So Senator Carl Levin (D. MI) is out and Senator Dick Durbin (D. IL) is in for 2014.  The only Senator everybody is waiting to make his decision on retirement on the Democratic side is Senator Tim Johnson (D. SD):


U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota said Wednesday he will announce by the end of March whether he will seek re-election next year.

"I have not made up my mind entirely," Johnson told reporters in a phone call.

Johnson, 66, did not disclose a date for an announcement on whether he will seek a fourth term, saying only that it will be "sometime this month."

Former Gov. Mike Rounds announced in late December he is seeking the Republican nomination for the Senate seat now held by Johnson. The South Dakota race is expected to play a key role in the 2014 battle between Republicans and Democrats for control of the Senate.

Lingering effects from a 2006 brain hemorrhage have intensified questions about whether Johnson will run, but he has said he is capable of enduring the rigors of a campaign and his health will not play a role in whether he seeks re-election. His speech remains slowed at times, and he sometimes uses a motorized scooter when he needs to get around quickly.

Johnson said there's still plenty of time for him or another Democratic candidate to prepare for a Senate campaign.

"There are some excellent candidates waiting in the wings if I would decide not," Johnson said. - Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, 3/13/13

Unlike Senators Levin, Tom Harkin (D. IA), Frank Lautenberg (D. NJ) and Jay Rockefeller (D. WV) who decide to announce their decisions early so their party will have plenty of time to recruit top-notch candidate, Johnson's case is different and require a little more time.  I wrote all about why Johnson needs to take his time (but not take too long) on what path he'll go here:


So while Johnson takes his time to make his decision, South Dakota Democrats are getting ready in case Johnson does decide to call quits.  It's looking like South Dakota Democrats may have their ideal candidate:


The political scuttlebutt in South Dakota is that Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson is considering retirement, and that his son, Brendan, may mount an attempt to keep the seat in the family. But the younger Johnson will have to work to beat back the impression of a political handoff from his father in a conservative state that Republicans are aggressively contesting.

Brendan Johnson, 37, who is South Dakota’s U.S. attorney and a former county prosecutor, hasn’t made any announcements about his political future. But his name is being circulated as a possible Senate candidate, along with former Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, to run against former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds, assuming that Tim Johnson retires.

If Brendan Johnson runs, his rapid ascent will be traced to his last name, but those close to him say he's not a carbon copy of his father--and that's not necessarily a bad thing. He brings his own qualifications and skill set, Democrats say, particularly when it comes to retail politics, and he knows he'll have to earn the seat.

“If he decides to run, he is fully aware he has to go out and earn it, and he probably has a higher bar to clear than others exactly because of that, because I think Republicans are certainly pushing the idea that he’s somehow entitled to it," said South Dakota Democratic Party Chairman Ben Nesselhuf.

While it may take some time for the younger Johnson to match his father's policy expertise, Nesselhuf said he won't be overmatched in what would be a closely scrutinized Senate race. He recalled watching Johnson, then the student council president at the University of South Dakota, speak on a panel when the two were students there. The other speakers included then-Sen. Tom Daschle and then-Rep. John Thune. "He schooled them all," Nesselhuf said. - National Journal, 3/5/13

I wrote about Johnson's son being a possible candidate to succeed his father a little while ago and gave my reasons for why he would be a great candidate:


Brendan Johnson has remained silent about his political future and his father still needs to make his decision about his political future.  But that's not stopping the GOP from already crying about nepotism:


The younger Johnson, 37, doesn’t have a voting record to defend. And he’s the namesake of a powerful political brand that has helped Democrats keep a foothold in the heart of Republican country.

But what makes the younger Johnson an attractive candidate also makes him a ripe target for the GOP, which is already targeting him for what they see as under-the-radar maneuvering to lay the groundwork for a statewide campaign.

“They don’t like a sense of entitlement. They don’t like the whole dynasty concept. They don’t like too much power in one or few persons’ hands,” GOP Sen. John Thune said of voters in his state. “There’s a real independence streak that goes through our state.”

Republican state chairman Craig Lawrence predicted the nepotism charges would cost Johnson 6 to 8 points.

“It’s nothing against Brendan Johnson personally,” he said. “It’s simply against the concept of United States Senate seats being part of your family estate.”

The pre-emptive strike against the younger Johnson by the GOP underscores the significance of the seat in the race for control of the Senate next year. The likely retirement of his father, who spent a decade in the House before being elected to the Senate in 1996, would give Republicans a shot at another open seat. - Politico, 3/5/13

A part of me thinks that the South Dakota GOP discouraging the idea of a Brendan Johnson candidacy so early is because they're afraid he could actually be a strong candidate against Former Governor Mike Rounds (R. SD) in 2014 election.  Especially when it comes to Native American turnout where Brendan Johnson has a strong record on Native American issues that highly contrasts Rounds' record with the Pine Ridge Reservation:
The time that he has spent on the reservation has not been solely for the purpose of investigating crimes or gathering evidence. Johnson unlike his predecessors has invested a significant amount of energy attempting to establish relationships with people living on the reservation and attempting to gain a better understanding of Native American culture. He has gone in to the community to meet with youth, spent a night patrolling with tribal police, and has even attended a sweat lodge ceremony.

“I am very appreciative of all of the time I have spent on the reservation and of understanding the proud culture and history of the tribes in SD. I don’t think you can gain that appreciation and respect if you are spending all your time in the federal courthouse,” said Johnson.

Like his father, Brendan Johnson has quickly established himself as an advocate for Indian country. In many circles he has become known for his vocal support of the highly politicized Violence Against Women Act that has recently stalled in the United States House of Representatives. The failure to pass VAWA has been attributed to opposition to the expansion of tribal jurisdiction that is included in the senate’s version of the act that would allow non-Native offenders to be prosecuted by tribal courts.

“A lot of people do not support VAWA and I do support it,” said Johnson “There are two reasons why I support VAWA. One, if a non-Indian commits a domestic violence offense on one of our reservations in South Dakota, and the victim and the witness have to travel a long distance to the Federal court house the result is we lose too many of those cases. I would rather see tribes be able to prosecute non-Indians for domestic violence offenses,” he said. The second reason why Johnson is a major supporter of VAWA is an indicator of the direction he would like to see tribal courts to move in the future.

“The second reason I support VAWA is it once again demonstrates the importance of our tribes to hire legal professionals for their prosecutors and defense lawyers and when they do it allows them to increase their sovereignty,” said Johnson.

Surprisingly Johnson’s goal is not to simply fill federal penitentiaries with Native American offenders. Part of what make him unique compared to previous United States attorneys is that he is an advocate for both the strengthening of tribal courts and for the expansion of tribal sovereignty.

“One of the things that is important to me is the law enforcement structure of Pine Ridge. I would like to see Pine Ridge be able to prosecute more of their own cases… instead of having them brought in to the federal system,” said Johnson.

In addition to supporting legislation like the Violence Against Women Act, he has also thrown his support behind the implementation of the Tribal Law and Order Act which also strengthens tribal courts and potentially tribal sovereignty. Johnson feels however that there are some things that tribes must do in order to be able to handle the additional responsibility for tribal judicial systems. - Indianz, 1/14/13

But I also have to wonder if guys like Thune and Lawrence might have a valid point, as much as it pains me to admit that.  Grant it, Johnson is not the only big name candidate South Dakota Democrats have to run if Tim Johnson retires.  Former Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D. SD-AL) been staying in the public eye:


Her appearance before the Farmers Union, a traditionally Democratic-leaning organization, was bound to spark interest. SHS, a political animal to her core, knew that.

“The reason we didn’t get a multi-year farm bill in the last Congress, five words: John Boehner and Eric Cantor, bottom line,” she said in her speech, referring to Speaker of the House Boehner and House Majority Leader Cantor.

“And it’s because they’re ideologically opposed to many of the programs that are in that bill.

“The Senate comes up with a product that saves $23 billion in taxpayer money, passes a bipartisan bill, the House Ag Committee passes a bill and John Boehner won’t bring it for a vote.”

The speech got little press attention, but SHS is spreading the word.

“I was honored to join friends from across the state in Aberdeen this weekend at the SD Farmers Union Convention,” she posted on her Facebook page.

She spoke Monday at the inaugural Women’s Farm and Forestry Alliance at the Saint Paul Hotel in St. Paul, Minn. It’s an event Herseth Sandlin helped organize.

All this doesn’t sound like the work of someone who is done with politics. - The Daily Republic, 3/11/13

Now I don't doubt that Herseth Sandlin is eager to get back to Washington, D.C. and I am all for sending more female Democrats to the House and Senate, especially from red state.  But remember, Herseth Sandlin was the Blue Dog Whip who did vote against the Affordable Health Care Act, bashed Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the 2010 campaign and did ignore her Democratic base.  She ended up narrowly losing to Rep. Kristi Noem (R. SD-AL) in the 2010 election.  Now voting against the Affordable Health Care Act may work in her favor in South Dakota but she cannot ignore her base again.  These events she's hosting sound like she is trying to make amends with her base and get ready in case Johnson does decide to retire.

If Johnson retires, who knows if both his son and Herseth Sandlin will run for the same seat.  But a nasty primary between the two candidates could hurt the Democrats chances of holding this seat:


Given their history, it pains some Democrats today to see the offspring of Lars Herseth and Tim Johnson engaged in a stare down over the probable retirement of Tim Johnson. Democrats have two top-shelf candidates in Brendan Johnson and Herseth Sandlin, and to see one of them squandered in a Senate primary would be, as one observer said, “a waste of gold.”
Talk to the supporters of either Brendan Johnson or Herseth Sandlin, and they predict their candidate easily would vanquish the other in a primary showdown.

If a primary between Brendan Johnson and Herseth Sandlin could not be averted, it would be a clash between two people gifted with excellent political skills. Republicans know this. As one of them said, “It’s not amateur hour.” - Argus Leader, 3/9/13

But the possibility of a heated primary isn't all on the Democrats side.  Roll Call reminds us that Former Governor Mike Rounds (R. SD) could still face a primary challenger from the right:


For now, the Republican field remains a party of one. Former Gov. Mike Rounds, who jumped into the race in November, is viewed by Republican leaders from Washington, D.C., to Sioux Falls, S.D., as a top-tier recruit. If nominated, Republicans believe Rounds would put the party in a strong position to win one of the GOP’s best pickup opportunities.

However, Rounds is highly unlikely to have a free ride to the nomination, local GOP sources said. South Dakota conservative activists are desperately seeking an alternative to Rounds, a moderate whose eight-year tenure enraged many in the right wing of the party.

While they await a decision from Rep. Kristi Noem, who would offer Rounds a stiff challenge in the primary, one other potential candidate is state Senate Majority Whip Larry Rhoden.

“I think that it’s safe to say that there are a number of people in the state that would like a choice in addition to former Gov. Rounds,” Rhoden said in an phone interview. “I have had some conversations with many folks along that line. I certainly haven’t made any decisions but haven’t ruled it out at the same token.”

Rhoden added that any potential challenger to Rounds will have to weigh the former governor’s fundraising head start as part of the decision.  - Roll Call, 3/11/13

I don't know how anyone who signed an abortion ban and stalled FEMA emergency aid for Native American tribes during a blizzard could be considered a moderate but put Rounds next to Noem and Rhoden, he is the moderate in this race.  Ironically, State Senate Majority Leader Larry Rhoden (R. SD) might be a more logical choice for South Dakota Republicans than Rounds' because he at least acknowledged that abortion is not a winning issue:


South Dakota state legislator Larry Rhoden is as loyal a pro-life crusader as you are likely to find in the Rushmore state. Rhoden worked enthusiastically in 2004 to pass a state bill that would ban nearly all abortions. When that failed, he continued to push the issue--helping to form an abortion task force that would give legitimacy to the ban effort, and helped lead the efforts on another abortion ban bill that passed the legislature but failed when referred to a statewide vote as a ballot initiative in 2006. He even lent his support to the most recent incarnation--a ban including exceptions for rape and incest--that failed as a ballot initiative again this past Election Day.

But after two defeats at the ballot box, the conservative Republican is ready to throw in the towel. "I would question the wisdom of anybody that wanted to bring it forward again," says Rhoden, who makes his living as a rancher in the sparsely populated western corner of the state. His personal view on abortion hasn't changed, but as a policy-maker, Rhoden makes it plain that he wants no part of any more abortion bans. - CBS News/The New Republic, 9/22/09

However, Rhoden did recently vote in favor to prohibit weekends and holidays to be considered part of the 72 hour waiting process before a woman can have an abortion:


Also Rhoden is a little more friendly to South Dakota's Native Americans than Rounds was as governor:


Dist. 29 Sen. Larry Rhoden (R-Union Center), chairman of the subcommittee assigned to work on redistricting the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock areas, told the Topic this week that 90 percent of the committee’s discussion has been about how to avoid landing in court.

He said the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has made it clear, through prior litigation, that it expects the Legislature to meet certain requirements when drawing the new boundaries.

“The courts have laid out guidelines,” Rhoden said, “and we are pretty well duty bound to follow them. If we don’t we will face a lawsuit — and lose.”

Rhoden said county boundaries should be honored as much as possible.

He said the Legislative Research Council staff, which analyzes data and creates maps for the committee, has told legislators that the biggest factor is to avoid creating a district that gives Native Americans less chance of electing a Native American than they had prior to redistricting.

“We’re walking a tight rope,” Rhoden said. Changing something in one district causes a ripple effect elsewhere, he said. - 8/17/11

I've written about Rounds' slow request for FEMA aid to help Native Americans on the Pine Ridge Reservation a few years back, along with his Super PAC backing and Dugaard trying to buy this election for Rounds here:


Rhoden also voted with the rest of the South Dakota GOP legislators to allow the South Dakota school boards to vote on arming teachers in schools:


“The sentinel bill will not put one single gun in any school in South Dakota,” said Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City and the former Rapid City police chief. “Only a local school board can make that decision.”

Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, agreed.

“This is very much about local control, and us trusting the people that are at the helm on those local school districts to make appropriate decisions based on the very unique circumstances that surrounds each one of our 151 school districts,” Rhoden said.

Officially numbered House Bill 1087, the sentinels bill inflamed passions around the state in the aftermath of last year’s mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., school. “If you have not heard about the sentinels bill, it’s probably time to come out of hibernation,” Tieszen quipped.

Many school districts, organizations and officials opposed the bill as it worked its way through the Legislature, saying it would do more harm than good and was flexibility schools didn’t want. - Argus Leader, 2/28/13

The bill ended up passing the state legislator and was signed into law by Governor Dugaard.  So yeah, I guess Rhoden would make a legitimate challenger to Rounds.

We do know that Noem certainly is the right bat-shit crazy candidate the Tea Party types could get behind.  She was one of 27 Republicans, and the only female Republican, to vote against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act:


Republican Rep. Kristi Noem said Thursday she voted against the expansion of the Violence Against Women Act renewed by the House because she thinks efforts should focus on expediting the process for victims to confront their accusers and get justice “not muddy the waters with constitutionally questionable provisions that will likely only delay justice.”

“Additional legal measures only seek to cause additional delays for victims who have already been through too much,” Noem told reporters in a conference call. “If found to be unconstitutional, as some have said, justice could be delayed or worse, abusers could walk free.”

The House vote was 286-138, with 87 Republicans joining 199 Democrats to pass the bill. - Argus Leader, 2/28/13

So who knows what could happen.  There could be a bloody primary in both parties nominating process or there could be one bloody battle.  Sure, Rounds has the Super PACs and Dugaard and his name recognition as governor working in his favor but Tea Party Republican voters really don't like the establishment trying to tell them to get behind a candidate who doesn't reach their expectations in ideology.  But who knows if Noem or Rhoden are the ideal candidates from the right to challenge someone like Rounds.  I think Noem will be a top target by the DCCC for her vote against the VAWA so if she does decide to jump into the GOP primary and can defeat Rounds, she's really putting herself in the Democrats sights to spend big to defeat her.  

But of course it's going to depend on who the Democrats nominate.  If they go with Johnson, they'll have a fresh face with a great record, especially regarding South Dakota's tribes.  However, they will have to deal with the charges of nepotism from the GOP.  Herseth Sandlin, she'll have a chance to redeem herself and learn from the mistakes she made from the 2010 campaign.  We would be sending another woman to the Senate, hold onto our majority and have someone who wants to continue to fight for both farmers and Native American issues:

Who is your political hero/inspiration?
My grandmother had great influence on me. She was secretary of state in the 1970's, and that's when I was born. She showed me the importance of public service, and she was admired by people regardless of their political party.

What's your go-to political blog?
I would probably say the one that I go to the most is the Argus-Leader [a newspaper in Sioux Falls, S.D.] political blog. ... I feel old by you asking me that question. It's like asking "So what's the song you most recently downloaded onto your iPod?"

If you weren't working in politics, what would you be doing?
Teaching. Before I had decided to get into politics, I was laying the groundwork to have a career in the law, but that was really to lay the foundation to teach, either at the college level or law school level after my federal clerkships. I love the classroom.

What's the most overlooked issue facing America these days?
Pockets of severe poverty in Indian country that exist in our country that a lot of people aren't aware of. I represent nine sovereign Sioux tribes. In South Dakota, some of the tribes are in the most remote, rural areas of the country. They lack essential infrastructure. Some communities don't even have clean drinking water. We have among the highest rates of teen suicide. ... In terms of the nation's consciousness, I just don't think people are aware of the magnitude of the crisis. It's overwhelming.

Where do you see yourself professionally in five years?
I hope to continue to be serving South Dakota in Congress. And, personally, keeping up with the little boy who will just be starting school. - Time Magazine, 2010

Emphasis mine.

One thing for sure is we need to avoid a nasty and expensive primary if we are going to do this right.  It's understandable that Democrats are divided on both Johnson the younger and Herseth Sandlin but there can only be one.  The question is which party's voters are going to rally around their nominee.  Because not all the Republicans are convinced that Rounds is their guy yet.  And what Rounds needs to do to convince Tea Party voters that he's the right candidate for them could only help or hurt him.

Originally posted to pdc on Sun Mar 17, 2013 at 12:31 PM PDT.

Also republished by South Dakota Kos, The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, and Native American Netroots.


Should Senator Tim Johnson's (D. SD) son, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson run for father's seat?

69%45 votes
30%20 votes

| 65 votes | Vote | Results

Your Email has been sent.