Dan Johnson, 1936-2014
Services were today for former Kansas Rep. Dan Johnson. The military honors, Masonic rites and large crowd all were befitting this humble man of the people.
While constituents of the 110th District he proudly served for 14 years had said goodbye to their representative in 2010 when he announced he would not seek re-election, the entire community bid adieu Thursday morning to the man known affectionately as "Big D." The moniker might have been given initially for his large-boned frame, but it stuck because of his enormous heart and kind nature.
Johnson took his responsibilities as a lawmaker seriously. He scrutinized legislation thoroughly, understanding both the immediate effect on Ellis, Rooks, Russell and Osborne counties, as well as the big picture. Until health problems forced him to miss some time during his last two sessions, the lifelong Republican and retired lieutenant colonel in the Kansas National Guard didn't miss a thing. For more than 10 years, Johnson never missed a committee meeting, let alone full gatherings on the House floor. He also didn't show up late or depart early.
That work ethic, as well as his "commitment to improving his community and our state," were what Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., remembered about him.
"Dan was independent in thought and firm in his conviction," Moran said, "and I am honored to have called him a friend."
"He was a true public servant and a true patriot," said Janis Lee, former Democratic state senator and former chief hearing officer for the Kansas Court of Tax Appeals. "He was the kindest, gentlest man -- a true gentleman."
"I had the utmost respect for him and his opinion," said Hays City Commissioner Eber Phelps who, as former Democratic representative for the 111th House District, spent countless hours in the car with Johnson either traveling to and from Topeka or to an area event.
Strong as these deserving accolades are, you won't find mention of Johnson's passing on the website of either the Kansas Republican Party or Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. While disappointing, we are not surprised. Blind obedience to party was not Johnson's strong suit; doing the work of the people was -- and he paid a stiff political price more than once.
In a 2010 interview with The Hays Daily News, Johnson said: "I feel that I am a Bob Dole/Dwight Eisenhower, mainstream Republican."
In the same article, "Big D" noted his political career greatly was inspired by his father.
"I try to do what I think he would want me to do," Johnson said.
Such upbringing in the tradition of the truly Grand Old Party allowed him to develop statesmanship, something that virtually has disappeared from the Kansas Capitol. Once conservatives started choke-holding the Republican Party, moderates who could get good deeds accomplished began getting pushed to the side.
When Johnson was removed as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee by House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, it was a reporter who alerted Johnson. Not only was the seven-year chair stripped of his post, he was booted off the committee and unceremoniously moved to a closet-sized office in the basement.
"They treated me so bad," he said at the time, "it's to the point where I have nothing to lose. Every vote I take is what's best for Kansas."
The punishment was inflicted because Johnson wouldn't vote to strip power from the Kansas Supreme Court, because he did vote for school finance legislation, because he backed the wrong person for majority leader, and because he wasn't considered conservative enough.
His own party took away his leadership post, but could not take away his dignity, integrity or his dedication to the people of the 110th. Such traits will forever be part of his legacy. So will his wide smile.
Rest in peace, Daniel H. "Dan" Johnson. We will remember your patriotism, statesmanship, courage and civility.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry