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Sen. Mark Johnson
Sen. Mark Johnson

Breaking the Ice: From construction to building trust at the Capitol

Name: Mark Johnson

Title: Senator, District 1

Education: B.A., finance and economics, Bethel University; J.D., University of North Dakota

Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, oversees a small family business that does commercial and residential concrete projects.

In his first Senate session, his focus has been on building trust and relationships.

“Trust is so valuable here,” Johnson said. “You can’t do everything. You have to trust your other senators, your staff, the people around you. … You’re trying to earn that trust and figure out who you can trust.”

Johnson, seeing health-insurance premiums soar, ran for the open seat in his northwest Minnesota district largely in response to the “health care crisis.”

Johnson and his wife, both lawyers, also run a small law firm.

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. Hello. Honestly, when I was campaigning that was great to have people come up and just say hi and introduce themselves, with their name preferably. I was really impressed by that.

Q. Who was the first presidential candidate you voted for and why?

A. George W. Bush. It’s a very conservative area up in northwest Minnesota. He kind of espoused those more conservative values, the pro-life and just more family-oriented values. That was a big part of it.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. I’ve got a five-hour commute down here, so I’ve gotten ahold of this Audible. I’ve been burning through books on that like crazy lately. Now it’s a Vietnam War book. Before that it was “Building a Better Vocabulary,” “A Christmas Carol,” and “Master of the Senate” by Robert Caro. That makes the trip so much more enjoyable.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. My wife, Skyler, and I have three kids: Archer, who is 5, Livley is 3, and Cullen is 17 months now. Any chance we get to run around with the kids, that’s what we live for now.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A. The fun thing about up north is there’s just a lot of open land. We’ll go drive around and look at the birds that are coming in. Maybe we’ll do a little trap shooting. My folks are on a lake so we can go out there and drive around the lake for a little while. It’s really a playground up there.

Q. How has an event or person inspired you?

A. I was impressed by and I would like to aspire to be like is Coke Stevenson, the governor of Texas back in the ’40s. One of those guys who had a ranch, knew the value of hard work and yet he was able to go and as a state legislator and a governor be more of a statesman type. He was in one of Robert Caro’s (biographies of Lyndon Johnson).

Q. What would be one way to end partisan polarization?

A. There are so many restrictions around finance and being able to get together whether it’s a dinner maybe it’s put on by a lobbyist group or a couple. But we really don’t interact with the other side. That would be one way of maybe opening up the door slightly. I’m not saying get rid of the rules but maybe relax them to a point where it encourages mingling between the two parties because right now that’s very limited.

Q. Where do you like to eat lunch?

A. I am so happy they’ve got the food trucks down here. I’ve been eating at the Rathskeller all winter long. There’s an Asian cuisine one down there, and that one is great.

Q. If you’re not at your desk, where are you likely to be?

A. We’re probably over at the Capitol somewhere. A lot of school groups are coming through here, a lot of sixth-graders. It’s so much fun popping around a corner seeing a group of kids, asking them where they’re from and then grilling them on some Minnesota questions because a lot of them have just finished up the Minnesota history class.

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