DL native becomes the face of Minnesota Republicans
A Detroit Lakes native is making his mark on the nation's political stage.
1985 DL High School graduate Jeff Johnson is Minnesota's new Republican National Committeeman.
"I will have two roles with this position," explains Johnson.
"First, every state elects three of us to serve on the Republican National Committee, and our job is to help run the national party ... set the direction, craft a positive message and choose Republican Party leadership.
"Second, I'll serve on the state Republican Executive Committee, which has a similar role in that it helps set the course of the party and set the budget."
Some 350 members of the State Republican Central Committee voted Johnson in January 16 after a tight race between him and former gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, as well as party activist Phil Herwig.
Johnson is filling the last year of a four-year term, left vacant by fellow Republican Brian Sullivan.
This makes him one of 168 members of the RNC. The DL native and Concordia graduate earned his law degree from Georgetown and served in the Minnesota House from 2000 to 2006.
He also ran for Minnesota Attorney General in 2006, losing to DFLer Lori Swanson.
He was elected Hennepin County Commissioner in 2008.
And although county boards are a non-partisan organization, Johnson's convictions are purely Republican.
"I'm really the only conservative on the board," laughs Johnson, "but I just thought I would could do some good things in terms of fiscal responsibility -- I think people are tired of the government spending too much and doesn't always do it in the best ways."
Johnson says he believes his new role as Republican National Committeeman, which is volunteer and unpaid, fits him well.
"I think it's a really good fit for my skills because I am like a behind the scenes, roll-up-your sleeves, get the job done kind of a guy as opposed to a celebrity-type position. I can be a very active committeeman and help the party."
Johnson says this style of leadership will work well with the RNC's new chairman, Reince Priebus, who replaced the outspoken and oftentimes controversial Michael Steele.
"I actually went to law school with Michael Steel," said Johnson, "And he's a good guy, but I think he was probably more interested in being a face for the party instead of actually working to build the party."
There are two "party-building" issues Johnson specifically intends to focus on.
No. 1, he'd like to help craft and carry a party message that is both conservative and positive.
"Sometimes people view conservative Republicans as just saying no and having nothing else to say; my goal is to help offer up other positive solutions to some of the things that concern people."
His other top priority is to bring more attention to strong Republican candidates from Minnesota, ranging from the local level to the national level.
"Last year the RNC didn't pay enough attention to Minnesota, so I want them to start investing in our candidates, get some more conservatives in all types of offices and support our presidential nominee."
Johnson won't say whom he is supporting for that position -- Michele Bachmann or Tim Pawlenty.
"I intend to support both of them until there is an endorsement, but my hope is that one of them becomes the presidential candidate, and whichever one it is, I will become very involved in that campaign," said Johnson.
In the meantime, Johnson also has a side-gig he continues to work on ... his business, called "Midwest Employment Resources."
"I won't be doing as much with it now, but as an employment attorney, I do training for employers on human resources topics -- harassment and disciplinary actions ... things like that."
With a plate full of Republican responsibility and his own business, Johnson is also wrapping up his stint as president of his church.
"That's over in about a month, so that'll help free up some time," Johnson said, as he also talks about his equally important roles of husband and father.
"I have two sons, so I help coach football and baseball."
Larson says he finds balance in politics and family easy because his wife and kids have made it a family affair.
"They've always been such great supporters and always been involved in the campaigns -- I think they've probably walked in like 80 parades in the past 10 years."
The DL native says he still gets back to his hometown a couple of times a year, visiting his parents, Bob and Dianne Johnson, his sister, Jodi Olson, and other relatives still in the area.
"We used to all get together for the Relay for Life in honor of my father's brother and I have a couple of aunts who died from cancer," said Johnson.
"But then once we all became aware that we weren't up to walking all throughout the night like we used to be able to do, it sort of morphed into a family reunion where we golf at the Ironman and have a picnic."
Johnson says growing up in Detroit Lakes, he always remembers thinking politics was fun.
"In the ninth or tenth grade I remember knocking on doors for Cal Larson's campaign, and then I ended up working with him in the Legislature 25 years later," laughed Johnson, "so that was really neat."
Larson also remembers believing he'd run for an office one day, he just didn't think it'd be so soon.
"But I'm so grateful it worked out this way, and I am so honored to do this."