“No African-American had ever been elected to the seat,” Johnson says. “We won, and it really had a trampoline effect on my career.”
Over the next seven years, he helped Michael Thurmond win election as Georgia’s labor commissioner; worked on Georgia Democrat John Barrow’s first campaign for Congress in 2004 and his reelection campaign two years later; guided Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., to a 12th House term in 2008; and was a top adviser to Georgia state Sen. Kasim Reed during his successful run for mayor of Atlanta in 2009. Between campaigns, Johnson did stints as Barrow’s deputy chief of staff in Washington and Lewis’s district director in Atlanta.
Reed’s 714-vote victory in a tough runoff election caught the attention of White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, who asked Johnson to join Obama’s reelection campaign. McKenna Long was also in pursuit of Johnson at the time, but he decided to help the president with his uphill effort to win back some red states in the South.
“There was a strategy of not conceding the South to the Republicans, but to try to expand the electorate,” Johnson says. In the end, Obama won Florida and Virginia and came within 2 percentage points of besting Mitt Romney in North Carolina.
Around the Agencies
When Karen Mills took over as head of the Small Business Administration in spring 2009, she confronted a “crisis of huge proportions,” she says.
Glutted by subprime mortgages and other noxious assets, Wall Street was in free fall, dragging down the U.S. economy. “We were in the midst of a horrible time for small businesses,” Mills says. “There was a credit crisis, the banks were frozen, and small businesses that were doing well couldn’t even get their line of credit renewed.”
Whatever may be said about SBA’s performance over the last four years, the agency succeeded in stabilizing a patient in critical condition. Under the terms of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, SBA dramatically amped up its loan guarantees, reduced or eliminated fees, and pumped $100 billion into the small-business sector.
In a statement, President Obama saluted Mills’s penchant for expediting bureaucratic processes. “Over the last four years, Karen has made it easier for small businesses to interact with the federal government by reducing paperwork and cutting through red tape,” he said.
Earlier this month, Mills announced she will step down as administrator as soon as the Senate confirms her successor.
The 59-year-old, who is married to Bowdoin College President Barry Mills, will return to the boreal climate of Brunswick, Maine. “You just have to know how to dress for it,” she says. “You have to have a hat and good boots.” Since turning 50, Mills has competed in “sprint-level” triathlons, which entail a dip in the icy waters of Casco Bay.
The daughter of Melvin Gordon, CEO of Tootsie Roll Industries, Mills holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harvard University. Early in her career, she managed a string of manufacturing firms, including producers of hardwood flooring, refrigerator motors, and plastic injection molding, according to the White House website. Mills was also president of MMP Group, a Maine private-equity firm. In 2007, then-Gov. John Baldacci appointed her to chair Maine’s Council on Competitiveness and the Economy.
In the Tanks
Hours before President Obama’s State of the Union address, North Korea confirmed it had conducted its third nuclear test, this time half a mile underground in North Hamgyong province. The detonation of a nuclear device—in violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions—rattled the international community and triggered widespread condemnation. Obama warned of “swift and credible action” by the United States and its allies.
“This needs to be stopped,” says Joseph DeTrani, a former special envoy for negotiations with North Korea. The disregard for international accords by the country’s despotic leader, Kim Jong Un, is “not only a threat to the region and the international community,” he says, “but it could lend itself to proliferation issues in the future and [fuel] a nuclear-arms race in the region. The trend lines are all very negative.”
DeTrani, who this month was named president of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, traces the regime’s erratic behavior to Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, who was “supreme leader” of North Korea from 1994 until his death in 2011. But the dough-faced Kim Jong Un—known to his subjects as “a great person born of heaven”—is no less prone to self-aggrandizement, DeTrani adds. “He’s moving ahead rather quickly with his [nuclear program]. I’m far less optimistic than I was just a few weeks ago.”
At INSA, an Arlington, Va.-based think tank with ties to the intelligence community, DeTrani will bring together three constituencies: public servants, corporate leaders, and academics. “Reaching out to these groups protects us from groupthink,” he says. “It ensures that we’re not all looking at things the same way.