Times 2020 Election Candidate Profile: Mark Johnson, incumbent MN Senate District 1
Tell us about yourself, your family, education, career, and political experience.
My wife, Skyler, and I are both from the district. She is a Win-E-Mac Patriot, and I am a rival Mentor Trojan/Fertile Falcon. We are blessed with three kiddos: Archer (8, a huge Elon Musk fan) Livley (6, would like a Tiger for Christmas) and Cullen (4, power tools make him happy). I graduated from Bethel University with a B.A. in Finance and Economics and from UND School of Law with a J.D.
After college, Skyler and I spent some time in Rochester, MN where I worked as a financial analyst at IBM. We missed home so we packed up and came back to the area. I partnered up with my dad at Johnson Concrete where I work during the summer and practice law with Skyler at our firm, Sage Legal, in the fall and winter.
I have had the honor to serve as senator to Senate District 1 since 2017.
What policy area would you consider your specialty? Explain.
The issues in the Senate are so varied and interesting, it is difficult to settle on just one area. Our committee assignments tend to channel most of our attention to the policy or budget items assigned to the jurisdiction of that committee. I was fortunate to have seats on the Judiciary and Public Safety, Environment Finance, Ag. and Rural Development committees.
Because of my legal training I have carried several bills relating to civil and criminal law. These are always interesting bills and have a broad impact across the state. I have also been fortunate to be a part of two large economic development projects in our community that were outside my committee assignments. Those economic development issues are fascinating subjects to work with because of the risks, costs, and possible rewards for our communities. There are so many different issues impacting this district that it is difficult specialize in one area.
How many different state committees are you on and what are some recent things those committees have moved forward?
As I preemptively noted above, I am on four committees dealing with everything from our justice system to our environmental policy. Although we have passed a significant number of bills out of these committees to improve our state - such as a major investment in rural broadband, significant Rural Finance Authority investment to help sustain family farms, additional support for our courts in the Ninth Judicial District - I am just as proud of the things we have stopped.
With the Governor and the MN House controlled by metro area Democrats and the Senate controlled by mostly rural Republicans, the Senate has become the firewall against some radical bills coming from the metro. We have been able to stop or modify everything from burdensome new gun control legislation, the legalization of recreational marijuana to detrimental police restrictions.. These bills had significant support from certain metro areas but would be terrible policy for our rural communities.
Regarding the handling of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, name one thing you agree with that Governor Walz has done for the state of Minnesota. Explain why.
I agreed with his decision to grant the CARES Act money to the counties in a per capita basis in a similar ratio to what the metro area received. This was a plan that was initially proposed by Sen. Julie Rosen and passed by the Senate but failed to become law. So the Governor, through his executive authority, passed the funds out to our communities. This helped our communities both prepare for the possibility of a significant health emergency and stabilize our economy.
Regarding the handling of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, name one thing you disagree with that Governor Walz has done for the state of Minnesota. Explain why.
It is not a secret that I strongly disagree with his handling of the Covid situation. I believe he has overstepped his authority both statutorily and constitutionally. 12.31 of the Minnesota Statutes grants the Governor peacetime emergency powers if local governmental resources are inadequate. The legislature gave the Governor $500 million dollars and the federal government funneled in $2.3 billion; furthermore, he has had seven months to get our local communities the resources they need, yet Governor Walz is still retaining his emergency powers.
On the constitutional issue, despite the prohibition of the governor exercising exclusive legislative functions like appropriations and changing criminal penalties, he has done that on a number of occasions through his executive orders. His actions have had an unnecessarily adverse impact on our communities. I believe he needs to start listening to our communities, not his metro approval polls.
If you had $1 million at your disposal to give to one area in the state right now, whether that be to education, small businesses, healthcare, etc., where would you give the money and why?
One of the most beneficial uses of that money would be to set up a legislative session outside of St. Paul. Unlike a generation or two ago where most people had a connection back to the farm or rural living, most urban legislators have little connection to outstate communities. In my humble opinion, we would have a much better dialog if we had an opportunity to introduce metro legislators to our communities so they can experience firsthand our values, interests, and goals. I think this would go a long way in understanding our educational, economic, healthcare, and other needs and how they differ from an urban situation.
What is your proudest accomplishment since you began representing District 1?
There are several big items I was fortunate to work on during my term in office. Some of these include: the Digi-Key legislation to help them invest in MN; bonding that augmented the hard work North Country Food Bank did to expand their work in our area; Ag-to-School Credits that help our communities invest in education; and working with the Ag Dept, Mike Skuag, and others to find funding for portions of the future Ag Innovation Center to be built in Crookston.
But some of my proudest moments were the small wins that make big impacts on people’s day-to-day lives. Like the small business who called after receiving a threatening letter from an environmental agency and getting the agency to back down. Or the Veteran just trying to find the right person to call for their hard-earned benefits. These are the moments that stick in my mind and make this job so rewarding.
Why are you the best person to represent District 1 in St. Paul?
I can handle most questions without flinching but when you ask a Norwegian Lutheran why he’s the “best” person at anything, I’ll admit, I get a little uncomfortable. It is only by the grace of God that I have a family, education, situation, and passion that are key to my success in the Senate.
The fact that I was born and raised here as the sixth generation in this area, means I don’t just understand the issues and struggles of our community, my family and I live them. But it is not enough to just intimately understand the area.
The trick is conveying that knowledge in a way that helps other legislators understand those needs, values, and interests to benefit and protect NW MN. My training as a logical lawyer certainly helps with that, but sometimes it’s the mudslinging, steel bending roughness of my concrete mason training that finally gets it through.
What do you like to do outside politics?
Skyler and I are in a busy phase of our lives, so we get very intentional about spending time with the kids and each other. Whether its board games and root beer with the kids or a date night with Skyler, we try to spend the time we have focused on the family. But if I’ve got time alone, I like to read, do some shooting, or sneak in a tennis game or two.
What is your favorite restaurant and where is it located?
In my high school days, I once got a speeding ticket while skipping class to go to the China Moon. However, nowadays I’d probably do the same if there was a meatball lunch special at RBJ’s or the Shanty.