MONROE – During his four-years as a Union County commissioner, Republican Todd Johnson worked to improve the county’s infrastructure while keeping taxes low and eliminating government waste.
When the opportunity to take those priorities to the state level arose, Johnson jumped at the opportunity to run for N.C. Senate District 35 seat that represents most of Union County.
Johnson defeated Democratic challenger Caroline Walker 62 to 38 percent last November and the local businessman will take his seat in the Senate on Jan. 9. He has a clear direction for his first term.
“Just driving on the roads in Union County, it doesn’t take you long to figure out that our population has outgrown our infrastructure in terms of our roads,” Johnson said. “The Monroe Bypass is a nice start. But the secondary roads in the more heavily populated parts of the county need some attention and need a champion to go fight for the money that we have grown into.
“It takes way too long to get between certain places. I will try and make that a priority. We send a lot of money to Raleigh, and we don’t get a whole lot back.”
Johnson served as a county commissioner from 2010 to 2014. He said that experience will help him as a legislator in Raleigh. He replaces fellow Republican Sen. Tommy Tucker, who retired after four terms in the General Assembly.
“I was involved with local politics as a county commissioner and I know a lot of the things we tried to get done we had to go through the state to get things done for Union County,” Johnson said. “When the opportunity arose when Sen. Tucker announced his retirement, I just felt that a lot of things we hadn’t been able to accomplish in Union County that maybe I could serve in a state capacity and get those things accomplished.”
Johnson said the top three issues he will work on when the General Assembly convenes will be education, transportation and jobs. Johnson is president of Johnson Insurance Management and he said that experience will help him in Raleigh.
“Those were the three issues we kept hearing over and over during the campaign,” Johnson said. “Having two kids in public schools, public education is important to me. Being a small business owner in Monroe, I understand the job market and realize we have to have large industry and small businesses. We need to support them so they can bring in jobs for our economy.’’
Johnson will be one of 13 new state senators and both houses of the General Assembly will have a different look as Democrats broke the Republican’s super-majority in both chambers. Democrats gained six seats in the N.C. Senate and 10 seats in the House, which means the Republicans no longer have the ability to override vetoes from Gov. Roy Cooper on a straight party-line vote. Republicans will control the State Senate 29-21 and the House 65-55.
Johnson said he expects that both Republicans and Democrats will come together on issues that benefit the state in the coming session of the General Assembly.
“I really do think we will work together,” Johnson said. “I have been through one orientation and I have met all the members of the State Senate. The freshmen senators that I have met with and sat down with during these orientations were all together. Every single person said, ‘work together, get along, get things done, focus on the 90 percent that we agree on and we can work on the 10 percent.’ Unfortunately, and I am not knocking the media, that is what you hear about, the 10 percent we don’t agree on and not the 90 percent that we agree on.
“I didn’t realize all the unanimous votes there are on legislation that is supported by both parties. It doesn’t get reported on because it is not flashy and exciting. We are going to have to work on some things and compromise. I look at it as an opportunity.”
Johnson praised the New Voter ID law that was enacted last month but said more election reforms, especially in absentee voting, may be needed. The state has refused to certify the results in the N.C. 9th Congressional race that Republican Mark Harris won by 905 votes over Democrat Dan McCready last November after alleged irregularities in absentee voting in two counties in the district surfaced.
The North Carolina Board of Elections will hold a public hearing on the matter on Jan. 11 and the board could go as far as order a new election in the 9th District, which stretches from south Charlotte to Fayetteville and includes all of Union County.
“Absentee voting was originally designed for hardship purposes,” Johnson said. “Folks that are deployed, folks that are shut-ins and can’t get out of the house, folks that are in a nursing home and can’t get to the voting site. I don’t want to hinder voting, but it is obvious there are issues. Way too many people died to protect this right and we need to protect the integrity of it.”
Tucker was co-chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and was a leading voice in the Senate so Johnson knows he has big shoes to fill.
“I even mentioned that in the presence of Sen. Tucker, and he corrected me really quick,” Johnson said. “He said, ‘Don’t try to fill anyone’s shoes, be your own self and fill your own shoes, listen a lot, learn and create relationships and get along with people.’ From what I have seen in the Senate, the opposing parties get along great and it is going to be exciting to be a part of that.”