Tim Johnson Watch

Representative Tim Johnson was elected to represent the residents of Illinois' 15th Congressional District in Central Illinois. His constituents should know what he's doing.

Location: 15th Congressional District, Illinois, United States

A concerned citizen of Central Illinois.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

This Is Civility?

The big news in the House yesterday, of course, was the GOP-orchestrated vote to reject the GOP's own proposal to withdraw immediately from Iraq.

Never mind that there is little support on either side of the aisle for immediate withdrawal, the Republicans were going to propose it and reject it anyway. Their purpose was purely political -- to blunt the force of a completely different proposal by Democratic Representative John Murtha, a pro-military, 37-year Marine veteran, that we withdraw "at the earliest practicable date". The resulting late-night debate was acrimonious in the extreme. Notoriously, Republican Jean Schmidt (who has no military experience) caused the House to erupt when she essentially called Murtha a coward.

The entire thing was an exercise in dishonor and incivility, as Republicans sought to derail serious consideration of how best to advance the Nation's interests and protect our troops in Iraq, and instead to force a meaningless, symbolic vote on something no one wanted in the first place in order to score cheap political points.

One might hope that Tim Johnson, who founded the so-called Center Aisle Caucus for the express purpose of fostering civility in the House, would have stood against such tawdry grandstanding. He could have voted against bringing the bill to the floor. When the bill came to a vote, he could have expressed his disapproval by voting "present". He could have done what Ray LaHood did, and simply not voted. (LaHood was present and voted on other House business yesterday).

Tim Johnson did none of the above. He voted "aye" in both the procedural and final votes, and so was complicit in the partisan hijacking of the House.

Monday, November 14, 2005

I Voted Against That Bill Before I Voted For It ... And I Would Do It Again!

Tim Johnson's lamentable voting habits continued with his abrupt reversal of position on the so-called Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act ("LARA"), which passed the House with Johnson's support on October 27.

This insurance-industry backed bill circumvents the normal rulemaking process and -- in the interest of chilling lawsuits against large corporations and insurers -- imposes a series of measures that, contrary to GOP rhetoric about limited federal government, meddles with the workings of state courts. For example, the bill would mandate that state courts apply LARA, rather than their own rules, in determining where within a state a personal injury claim must be brought. Thus, an action that could properly be brought in Urbana under Illinois law might have to be transfered to Chicago under the new federal rule. While one would think the states themselves would be in the best position to decide such a thing, LARA sees a compelling federal interest in such meddling. Even worse, LARA would federalize issues of attorney sanctions for cases that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce -- again meddling with the state courts' own regulation of the conduct of lawyers before them and forcing state courts to waste precious time engaged in the esoteric and potentially time-consuming analysis of whether and how much particular personal injury claims affect interstate commerce.

While TJW is disappointed that Johnson supported LARA, it is not surprised, as only a handful of Republican representatives had the courage to buck DeLay and Bush on this one.* What is more surprising is that, only minutes earlier, Johnson was the only Republican who voted in favor of a motion that would have tabled LARA.** Why would Johnson take such a stand? Did Johnson, who is after all a very successful lawyer (he earned almost $600,000 in his last year in practice), have misgivings about LARA? And if so, having voted against LARA at 4:05 p.m., how could he vote for it at 4:15?

This vote patern is so odd that TJW wondered whether Mr. Johnson was having another bad experience with a paper clip and a voting device. But there may be more to it than that -- because Johnson did exactly the same thing last year. On September 14, 2004, he was one of six Republicans who voted to send the 2004 version of LARA back to committee, yet 10 minutes later he joined the Republican majority that passed the bill 229-174.

It's bad enough that Johnson supported LARA. But it's worse because he seems to know that it was wrong.

*DeLay has been a strong and visible advocate of LARA, as has Bush.

**The motion to recommit, while technically an effort to have the committee consider exempting claims against price gougers from the act, was transparently an effort to defeat a floor vote on the underlying bill.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Tim Johnson Puts Our Safety in Crony's Hands

Despite the Harriet Miers and Michael Brown fiascos, Tim Johnson seems not have gotten the memo -- citizens want competence, not cronyism.

Instead, in an act of blatant cronyism, Johnson is pushing retiring state Senator Rick Winkel for U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois, the top federal law enforcement position in Central Illinois. While TJW has no opinion concerning Winkel's legal acumen in his area of expertise -- civil litigation -- by his own admission (see print edition of News-Gazette, 11/9/05 at A-10), Winkel has absolutely no experience as a prosecutor, or even a defense attorney. In other words, Johnson wants to put our safety in the hands of a complete novice because he is Johnson's political ally.

This is not a partisan issue. The current U.S. Attorney for this district, Jan Paul Miller, was appointed by George Bush and was a man of unassailable qualifications, including graduating cum laude from Harvard Law School, thirteen years' prior experience as a federal prosecutor, and a host of achievements in criminal law. Patrick Fitzgerald, the Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, also graduated from Harvard Law and had thirteen years' prior experience as a federal prosecutor, including prosecuting members of al Qaeda and the terrorists behind the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing. Ronald Tenpas, the Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, had six years' prior experience as a federal prosecutor, was the editor-in-chief of the Virginia Law Review, a Rhodes Scholar, and a former clerk for Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Rick Winkel in laughably unqualified in comparison to Miller, Fitzgerald, and Tenpas. Illinois' current Republican-appointed U.S. Attorneys had prior achievements that placed them among the elite attorneys of their generation and that gave them enormous law enforcement expertise. Winkel, in contrast, has had a perfectly respectable legal career, but hardly one that qualifies him for a job of this importance.

Beyond Winkel's manifest lack of qualifications, his close ties to indicted former Governor George Ryan make him particularly unsuitable to law enforcement. According to the News-Gazette, Winkel took $24,500 from Citizens for Ryan -- which was convicted in March 2003 under federal racketeering laws -- almost twice the amount taken by any other state legislator. While Winkel eventually disgorged the money, he did so reluctantly and slowly: Again the News-Gazette: "While many of those lawmakers returned donations from Citizens for Ryan when the fund started to get into legal trouble, Winkel resisted political pressure to follow suit", waiting almost two years after Citizens for Ryan's conviction. To make matters worse, Winkel appears four times on the secret favors list maintained by Ryan's Chief of Staff Scott Fawell. (See here for discussion of Johnson's own starring role in Fawell's favors list.)

Even if Mr. Johnson genuinely believes Winkel has been a great state legislator, how can he believe Winkel is the best person to protect the citizens of Central Illinois from racketeering, terrorism, and narcotics?

Related Stories: UIUC College Dems review the Winkel appointment and conclude the "whole situation reaks of shady dealing". Champaign-American asks, "are you kidding me?" Ol' Guy thinks it smells.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Third Quarter Fundraising -- Johnson Suffering from GOP Scandal Fatigue?

Tim Johnson's third-quarter fundraising numbers are now available, and they are surprisingly unimpressive. While Johnson leads his expected opponent, David Gill, in total contributions this cycle by a margin of $74,361 to $32,541, the detailed picture gives Mr. Johnson reason to worry:

First, Johnson's slightly better than 2:1 fundraising advantage pales in comparison to last cycle, when his fundraising outstripped Gill by more than 5:1.

Second, and perhaps most important, Johnson's advantage is built entirely on the backing of corporate and other Political Action Committees ("PACs"). Johnson is actually trailing in individual donations by $30,962 to $23,665 -- an extraordinary figure given Johnson's incumbency and the GOP registration advantage in the 15th District. Johnson's weakness in individual fundraising -- in contrast he had raised almost $70,000 in individual contributions at this stage of the last election cycle -- may be evidence that part of his GOP base is growing fatigued with the series of GOP scandals we are now seeing, including most importantly those surrounding Tom DeLay, whom Johnson refuses to distance himself from. Or it may be evidence that Johnson, who has reneged on his term-limit promise because he's having too much fun in Washington, prefers the relatively light lifting of fundraising from PACs compared to the hard work of individual fundraising -- leaving him beholden to corporate and other interests rather than the citizens of the 15th District. Either way, it's not encouraging news for Mr. Johnson and his constituents.

Third, Johnson is spending money faster than he brings it in. With $164,887 in disbursements, he's gone through this cycle's fundraising and most of the leftovers from last cycle. While he has $145,452 cash on hand, his campaign debt of $139,974 leaves him only $5,478 in the black. His opponent, in contrast, is debt free and has $26,554 in the bank.

As more Republican members of the House disgorge Tom DeLay's tainted money, one begins to wonder: Maybe Mr. Johnson won't return DeLay's money because he can't afford to.