Johnson heads to House with ag, transportation on his mind
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota’s next congressman is focused on the state’s top industry — agriculture — as he heads to Washington, where he will be a Republican seeking headway in the Democratic-controlled U.S. House.
Incoming U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson was in Washington for orientation this week and recently announced members of his leadership team. The former public utilities commissioner and chief of staff to Gov. Dennis Daugaard will be sworn in to his new office in January.
Johnson spoke with The Associated Press this week about joining Congress:
FOCUS: AGRICULTURE AND TRANSPORTATION
Johnson said he has discussed the farm bill with the House Agriculture Committee’s current chairman and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. Johnson said Wednesday that it could pass during Congress’ lame-duck session — House and Senate agricultural leaders have since announced an “agreement in principle” — and he wants to make sure South Dakota priorities are protected. He said that includes defending livestock disaster provisions and maintaining a strong farm safety net.
On transportation, Johnson said he wants to focus on rail traffic and oversight of the Surface Transportation Board to improve the nation’s rail system. He said his top choices would be to serve on the Agriculture and Transportation and Infrastructure committees.
Johnson is taking over the seat from outgoing Republican Rep. Kristi Noem, who won the governor’s race during the November election. Despite Republicans losing the House in the midterm election, Johnson said he hopes to be a relevant policy expert in broadband, transportation and agriculture.
Johnson said he’s open to working with Democrats and expects to find more agreement at the committee level. He said agriculture and transportation have “long been areas of a bipartisan progress.” But he said he’ll be asking his Democratic colleagues not to overreach.
“My willingness to work together is not going to cause me in any way to muzzle myself to legitimate abuses that I see,” Johnson said.
When Johnson is sworn in as South Dakota’s lone congressman on Jan. 3, his wife Jacquelyn and their oldest son, Max, 13, will be watching from the gallery while his two younger sons, 10-year-old Ben and 6-year-old Owen, will be with him on the House floor.
Johnson said his family is enjoying the journey and his children want to learn more about Washington. He said they recently ate breakfast at the National Museum of American History and attended a reception at the National Archives Museum.
“There is just no way that you can look at the Constitution of the United States of America and look at the actual star-spangled banner and not be filled with a sense of reverence for the opportunity that the voters have provided,” he said. “I think my family appreciates the gravity of that opportunity and they want to do what they can to be supportive.”
Johnson’s family will stay in Mitchell. He said he’s found a one-bedroom apartment within walking distance of Capitol Hill. He said the apartment is “too expensive,” but said he expects to pay substantially less than the average freshman member.
“There’s no workout center. There are no vending machines. There’s no Wi-Fi,” he said. “I’ve never been very big on frills.”
Johnson and each rank-and-file House member will make $174,000 a year.
Many Americans’ first introduction to Johnson may have been from the “Tonight Show” this week, when host Jimmy Fallon made fun of his name.
Johnson said he thought it was funny and tweeted after the show that it wasn’t “exactly the way I wanted to earn recognition.” Johnson also said he appreciated others’ aversion to Fallon’s “sophomoric approach” to humor.
“I take policy very seriously. I don’t take myself all that seriously,” he told the AP.