven of the 11 counties, winning 44% of the vote, to 36% for Brady and 17% for Ewing. Against Illinois State University instructor Mike Kelleher in the general election, the voting pattern was similar. Kelleher narrowly won his home of McLean County, while Johnson secured Champaign and 9 of the 11 counties, winning 53%-47% overall.
|Tim Johnson (R)||187,121||(64%)||($295,919)|
|Steve Cox (D)||104,393||(36%)|
|Tim Johnson (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (58%), 2004 (61%), 2002 (65%), 2000 (53%)
In the House, Johnson has compiled a moderate voting record, with maverick tendencies. He exercised notable independence from Hastert while Republicans were still in the majority, which helps to explain his modest committee assignments. But he found other routes to influence. He took issue with the Bush administration’s environmental record and voted against opening the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, winning him a re-election endorsement from the League of Conservation Voters. He also won over environmentalists for pressuring the Bureau of Land Management in 2005 to abandon plans for off-road vehicle use in Utah’s Red Rock wilderness, an area Johnson termed “mankind’s heritage.” The same year, he was one of 14 House Republicans who voted against $50 billion in proposed domestic spending cuts.
Johnson also bucked the Republican administration on the war in Iraq. In February 2007, he was one of 17 House Republicans who voted for a resolution opposing President Bush’s plan to try to bring an end to insurgent violence with “surge” of troop strength. However, Johnson later opposed Democratic proposals calling for a timetable to withdraw troops. In June 2008, he cited the impact on civil liberties when he was the only Republican to vote against renewal of the law to permit a secret court to approve intelligence surveillance, which the House passed 293-129. His maverick ways probably did not help his efforts to try to keep federal funding flowing to the giant FutureGen project, an experimental, clean-technology coal-fired power plant in Coles County in Johnson’s district. In January 2008, the administration decided to curtail funding for the project. Johnson is hopeful that President Obama, with his ties to the state, will be more supportive; a few other Illinois heavyweights, such as Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, are also behind FutureGen.
In May 2006, after the National Collegiate Athletic Associations reprimanded the University of Illinois for using a “demeaning” American Indian mascot it called Chief Illiniwek, Johnson filed a bill to limit the NCAA’s ability to sanction colleges because of their athletic team’s name, symbol, or mascot. At a field hearing in Champaign, Johnson told an NCAA official, “You do a good job of running basketball tournaments … but you don’t do a good job of social engineering.” Yet the mascot made his last appearance in February 2007.
Johnson reneged on his term-limits pledge in October 2002. In subsequent bids for re-election, in 2004 and 2006, emergency-room physician David Gill challenged Johnson as the Democratic nominee, promoting universal health care as his prime issue. But Johnson prevailed by solid margins. In 2008, he breezed to a 64%-36% re-election.