Sen. Janet Johnson praised for hard work, sensitivity to constituent needs
Feelings of personal devastation and utmost respect are being expressed by the many who knew Minnesota state Senator Janet Johnson.
Sen. Johnson, 59, North Branch, died Saturday, Aug. 21 following her second surgery in just over a month for a malignant brain tumor.
“She had a strong relationship with her constituents and they have lost a warm and trusting person and a good friend,” remarked Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine.
Her District 18 included Chisago and Isanti counties and parts of Kanabec and Pine counties.
Sen. Moe said he had spoken with Sen. Johnson following her diagnosis and following her surgery. “Her spirits were high and she was determined to beat it (cancer),” he pointed out.
Private funeral services were Tuesday, Aug. 24 and a public memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at the North Branch High School auditorium A reception is planned following the public service. Sen. Moe and other senate leaders said a large legislative contingency is expected.
Memorials can be directed to the Janet Johnson Memorial Fund at Community National Bank, 5481 St. Croix Trail, North Branch, MN 55056. The family will disperse the memorials to the various projects and programs that Johnson supported.
“Janet had a strong passion for state government and for the U.S. Constitution,” commented her husband, Dennis Odin Johnson. “She got that from her dad who had a tremendous feeling for the United States since his parents came from Italy,” Johnson explained.
She was born March 5, 1940 in New York City’s Bronx and move to Minnesota in the 1960s.
Sen. Johnson always had a love for laws and governing, and wanted to participate in the process, her husband said. ” She was good at it, too, and was always thought to be fair,” he added.
In addition to her husband, she is survived by two daughters, Jessica Lipsky Roe (Deane) of Golden Valley and Jennifer King (Shannon) of Eden Prairie and a son Erik of North Branch. Survivors also include grandchildren Sarah, Ethan and Soren Roe and sisters Connie Reilly of North Branch and Anne Grassi of Airmount, N.J.
The environment, education, mass transit, human services and rural development were some of her legislative concerns. She was chairwoman of the Transportation Budget Subcommittee. She also served on Environment & Agriculture Budget Division; Environment & Natural Resources; Jobs, Energy & Community Development; State Government Finance and Transportation committee.
Johnson, a small business owner, was first elected to the Senate in 1990. She was re-elected in 1992 after legislative district lines were redrawn and she won again in 1996.
In her public announcement recently about her cancer, Sen. Johnson said she planned to focus on her treatment and recovery in order to be ready for the 2000 legislative session that convenes in February.
Sen. Johnson and her husband owned and ran Natural Spaces, a housing company specializing in environmentally efficient homes. For many years she has worked an exhibitor’s booth in the Home Improvement Building at the Minnesota State Fair.
“Janet made an impression on everyone and had time for everyone, even with calls about her cancer,” husband Dennis says. He said one of her nurses informed her that she had doorknocked her house during one of her election campaigns. Sen. Johnson reportedly made more than 8000 doorknocking calls during her first campaign for the senate.
Prior to winning three terms to the senate, she was a candidate for the House, she served seven years on the North Branch School Board and she recorded seven years as Chisago County DFL chairwoman. Johnson also logged 15 years on the Minnesota Environmental Education Board.
Family was her world and “she provided the love and other ingredients to meet” the needs of her children, said husband Dennis.
“She was a real class act, a decent person who brought the highest ideals to the Minnesota Senate,” said Sen. Moe. “It was such a pleasure to work with someone who was always optimistic,” he added.
Her dedication to protecting our natural resources will top the list of her accomplishments, believes Sen. Moe. “She was a steward of our natural resources in her private life and with the public policy she advocated,” Moe stated.
Three other senate colleagues classified Johnson as a legislator respected by her associates.
“Janet carried the same agenda of the environment and eduction that I have chosen and she was one of the first people I got to know in the Senate,” related a tearful Sen. Jane Krentz, DFL-May Township. “She was always policy oriented, very fair, hard working and someone I have tried to emulate,” Krentz continued.
Sen. Paula Hanson, DFL-Ham Lake, called Johnson a “dedicated lady” and a person who will be missed. Both served on the Transportation Finance Committee.
Senate Minority Leader Dick Day, R-Owatonna, also served on the transportation committee with Johnson and admired the fact that she respected the minority party. “She was very open and easy to get along with,” he said. He also praised her for making sure that rural Minnesota received dollars as well as metropolitan areas. “She was a very happy lady,” he said.
Former State Sen. Gene Merriam, Coon Rapids, served on several committees including the Environment and Natural Resources Committee with Sen. Johnson and said he was impressed with her caring efforts for protecting the environment and for conserving our natural resources.
“She was real easy to get along with and pretty steadfast in her ideals but never unpleasant,” Merriam commented. “She was very resolute in standing up for what she believed in,” he added. He categorized her as a “pleasant and determined” person. “She was willing to take on the tough issues,” Merriam pointed out.
On the House side of state government, two of Johnson’s colleagues, Rep. Jim Rostberg, R-Isanti and Rep. Loren Jennings, DFL-Harris called Johnson a hard worker who was dedicated to her constituents.
Rostberg said Johnson embraced issues outlined by her constituents and said last session he co-carried legislation with her to benefit organic farmers. He said he also worked with Sen. Johnson on waste water treatment issues for Cambridge and Isanti and on college issues of importance.
“Everything I heard about her was that people in her district respected her ability and her hard work,” Rostberg said.
“We certainly have lost a good citizen,” said Ellis Johnson, Mayor of North Branch. Mayor Johnson said Sen. Johnson was a good listener and once she knew what her constituents wanted, she pushed forward. “I found her to be a very reasonable person and one who was easy to discuss matters with,” he added.
Wally Trulson served with Janet Johnson on the North Branch School Board and said “she was right up on the issues and ready to move on them” after doing her research
A dairy farmer, Karen Strike, also District 18 DFL chair, said Sen. Johnson accomplished her work in a quiet, unassuming manner. “If you had an issue and she was aware of it, she would pick it up and go with it,” Strike said.
“She was willing to help out anyone,” said Curtis DeYoung, Chisago County DFL chairman and associate District 18 DFL chair.
It is speculated that Gov. Jesse Ventura will set a special election for the District 18 seat for Tuesday, Nov. 2. A primary election date may also be required.