Johnson Returns to Politics, Secures U.S. House Seat



In 2014, U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson left his position as Dennis Daugaard’s chief of staff to work in the private sector, though he did not rule out a future return to politics. After four years in the private sector, Johnson returned to politics in 2018 to run for South Dakota’s lone U.S House seat, a decision motivated by the political climate shaped by Trump’s presidency and the Freedom Caucus in Congress. Johnson won the election with 60% of the vote, successfully outperforming his primary opponents and demonstrating his commitment to issues central to South Dakotans’ everyday lives.

Third in a Four-Part Series by South Dakota News Watch: The Political Ascendancy of U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson

Politics and private sector work can often converge, particularly when a hiatus from public life provides time to contemplate the next big professional move, as experienced by U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson.

When Johnson declared his exit from his role as Dennis Daugaard’s chief of staff post the 2014 election for a position at Mitchell-based technology consulting firm, Vantage Point Solutions, his political aspirations were still undecided.

As Johnson neared 40, his time in the governor’s office and successful PUC campaigns positioned him as a potential South Dakota statesman. A sense of urgency was spurred by internal tremors within the Republican Party, locally and nationally.

This led to Johnson’s candidacy for South Dakota’s lone U.S House seat vacated by Kristi Noem, who was running for governor. Johnson’s wife, Jacqueline, agreed, “The timing was right.”

Despite having been out of the political sphere for four years, Johnson’s concern about the direction of his lifelong party prompted his re-entry. His campaign kickoff in May 2017, nested in the classic themes of his political brand, was balanced by a more reflective speech, pledging to sidestep political bitterness and focus on South Dakotans’ everyday issues.

Though Johnson faced significant rivals in Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, a former state legislator, and Neal Tapio, a state senator and former Trump campaign chair, he managed to maintain a lead in the polls despite late-stage controversies.

The general election saw Johnson going head-to-head with Democrat Tim Bjorkman. Johnson ran a vigorous campaign, doubling Bjorkman’s fundraising and touring 30 cities and rural towns to reinforce support for ethanol industry, work prerequisites for welfare programs, and balanced federal budgets.

Johnson’s parents, Kevin and Jacque, watched their son claim victory with 60% of the vote on election night, marking the peak of a political journey that ran from a fifth grader testifying in Pierre to a United States congressman taking his talents to Washington.

Produced by non-profit journalism organization, South Dakota News Watch.

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