Friday, February 16, 2007

Tim Johnson (R-IL) Follows District to Oppose Escalation

Melinda Henneberger
The Huffington Post

WASHINGTON - Republican Congressman Tim Johnson's district in central and southern Illinois is farm country, and even its Democrats tend to be conservative. The 15th, where I grew up, does not swing, period; President Bush took 59 percent of the vote there in '04. And though Champaign, where Johnson was born and raised, is a college town, the University of Illinois has never been confused with Berkeley.

So Johnson, a lawyer who until recently owned a little farm on the side, surprised no one with his steady support of the president, from the time they both arrived in Washington in January of '01. He voted for the Bush tax cuts, for the bill that restricted liability for gun makers, for a ban on partial-birth abortion and on same-sex marriage, too. He was never particularly close to the former Speaker, Denny Hastert, it's true, and did buck the leadership on opening the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling.

But when he broke with his party today -- as one of only 17 Republicans to side with Democrats on a resolution opposing the president's decision to send more troops into Iraq -- he made clear that he was only following the lead of his constituents. He should know; until today, Johnson's claim to fame was the 200 phone calls he makes back home every day, calls that have convinced him the voters there are thoroughly fed up with the war, too.

"He considers himself a conservative, but it isn't only the liberals" who no longer support the president's leadership on Iraq, said Johnson's spokesman, Phil Bloomer. "It's a matter of his own observation about the way the war has been conducted. But he's obsessed with calling everybody in the district all the time, and he hears the same thing everywhere, from Mattoon to Mount Carmel."

Other Republicans who voted with the Democrats today included Tom Davis, an Army vet whose district in Northern Virginia is becoming more Democratic. "Knowing what we know today," Davis said on the House floor, "after almost four years of attempted nation building on the shifting sands of Iraq, the plan to put 21,000 more Americans in harm's way there has to be viewed with a cold-eyed skepticism born of that hard experience. Putting American troops between feuding Sunni and Shia in the middle of Baghdad is a mistake."

The only two Democrats who broke with their party today were Gene Taylor, of Mississippi, and Jim Marshall, of Georgia. Marshall's spokesman explained, "Jim isn't necessarily in favor of the surge; in fact, he's on record as being against it." But?

"Jim is a Vietnam vet, from a military family and a military culture," said the spokesman, Doug Moore, "so he will never do anything that might undermine morale. This is one of the harder votes he's taken; Jim would rather this vote hadn't come up."

When I asked Taylor's communications director, Courtney Littig, why her boss had voted as he had, she said, "That's an excellent question; we'd like to know, too. We thought we knew which way he was going," but guessed wrong. Since the vote, she said, she hadn't heard from him: "I know he's not going to hide from it. But the phones are all lit up."

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