Sen. Mike Johanns (R)
Elected: 2008, term expires 2014, 1st term.
Born: June 18, 1950, Osage, IA .
Education: St. Mary's Col. (MN), B.A. 1971; Creighton U., J.D. 1974..
Family: Married (Stephanie); 2 children.
Elected office: Lancaster Cnty. Bd. of Commissioners, 1983-87; Lincoln City Cncl., 1989-1991; Lincoln mayor, 1991-98; NE gov., 1998-05.
Professional Career: Atty., Cronin and Hannon, 1975-76; Atty., Nelson, Johanns, Morris, Holdeman and Titus, 1976-1991; Clerk, Hon. Hale McCown, NE Supreme Court; U.S. secy. of agriculture, 2005-07.
The junior senator from Nebraska is Republican Mike Johanns, a former governor and secretary of Agriculture in the Bush administration. He was born in Iowa and is of Luxembourgian descent. Johanns grew up on a dairy farm in Osage, Iowa, and started doing chores at age 4. He attended college in Minnesota, earned a law degree at Creighton University in Omaha, and, after clerking for a judge there for a year, settled into a career in Nebraska rather than returning to his native state. He practiced law in O’Neill and got involved in local politics in 1982, when he was elected to the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners. He also served on the Lincoln City Council and was elected mayor of Lincoln in 1991. Johanns was a Democrat until 1988.
|Mike Johanns (R)||455,854||(58%)||($3,781,316)|
|Scott Kleeb (D)||317,456||(40%)||($1,911,771)|
|Mike Johanns (R)||112,191||(78%)|
|Pat Flynn (R)||31,560||(22%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2002 governor (69%), 1998 governor (54%)
Though re-elected mayor of Lincoln in 1995, Johanns began laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial run in 1998 by traveling to each of the state’s 93 counties. He faced vigorous competition in the Republican primary: State Auditor John Breslow had a large campaign treasury, and 2nd District House Rep. Jon Christensen had strong support from religious conservatives. A week before the May primary, Christensen distributed fliers accusing Johanns of allowing obscene and racist broadcasts to air on Lincoln’s public access cable channel. Johanns maintained that he had, in fact, tried to stop the broadcasts, and the state’s nationally respected senator, Republican Chuck Hagel, called the flier “absolute trash.” This was a high-spending contest. Breslow spent $3.8 million, Christensen $1.8 million, and Johanns $1.7 million. Johanns prevailed with 40% of the vote to 30% for Breslow and 28% for Christensen. In the general election, Johanns faced Democrat Bill Hoppner, longtime aide to former Sens. James Exon and Bob Kerrey. The campaign was conducted civilly but with major differences on issues. Johanns’s solid conservatism was more in step with the Republican leanings of the state and he won, 54% to 46%.
As governor, Johanns’s low-key nature belied his strong policy convictions. During his first term, he vetoed 26 bills in five days, the state’s strongest use of the veto pen in a decade. He vetoed a moratorium on the death penalty and a bill raising elected officials’ salaries and his own salary from the nation’s lowest, $65,000 annually. He got passed a $10 million bill for tax credits and entrepreneurship grants to firms that opened businesses in rural areas. In 2001, Nebraska’s revenues started coming in below estimates, but Johanns pushed ahead with plans to cut spending by $171 million. “I’m not here to sign tax increases,” he said. “Government tends to operate better when it’s under pressure.” In 2002, state revenues decreased further, but Johanns vetoed temporary increases in the sales, income, and cigarette taxes, though the Legislature overrode his vetoes. Johanns cut school aid and terminated the Rural Development Commission. He also proposed cuts in Medicaid and a freeze on higher-education spending. He called raising taxes to solve the budget crisis “the last alternative.” Johanns was easily re-elected in 2002 without a serious challenge. During his second term, he joined President Bush’s Cabinet as Agriculture secretary.
In that role, Johanns more than doubled the number of acres in conservation programs nationwide and focused on opening foreign markets to domestic farm products. By far his biggest undertaking was representing the administration on Capitol Hill as Congress wrote a new bill governing farm and agricultural programs. The administration wanted to reduce farm spending by $88 billion over five years and eliminate government payments to farmers who made more than $200,000 a year, a proposal aimed at complying with international demands to reduce farm subsidies in the United States. Although Johanns and the president were in agreement on the bill, both houses of Congress opposed it. Top Democrats on the Agriculture committees widely criticized Johanns for leaving the post to run for the Senate in the middle of the negotiations to pass a farm bill, which was set to expire at the end of 2007.
His election to the Senate in 2008 was two years later than some Republicans envisioned. The GOP had heavily courted Johanns to challenge Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat who was up for re-election in 2006. Several months later, Johanns apparently saw the opportunity he was waiting for. Hagel announced his retirement in September 2007, leaving an open Senate seat, an easier mark than one inconveniently occupied by an incumbent. Johanns quit his administration job and returned home to campaign.
When jockeying for the Senate began, other prominent Republicans, including Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Omaha Mayor Hal Daub, were contenders, with Bruning able to raise an impressive $780,000 a year out from the election. But the two men stepped aside as it became increasingly clear that Johanns would win. For the general election, national Democrats aggressively tried to recruit former Gov. Bob Kerrey, but he opted to remain in his job as president of the New School in New York City. The Democrats turned to rancher and college instructor Scott Kleeb, who in 2006 came within 10 percentage points of winning the open House seat in Nebraska’s heavily Republican 3rd District.
Johanns and Kleeb differed on a variety of issues. Johanns advocated increased offshore drilling and exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, while Kleeb said he favored more “green” solutions to energy shortages, such as the development of wind energy, ethanol, and biofuels. They also clashed on the seriousness of global warming. Kleeb called the issue a “moral test” for policy leaders, and Johanns took the more typically conservative position that potential fixes should take the costs to industry into account and that reducing carbon emissions to the levels touted by his opponent was unrealistic.
Nelson criticized Johanns for leaving the administration before work on the farm bill was complete. And Kleeb tried mightily to tie Johanns to Bush, by then extremely unpopular in public opinion polls. Johanns responded by saying that he hadn’t been in Washington long enough to be defined by the administration he served. “I was in D.C. less time than Barack Obama has been,” Johanns was fond of saying on the campaign trail, contrasting himself to the first-term U.S. senator from Illinois then running for the Democratic presidential nomination. It turns out that Johanns’s affiliation with Bush hardly resonated in this red state. He won the election with 58%, 1-percentage point higher than John McCain earned in the state. Kleeb got 40% of the vote. The Democrat prevailed in just seven of 93 counties, including in Lancaster County, which is home to Lincoln, the state capital. However, Johanns beat him in most rural counties and in Omaha in Douglas County. Johanns has never lost an election, including six general elections and six primaries.