Government

Trump critic David Johnson ends 20 years in Iowa Legislature

He stands behind decision to leave Republican Party because of Trump

Iowa State Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan in northwest Iowa talks in the milking parlor at Vellema Dairy in Harris. Johnson, the only independent to serve in the state Senate since 1926, is ending up a 20-year career at the Statehouse and is now working at the dairy milking cows and doing chores. A longtime Republican, he left the party in June 2016 after Donald Trump won the party’s presidential nomination, switching his party designation to independent. (Photo by Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal)
Iowa State Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan in northwest Iowa talks in the milking parlor at Vellema Dairy in Harris. Johnson, the only independent to serve in the state Senate since 1926, is ending up a 20-year career at the Statehouse and is now working at the dairy milking cows and doing chores. A longtime Republican, he left the party in June 2016 after Donald Trump won the party’s presidential nomination, switching his party designation to independent. (Photo by Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal)

OCHEYEDAN — David Johnson laments that his message about President Donald Trump and the direction of the Republican Party is falling on deaf ears in Iowa, but he is still speaking out as he finishes two decades as a lawmaker.

Johnson’s state Senate term is days from expiring, with his northwest Iowa District 1 seat being assumed by Zach Whiting, a conservative Republican from Spirit Lake.

“I worked hard. I traveled the district extensively,” Johnson said. “I didn’t use talking points, it was from my own experience. I was happy that I really dug into things.”

Johnson was a Republican for nearly 90 percent of his 20 years in the Iowa House and Senate.

But in the summer of 2016 Johnson said his conscience wouldn’t let him continue as a Republican since the party was moving to nominate Donald Trump for the presidential race. Trump months later seized the win over Hillary Clinton.

Johnson’s still receiving a cold shoulder from Republicans, though others, he said, have told him of their admiration for his stand.

Johnson continues to assert that Republicans need to wake up. Given the ongoing special counsel investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia, Johnson said, “This country is headed for a constitutional crisis ... if the president were to be indicted, if the president were to be implicated, in criminal activity.”

After changing his party registration to No Party, Johnson became the first independent to serve in the Senate since 1926. Republicans, who control the Senate, withdrew his committee assignments.

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One other Midwest Republican state legislator also left the party. Kansas state Sen. Barbara Bollier in December announced she would become a Democrat, saying the Republican Party “morally ... is not going where my compass resides.”

West Branch native

As Johnson, 68, winds down his legislative career, he had another tough transition. His mother, Mary Jean, died Dec. 17.

Johnson said his mother had lived in Virginia for many years until earlier this year, when she moved back to Iowa. “I probably saw her more since May than I had in the last 20 years,” he said.

Johnson, the second oldest of 10 children in his family, is a native of West Branch in Eastern Iowa. Growing up, Johnson said, he liked how the Republican Party stood for a strong national defense and equal treatment of all people.

He was the owner and editor of the West Branch Times before moving to northwest Iowa and running for office.

He served two terms in the Iowa House before winning his first Senate term in 2002. He beat the Democratic candidate again in 2006 and then ran unopposed in the next two general elections.

He planned to run for re-election in 2018, but in May rethought that plan, as it became clear an election win was a long shot in the conservative district.

As a legislator, he supported a strong state education system and clean water initiatives. He’s proud of his work in the Capitol and for constituents, saying it was a good legislative career.

Most recently, he’s been working on a dairy farm in Osceola County.

disappointed in gop

Johnson said he remains glad he made the principled decision to leave the Republican Party. He still can’t believe how Republicans supported Trump, after years of taking a high moral stance in assessing its candidates.

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“Donald Trump has a long list of broken marriages and affairs and going bankrupt in owning casinos ... I am just so disappointed with the Christian right, that they would support Trump. What matters to them? They are ignoring certain issues,” Johnson said.

He’s also concerned about how Trump has had a series of Cabinet members who undermine the federal departments they lead. He also bemoans Republicans who have bought into the public criticism of the FBI by Trump.

Johnson’s father, Donald Johnson, unsuccessfully ran for Iowa governor as a Republican in 1968. Since leaving the party, Johnson said he has heard from two former chiefs of staff to Republican governors, who voiced support of his public opposition to Trump.

One of them, he said, told him “my dad would have been proud of me for standing up to Trump.”

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