On March 26, news came that South Dakota Democratic Senator Tim Johnson, member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, would not be seeking re-election in 2014. Setting up potentially another blow to Indian country allies in Congress.
“I will be 68 years old at the end of this term and it’s time for me to say goodbye,” Johnson said during a brief news conference in Vermillion, South Dakota. “I look forward to serving the remaining two years as the country is facing difficult times on many fronts and I will work every day to find a bipartisan solution to these challenges.”
As the The New York Times reported, his decision follows that of four other Democratic Senators who have announced they would not seek re-election – Carl Levin of Michigan, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey and John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia. Two Republicans have stated they will not run in 2014 as well – Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Mike Johanns of Nebraska.
But it is Johnson’s seat in South Dakota, that could give the Republican Party control of the Senate in 2014 according to The Times.
For Indian country, it marks the third Senatorial ally lost in Washington D.C. since 2012, following the retirement of Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and the passing of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).
Johnson who is in his 17th year as a Senator for South Dakota, served five terms in the House before being elected to the Senate in 1996. During his time in office, he has been an advocate for American Indian issues in his state as well as throughout the country. He often toured the Native communities in South Dakota and discussed with tribal leaders on ways to improve the living conditions.
“Throughout his time in Congress, Senator Johnson has been a tireless advocate for American Indian people. He has fought long and hard to make sure that tribal people have access to the tools they need to improve their lives and grow their economies. I look forward to continuing to work closely with him and his staff on the many important issues that confront Indian country during his remainder of his term. I thank him for his service to tribal communities and wish him the best in all his future endeavors,” Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn said in a statement.
In December of 2012, as the Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Johnson announced that $1.3 million in grants would be split between five South Dakota tribes to enhance public transit service on tribal lands.
“These funds will help tribal members stay connected and keep local economies growing,” Johnson said at the time of the announcement. “Reliable and accessible public transit is vital for many residents of Indian country, and I will continue working to bring transportation options and economic opportunities to every part of South Dakota.”
His commitment to improving the quality of life for American Indians/Alaskan Natives was a priority for him.
“As a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I am committed to representing the voice of South Dakota's American Indians and American Indians/Alaskan Natives throughout the United States. As a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, I continue to advocate for projects and programs that advance the quality of life for the members of the American Indian tribes in South Dakota,” Johnson’s website states.
“For more than three decades, Tim Johnson has dedicated himself to improving the lives of South Dakota’s working families. From his early days in the state legislature to his distinguished career in the Senate, Tim has worked tirelessly to protect our environment, empower rural and Native American communities, and build a financial system that is better able to serve the American people,” President Barack Obama said in a statement following the announcement. “Always a fighter, Tim’s return to the Senate floor after a life-threatening brain injury was a powerful moment and his recovery continues to inspire us all. I look forward to working with Senator Johnson as he finishes his third term, and Michelle and I join the people of South Dakota in wishing Tim, Barbara, and their entire family all the best.”
In 2006 Johnson suffered a major brain hemorrhage a month after the 2006 elections where the Democrats regained control of the Senate according to The Times.
Following is a look at comments Johnson made on behalf of Native issues:
Questioning Interior Secretary Nominee Sally Jewell, March 2013
“I am glad I had the opportunity to question Sally Jewell on issues that are important to South Dakota. I emphasized the need to place greater priority on completing projects like Lewis & Clark and am pleased that Ms. Jewell agreed to advocate for rural water projects with OMB if confirmed. Ms. Jewell’s keen understanding of the economic benefits that hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation bring to local communities will serve her well at Interior. Ms. Jewell also committed to uphold the federal government’s trust responsibility to American Indians, including prioritizing Indian education, and I look forward to working with her on issues important to Indian country in South Dakota and throughout the nation.”
On the Senate’s passing of the Violence Against Women Act, February 2012
“I am pleased the Senate again came together to pass the bipartisan reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. This bill helps provide a variety of resources to survivors of domestic violence and protects more Americans from violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence. It also includes important provisions to provide necessary and adequate protection to American Indian women who are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of domestic violence.”
Recognizing National Native American Heritage Month, November 2012:
“I hope students around the United States take the opportunity this month to learn about the Thanksgiving story from the American Indian point of view. By observing and celebrating National Native American Heritage Month, we are reaffirming our nation’s respect for American Indian people. I would like to acknowledge and praise the more than 70,000 American Indians in South Dakota who bring an unique and enriching culture to our communities. I urge everyone in America to participate in our celebration of American Indians, not only during the month of November, but through a daily commitment to advancing the quality of life of American Indians, in an effort for our Nation to move forward with strength and resolve.”