Dean Johnson

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Dean Elton Johnson
8th Minnesota Senate Majority Leader
In office
January 2004 – January 2007
Preceded by John Hottinger
Succeeded by Larry Pogemiller
11th Minnesota Senate Minority Leader
In office
January 1993 – July 9, 1997
Preceded by Duane Benson
Succeeded by Dick Day
Minnesota State Senator
In office
Minnesota State Representative
In office
Personal details
Born (1947-06-24) June 24, 1947 (age 71)
Political party Republican, 1983–2000
DFL, 2000–present
Spouse(s) Avonelle Johnson (deceased), Debbie Johnson[1]
Children 1
Residence Willmar, Minnesota
Alma mater Luther College
Luther Seminary
U.S. Army War College
Occupation Minister, National Guard, University Regent
Military service
Service/branch United States Army National Guard
Rank US-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier General

Dean Elton Johnson (born June 24, 1947 in Lanesboro, Minnesota) is a former Minnesota politician and a member of the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota. He is a former member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, and a former member, majority leader and minority leader of the Minnesota Senate.

Service in the Minnesota House and Senate[edit]

Johnson was first elected to the House in 1978, representing the old District 21A, and served from 1979 to 1983. He was elected to the Senate in 1982 and represented District 13 in the west central part of the state. Prior to the 2002 legislative redistricting, the area was known as District 15. Through the years, he represented all or portions of Chippewa, Kandiyohi, McLeod, Meeker, Pope, Renville, Stearns and Yellow Medicine counties in the southwestern part of the state.[2]

As a Republican, Johnson served as Senate Minority Leader from 1993 to 1997. Notably, as Senate Minority Leader, Johnson cast a deciding vote in the passage of the 1993 Human Rights Act, which banned LGBT discrimination in housing, employment, and education.[3] In 2000, he switched parties, leaving the Republican Party to join the DFL Party. He subsequently served as Majority Leader from 2004 until 2007. He is the only Minnesota senator to have led both caucuses in that chamber, and one of only three to serve as both minority and majority leader.[2][4]

2006 controversial remarks[edit]

In March 2006, controversy arose over remarks Johnson made in January of that year to a group of pastors. Johnson said he had a conversation with an unnamed Minnesota Supreme Court justice, who supposedly gave him informal assurances that the court would not overturn Minnesota's statute defining marriage as between one man and one woman. There was concern that the Minnesota Supreme Court might strike down the Minnesota statute the way the Massachusetts Supreme Court had struck down a similar statute in that state, thus legalizing gay marriage.[5]

When a tape recording of Johnson's remarks surfaced, the justices of the Minnesota Supreme Court denied that any such conversation had ever taken place. Republicans filed an ethics complaint against Johnson. He subsequently apologized for embellishing the story. This controversy contributed to the loss of his senate seat to Republican Joe Gimse in the general election that November.[6][7]

Background, education and professional career[edit]

Johnson resides in Willmar. He is widowed, has one child, two grandchildren, and is a minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. His wife of 21 years, Avonelle Johnson, died of cancer in 2005.[2] Johnson later remarried.[1]

Johnson holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Luther College, a Master of Divinity from Luther Seminary, and a Master of Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College. He is a chaplain holding a general's rank in the National Guard.[2] In 2007, he was selected as a Regent of the University of Minnesota.[8] He was re-elected in 2013.


  1. ^ a b "Dean Johnson: Office of the Board of Regents". University of Minnesota. Archived from the original on October 3, 2012. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d "Minnesota Legislators Past & Present – Legislator Record – Johnson, Dean Elton". Retrieved 2010-07-20.
  3. ^ Preston, Joshua. "Allan Spear and the Minnesota Human Rights Act." Minnesota History 65 (2016): 76-87.
  4. ^ List of Majority and Minority Leaders
  5. ^ "Johnson apologizes for gay marriage remarks | Minnesota Public Radio NewsQ". 2006-03-17. Retrieved 2010-07-20.
  6. ^ "GOP files ethics complaint against Dean Johnson | Minnesota Public Radio NewsQ". 2006-03-22. Retrieved 2010-07-20.
  7. ^ "Minnesota Legislators Past & Present – Legislator Record – Gimse, Joseph R". Retrieved 2010-07-20.
  8. ^ "Dean Johnson: Office of the Board of Regents". March 1, 2010. Archived from the original on October 3, 2012. Retrieved July 20, 2010.

External links[edit]