J. Bennett Johnston
|United States Senator|
November 14, 1972 - January 3, 1997
|Member of the Louisiana Senate|
from the Caddo Parish at-large district
|Johnny Rogers (at-large)|
Jackson B. Davis
|Member of the Louisiana House of Representatives|
from the Caddo Parish at-large district
|Wellborn Jack (at-large)|
John Bennett Johnston Jr.
June 10, 1932
Shreveport, Louisiana, U.S.
|Relations||Tim Roemer (son-in-law)|
|Education||Washington and Lee University|
United States Military Academy (BS)
Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge (LLB)
|Branch/service||United States Army|
|Years of service||1956-1959|
|Unit||Army Judge Advocate General's Corps|
John Bennett Johnston Jr. (born June 10, 1932) is an American attorney and politician in the Democratic Party and later lobbyist. He represented Louisiana in the United States Senate from 1972 to 1997. He was re-elected to several terms.
Beginning his political career when elected as a state representative from Caddo Parish in 1964, Johnston also served in the state senate before winning election to the U.S. Senate.
Johnston was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, to the attorney John Bennett Johnston (1894-1977) and the former Wilma Lyon (1904-1996). Johnston attended the private elementary and junior high Southfield School in the South Highlands neighborhood of Shreveport. He was inducted into the Southfield Hall of Fame in 1994.
After Southfield, Johnston attended and graduated from C. E. Byrd High School in Shreveport. He attended the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.
In 1956, Johnston graduated from Louisiana State University Law Center in Baton Rouge. He was admitted to the bar that same year. He served in the United States Army, Judge Advocate General Corps in Germany from 1956 to 1959.
Johnston married Mary Gunn, a native of Natchitoches. Johnston is a member of the Baptist Church; his wife is Roman Catholic. They had four children together: Bennett, Hunter, Mary, and Sally, who were raised as Catholic.
The Johnstons' daughter Sally married Timothy J. Roemer from Indiana. He became a politician, serving as a Democratic U.S. Representative of Indiana, 1991-2003. He was appointed to the 9/11 Commission to investigate the terrorist attacks. He also served as US Ambassador to India.
Johnston had joined the Democratic Party and decided to run for office, beginning at the local level. In 1964, he was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives, along with two Republicans, Morley A. Hudson and Taylor W. O'Hearn, and two other Democrats from Caddo Parish, Algie D. Brown and Frank Fulco. Hudson and O'Hearn were the first Republicans to serve in the legislature since Reconstruction, reflecting what would become a wholesale shift of conservative whites from the Democratic to the Republican party throughout the South following passage of civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965.
In 1966, Johnston hired Ralph Perlman to the legislative staff; he was a business graduate of Columbia University in New York City. Soon Governor John McKeithen appointed Perlman as state budget director, where he served from 1967 to 1988.
In 1968, Johnston was elected at-large to the Louisiana State Senate, along with fellow Democrats Jackson B. Davis and Joe LeSage. One of the candidates whom he defeated was Republican Tom Stagg, later appointed as a judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana in Shreveport.
In 1970, State Senator Johnston outlined his proposal for a toll road to connect Shreveport with South Louisiana, as there was no north-south interstate highway at the time. Johnston said the state gasoline tax was bringing in only 20 percent of what was needed to construct such a north-south highway. Therefore, he proposed using tolls to raise the necessary revenue, as they applied only to users. While his proposal was not approved, later the federally subsidized Interstate 49 was built, linking Shreveport with Lafayette. Most of the highway was opened in the early 1990s. Interstate connections were created from Lafayette to Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
In 1971, Johnston ran for governor of Louisiana. Harmon Drew Jr. headed the Johnston college campaign. Drew said that Johnston represented a "new outlook this state must have." Johnston narrowly lost this race by 4,488 votes to Edwin Edwards in the runoff election of the Democratic primary. This was the last Louisiana gubernatorial election to be held prior to the state's adoption of the nonpartisan blanket primary in 1975. Edwards' margin was fewer than two votes per precinct. Drew later served as a judge of the Louisiana Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit,
Edwards defeated Republican David C. Treen in the general election for governor held on February 1, 1972. Treen was elected to the U.S. House in November 1972. He was re-elected, serving until his election as governor in 1979.
In 1972, Johnston challenged the long-term incumbent, Allen J. Ellender, for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate. Ellender died during the campaign, and Johnston, with powerful name identification stemming from his gubernatorial bid months earlier, won the primary easily. In the primary, Johnston received 623,076 votes (79.4 percent); Frank T. Allen, 88,198 votes (11.2 percent), and the deceased Ellender, 73,088 votes (9.3 percent).
Johnston defeated Republican Ben C. Toledano, a New Orleans attorney and a former candidate for mayor of New Orleans, and former Governor John McKeithen of Columbia, a fellow Democrat who ran as an Independent in the general election because the filing period was not reopened upon Ellender's death.
McKeithen, the first Louisiana governor to serve two consecutive terms, left office six months prior to the Senate election in order to conduct his campaign. Johnston received 598,987 votes (55.2 percent); McKeithen, 250,161 (23.1 percent), and Toledano's 206,846 (19.1 percent). Another 28,910 voters (2.6 percent) chose the American Independent Party candidate, Hall Lyons, a Shreveport native who had relocated in the oil business to Lafayette. (The position was filled by appointment from July to November 1972 by Governor Edwards' first wife, Elaine Schwartzenburg Edwards, the interim senator.)
The creation of the interim position was done in order to swear in Johnston immediately upon certification of his election, allowing him to gain an edge in seniority over other senators who first took office during the 93rd Congress. Johnston's freshman classmates included Joe Biden (D-Delaware), who served six terms before being elected as Vice President, and Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico), who served seven terms.
In office, Senator Johnston cultivated good relationships with the Louisiana media. The state's newspaper gave Johnston wide coverage. The Alexandria Daily Town Talk's managing editor, Adras LaBorde, for instance, gave extensive coverage to both Johnston and Senate colleague Russell B. Long.
For a time, Johnston's director of special projects was James Arthur Reeder (1933-2012), a former Shreveport and Washington, D.C., attorney, and owner of a chain of radio stations. Like Johnston, Reeder was later inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield. Later Reeder organized voter registration drives in Caddo Parish to empower minority voters. In 2009, Reeder narrated the inaugural parade of U.S. President Barack H. Obama.
In 1978, Johnston defeated Democrat State Representative Woody Jenkins of Baton Rouge in the nonpartisan blanket primary, 498,773 (59.4 percent) to 340,896 (40.6 percent). (Jenkins later shifted to the Republican Party.)
In 1984, Johnston faced minor opposition from Robert Max Ross (1933-2009), a small businessman from Mangham in Richland Parish in Northeast Louisiana. Several other minor candidates also filed against Johnston in the primary, but none made a showing.
Some Republicans had encouraged former Governor David C. Treen to run against Johnston. Treen filed but withdrew in the wake of his loss the previous year for governor. Ross ran as the best-known of the Republican candidates. The tally was 838,181 votes (85.7 percent) for Johnston, 86,546 votes (8.9 percent) for Ross, and others took 52,745 votes (5.4 percent).
Johnston's closest re-election race was in 1990 against State Representative David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klansman and Republican candidate, who was not endorsed by his party's leadership. Louisiana State Senator Ben Bagert of New Orleans dropped out of the primary race in a bid to try to prevent a runoff battle between Johnston and Duke. Eight Republican U.S. senators endorsed Johnston over Duke. These included Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski of Alaska, David Durenberger and Rudy Boschwitz of Minnesota, John Danforth of Missouri, William Cohen of Maine, Warren Rudman of New Hampshire, and Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas.
Johnston defeated Duke in the primary, 752,902 votes (53.9 percent), to 607,391 votes (43.5 percent). Other candidates took the remaining 35,820 votes (2.5 percent). Johnston retired after his fourth term ended in 1997; he was succeeded by his choice for the seat, fellow Democrat Mary Landrieu of New Orleans, daughter of Jimmy Carter's HUD Secretary and former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu.
Considered a conservative within the Democratic caucus, Johnston procured Senate passage in 1981 of a measure to limit school busing for purposes of racial balance to a distance of no more than five miles or fifteen minutes of time. Johnston's bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate, 60 to 39, with the liberal Republican Lowell Weicker of Connecticut leading the opposition.House Speaker Tip O'Neill of Massachusetts blocked the measure from being considered by the House of Representatives, and it did not pass the Congress.[clarification needed]
Johnston broke with his party in 1991 to authorize the use of military force in Operation Desert Storm in Iraq. He also broke ranks to support the narrowly achieved confirmation of Clarence Thomas as associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. In 1987, Johnston had voted with his Democratic majority against President Ronald W. Reagan's choice of Robert Bork, former D.C. Appeals Court Judge, for elevation to the Supreme Court.
Johnston was one of the few Senate Democrats to vote against the Budget Act of 1993, which was strongly supported by President Bill Clinton. He repeatedly voted against the Balanced Budget Amendment and giving the President the line-item veto, both of which were measures strongly favored by fiscal conservatives in both parties. On foreign policy issues, he frequently voted with more liberal Democrats to terminate restrictions on travel to communist Cuba, and in support of the United Nations and foreign aid. Johnston was the only member of either house of Congress to vote against a 1995 resolution to allow Taiwan's president Lee Teng-hui to visit the United States.
During his tenure as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, he was recognized as the nation's pre-eminent legislator on energy policy. One of his major concerns was the threat of man-made global warming.
In 1988, Johnston sought the position of Senate Majority Leader but lost to George J. Mitchell of Maine. From 1972 to 1987, Johnston's Louisiana colleague was Russell Long. The two agreed on many issues and formed a close working relationship to deliver federal spending to Louisiana. Among their achievements was gaining authorization of the Cane River National Heritage Area in Natchitoches Parish, authorized in 1994. It has stimulated heritage tourism to the region, reviving and adding to businesses in the parish seat of Natchitoches and leading to other positive developments in the region. On Long's death, Johnston delivered a moving eulogy at the funeral. Johnston continued the same kind of partnership with Long's successor, former Senator John Breaux, who served from 1987 to 2005.
Since leaving the Senate, Johnston formed Johnston & Associates LLC, a lobbying group. In 2008, Steptoe & Johnson, a major international law firm, formed a "strategic alliance" with Johnston. Steptoe added three members from Johnston & Associates to the firm.
In April 2013, the Kyrgyz Republic's DEBRA filed a claim with the October Regional Court of Bishkek, against several defendants including J. Bennett Johnston, who was a member of the AUB bank board. DEBRA's statement says that although the ex-senator received $175,000 a year, plus share options, "during 2009 and 2010," he attended board meetings only once.
|Party political offices|
Allen J. Ellender
| Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Louisiana
1972, 1978, 1984, 1990
|New office|| Chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
Elaine S. Edwards
| U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Louisiana
Served alongside: Russell B. Long, John Breaux
James A. McClure
| Chair of the Senate Energy Committee