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J. Bennett Johnston

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J. Bennett Johnston
Johnston in 1980
United States Senator
from Louisiana
In office
November 14, 1972 – January 3, 1997
Preceded byElaine Edwards
Succeeded byMary Landrieu
Member of the Louisiana Senate
from the Caddo Parish at-large district
In office
Preceded byJohnny Rogers (at-large)
Jackson B. Davis
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
Member of the Louisiana House of Representatives
from the Caddo Parish at-large district
In office
Preceded byWellborn Jack (at-large)
Succeeded byAt-large delegation
Personal details
John Bennett Johnston Jr.

(1932-06-10) June 10, 1932 (age 92)
Shreveport, Louisiana, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Mary Hunter Gunn
(m. 1956)
RelationsTim Roemer (son-in-law)
EducationUnited States Military Academy (BS)
Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge (LLB)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1956–1959
UnitJ.A.G. Corps

John Bennett Johnston Jr. (born June 10, 1932) is a retired American attorney, politician, and later lobbyist from Louisiana. A member of the Democratic Party, Johnston served in the United States Senate from 1972 to 1997.

Beginning his political career when elected as a state representative from Caddo Parish in 1964, Johnston also served in the state senate before winning election to the U.S. Senate.

Early life and education[edit]

Johnston was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, to the attorney John Bennett Johnston (1894–1977)[1] and the former Wilma Lyon (1904–1996).[2][3]

After Southfield, Johnston attended and graduated from C. E. Byrd High School in Shreveport.[4] He attended the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.[5]

In 1956, Johnston graduated from Louisiana State University Law Center in Baton Rouge. He was then admitted to the bar that same year.[5] Johnston attended The Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School at the University of Virginia and entered United States Army Judge Advocate General's Corps. He served in the United States Army, Judge Advocate General Corps in Germany from 1956 to 1959.[5]

Marriage and family[edit]

Johnston married Mary Hunter Gunn, a native of Natchitoches, Louisiana, on August 11, 1956, in her hometown. Johnston is a member of the Baptist Church; and his wife[6] is Roman Catholic.[7] They had four children together: Bennett, Hunter, Mary, and Sally, who were raised as Catholic.[8]

The Johnstons' daughter Sally married Tim Roemer from Indiana. He became a politician, serving as a Democratic U.S. Representative of Indiana, from 1991 to 2003.[9] He was appointed to the 9/11 Commission to investigate the terrorist attacks.[10] He also served as United States Ambassador to India.

The Johnstons have a total of ten grandchildren.[8][11]

Political life[edit]

Johnston had joined the Democratic Party and decided to run for office, beginning at the local level. In 1964, he was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives.[12][13] Hudson and O'Hearn were the first Republicans to serve in the legislature since Reconstruction, reflecting what would become a wholesale shift of conservative whites from the Democratic to the Republican party throughout the South following passage of civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965.

In 1966, Johnston hired Ralph Perlman to the legislative staff; he was a business graduate of Columbia University in New York City. Soon Governor of Louisiana John McKeithen appointed Perlman as state budget director, where he served from 1967 to 1988.[14][15]

In 1970, State Senator Johnston outlined his proposal for a toll road to connect Shreveport with South Louisiana, as there was no north–south interstate highway at the time. Johnston said the state gasoline tax was bringing in only 20 percent of what was needed to construct such a north–south highway. Therefore, he proposed using tolls to raise the necessary revenue, as they applied only to users.[16] While his proposal was not approved, later the federally subsidized Interstate 49 was built, linking Shreveport with Lafayette. Most of the highway was opened in the early 1990s. Interstate connections were created from Lafayette to Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Campaigns for governor[edit]

In 1971, Johnston ran for governor of Louisiana. Harmon Drew Jr. headed the Johnston college campaign. Drew said that Johnston represented a "new outlook this state must have."[17] Johnston narrowly lost this race by 4,488 votes to Edwin Edwards in the runoff election of the Democratic primary. This was the last Louisiana gubernatorial election to be held prior to the state's adoption of the nonpartisan blanket primary in 1975. Edwards' margin was fewer than two votes per precinct. Drew later served as a judge of the Louisiana Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit,

Edwards defeated Republican David C. Treen in the general election for governor held on February 1, 1972. Treen was elected to the U.S. House in November 1972. He was re-elected, serving until his election as governor in 1979.[18]

U.S. Senate campaigns of 1972, 1978, and 1984[edit]

In 1972, Johnston challenged the long-term incumbent, Allen J. Ellender, for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate.[19] Ellender died during the campaign,[19] and Johnston, with powerful name identification stemming from his gubernatorial bid months earlier, won the primary easily. In the primary, Johnston received 623,076 votes (79.4 percent); Frank T. Allen, 88,198 votes (11.2 percent), and the deceased Ellender, 73,088 votes (9.3 percent).[20]

Johnston defeated Republican Ben C. Toledano, a New Orleans attorney and a former candidate for mayor of New Orleans, and former Governor John McKeithen of Columbia, a fellow Democrat who ran as an Independent in the general election because the filing period was not reopened upon Ellender's death.

McKeithen, the first Louisiana governor to serve two consecutive terms, left office six months prior to the Senate election in order to conduct his campaign.[21][22]

The creation of the interim position was done to swear in Johnston immediately upon certification of his election, allowing him to gain an edge in seniority over other senators who first took office during the 93rd Congress. Johnston's freshman classmates included Joe Biden (D-Delaware), who served seven terms before being elected as Vice President and later President, Sam Nunn (D-Georgia), who served four terms, Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), who served five terms, and Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico), who served six terms.

For a time, Johnston's director of special projects was James Arthur Reeder (1933–2012), a former Shreveport and Washington, D.C., attorney, and owner of a chain of radio stations.[23] Like Johnston, Reeder was later inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.[24] Later Reeder organized voter registration drives in Caddo Parish to empower minority voters. In 2009, Reeder narrated the inaugural parade of U.S. President Barack H. Obama.[23]

In 1978, Johnston defeated Democrat State Representative Woody Jenkins of Baton Rouge in the nonpartisan blanket primary, 498,773 (59.4 percent) to 340,896 (40.6 percent). (Jenkins later shifted to the Republican Party.)[25][26][27]

Johnston v. Duke[edit]

Johnston's closest re-election race was in 1990 against State Representative David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan man and Republican candidate, who was not endorsed by his party's leadership. Louisiana State Senator Ben Bagert of New Orleans dropped out of the primary race in a bid to try to prevent a runoff battle between Johnston and Duke. Eight Republican U.S. senators endorsed Johnston over Duke.[28] These included Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski of Alaska, David Durenberger and Rudy Boschwitz of Minnesota, John Danforth of Missouri, William Cohen of Maine, Warren Rudman of New Hampshire, and Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas.[29][30]

The HUD Secretary at the time, Jack Kemp, also endorsed Johnston.[31]

Johnston defeated Duke in the primary, 752,902 votes (53.9 percent), to 607,391 votes (43.5 percent), far less than expected. Other candidates took the remaining 35,820 votes (2.5 percent).[27] Johnston retired after his fourth term ended in 1997; he was succeeded by his choice for the seat, fellow Democrat Mary Landrieu of New Orleans, daughter of Jimmy Carter's HUD Secretary and former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu.

Notable achievements[edit]

Johnston broke with his party in 1991 to authorize the use of military force in the Gulf War in Iraq.[32][33] He also broke ranks to support the narrowly achieved confirmation of Clarence Thomas as associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.[34] In 1987, Johnston had voted with his Democratic majority against President Ronald Reagan's choice of Robert Bork, former D.C. Appeals Court Judge, for elevation to the Supreme Court.[35]

Johnston was one of the few Senate Democrats to vote against the Budget Act of 1993, which was strongly supported by President Bill Clinton. He repeatedly voted against the Balanced Budget Amendment and giving the President the line-item veto, both of which were measures strongly favored by fiscal conservatives in both parties. On foreign policy issues, he frequently voted with more liberal Democrats to terminate restrictions on travel to communist Cuba, and in support of the United Nations and foreign aid. Johnston was the only member of either house of Congress to vote against a 1995 resolution to allow Taiwan's president Lee Teng-hui to visit the United States.[36]

During his tenure as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, he was recognized as the nation's pre-eminent legislator on energy policy.[37] One of his major concerns was the threat of anthropegenic climate change.[38]

Johnston was a firm advocate of the Flag Desecration Amendment.[39] He opposed abortion and most gun control measures.[40][41]

In 1988, Johnston sought the position of Senate Majority Leader but lost to George J. Mitchell of Maine.[42] From 1972 to 1987, Johnston served alongside fellow Democratic Senator Russell B. Long, with whom he worked closely to deliver federal spending to Louisiana. Johnston and Long gained authorization[clarification needed] of the Cane River National Heritage Area in Natchitoches Parish in 1994, which stimulated tourism in the region. Johnston delivered a eulogy at Long's funeral in 2003.

Later life[edit]

Since leaving the Senate, Johnston formed Johnston & Associates LLC, a lobbying group.[43][8] In 2008, Steptoe & Johnson, a major international law firm, formed a "strategic alliance" with Johnston. Steptoe added three members from Johnston & Associates to the firm.[44]

Johnston and former Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee co-chaired the National Parks Second Century Commission.[45]

In 1997, Johnston was elected to Chevron's board of directors.[46] He had left the board by 2011.[47]

Currently, Johnston is one of the advisory directors at Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold[48] and Angeleno Group, an energy-based investment group.[49][50]

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • Southern University at Shreveport named its video conferencing room in Johnston's honor. It is located inside Stone Hall, named for Jesse N. Stone, the late civil rights activist and former president of the Southern University System.[51]
  • In 2010, Johnston received the National Parks Conservation Association Centennial Leadership Award.[52]
  • A quadrangle on Tulane University's main campus is named “The J Bennett Johnston Quadrangle” in his honor. A building on Tulane University's downtown campus is named “The J. Bennett Johnston Health and Environmental Research Building also in his honor.


  1. ^ "About CAMD". came.lsu.edu. CAMD. Archived from the original on April 8, 2009. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
  2. ^ "Mother of retiring senator dead at 92". The Advocate. December 2, 1996. Retrieved September 9, 2011.
  3. ^ "Southfield Hall of Fame". southfield-school.org. Archived from the original on December 7, 2013. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
  4. ^ "C. E. Byrd High School Collection". scripts.lsus.edu. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
  5. ^ a b c "JOHNSTON, John Bennett Jr., (1932 - )". bioguide.congress.gov. United States Congress. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
  6. ^ "J. Bennett Johnston". Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Libraries. 2002. p. 4. Archived from the original on June 15, 2010. Retrieved November 29, 2010.
  7. ^ Bartley, Numan; Hugh Davis Graham (1975). Southern politics and the second reconstruction. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 155. ISBN 9780801816673. Retrieved November 29, 2010.
  8. ^ a b c "Senator J. Bennett Johnson". Retrieved September 3, 2011.
  9. ^ Bill Adair (April 30, 2001). "The House is not a home". The St. Petersburg Times. St. Petersburg, FL: Times Publishing Company. Retrieved November 29, 2010.
  10. ^ "National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States". Retrieved November 29, 2010.
  11. ^ Emily Robison & Wendy Rogers, co-compilers & Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections Special Collections, Hill Memorial Library, Louisiana State University Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana (Spring 2002). "Johnston (J. Bennett) Collection (#4473) Inventory". p. 4. Archived from the original on September 27, 2011. Retrieved September 3, 2011.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ David R. Poynter. "MEMBERSHIP IN THE LOUISIANA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES 1812 - 2012" (PDF). Legislative Research Library, Louisiana House of Representatives. pp. 43–44. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 29, 2009. Retrieved September 4, 2011.
  13. ^ Emily Robison & Wendy Rogers, co-compilers & Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections Special Collections, Hill Memorial Library, Louisiana State University Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana (Spring 2002). "Johnston (J. Bennett) Collection (#4473) Inventory". p. 4. Archived from the original on September 27, 2011. Retrieved September 4, 2011.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ "Ralph Perlman". Baton Rouge Morning Advocate. Retrieved May 31, 2013.
  15. ^ "MEMBERSHIP IN THE LOUISIANA SENATE 1880 - 2008" (PDF). p. 24. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 20, 2011. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
  16. ^ "Johnston Outlines Toll Road Proposal," Minden Press-Herald, April 24, 1970, p. 1.
  17. ^ "Harmon Drew Jr., to Head Johnston College Campaign," Minden Press-Herald, p. 1.
  18. ^ "Close Louisiana Race Settled". St. Petersburg Times. December 20, 1971. p. 18–A. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
  19. ^ a b Press Dispatches (July 28, 1972). "Ellender Dies at 81; Was Dean Of Senate". The Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
  20. ^ Milburn E. Calhoun; Jeanne Frois (2006). Louisiana Almanac: 2006-2007. Pelican Publishing. p. 542. ISBN 978-1-58980-306-0. Retrieved September 5, 2011.
  21. ^ Benjamin J. Guthrie; W. Pat Jennings (1973). "Statistics of the Presidential and Congressional Election of November 7, 1972" (PDF). p. 18. Retrieved September 5, 2011.
  22. ^ Kurtz, Michael L. (1998). Louisiana since the Longs: 1960 to Century's End. Lafayette, LA: Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana. p. 81. ISBN 978-1-887366-26-7.,
  23. ^ a b "James Reeder". Shreveport Times. Retrieved April 4, 2012.
  24. ^ "Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame". cityofwinnfield.com. Archived from the original on July 3, 2009. Retrieved August 22, 2009.
  25. ^ Milburn E. Calhoun; Jeanne Frois (2006). Louisiana Almanac: 2006-2007. Pelican Publishing. p. 544. ISBN 978-1-58980-306-0. Retrieved September 5, 2011.
  26. ^ "Ouachita-Richland County Louisiana Archives Obituaries.....ROSS, ROBERT MAX September 15, 2009". September 15, 2009. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
  27. ^ a b Charles Bruce Brownson; Anna L. Brownson (1991). Congressional staff directory: Advance locator for Capitol Hill, Part 1. Congressional Staff Directory. p. 49. ISBN 978-0-87289-089-3. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
  28. ^ Kevin McGill (October 5, 1990). "Republican quits to help Democrat". The Hour. Retrieved September 7, 2011.
  29. ^ "Johnston Is Endorsed By 8 Republican Senators". The Washington Post. October 4, 1990. Retrieved September 7, 2011.
  30. ^ "GOP senators shun Duke, endorse Democrat". The Washington Times. October 4, 1990. Retrieved September 7, 2011.
  31. ^ "Johnston Takes Lead Over Duke in Louisiana". Los Angeles Times. October 7, 1990. Retrieved September 7, 2011.
  32. ^ "U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 102nd Congress - 1st Session". January 12, 1991. Retrieved November 1, 2010.
  33. ^ "Johnston's anti-busing bill wins bout in the Senate", Minden Press-Herald, September 17, 1981, p. 1.
  34. ^ "Congressional Record-Senate" (PDF). Library of Congress. October 15, 1991. Retrieved November 1, 2010.
  35. ^ "Congressional Record-Senate" (PDF). October 23, 1987. Retrieved November 1, 2010.
  36. ^ "U.S. Senate: U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 104th Congress - 1st Session".
  37. ^ "Senator J. Bennett Johnston". Bipartisan Policy Center. Archived from the original on October 14, 2014. Retrieved October 9, 2014.
  38. ^ Greenhouse effect and global climate change : hearings before the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, United States Senate, One Hundredth Congress, first session. S. HRG. ;100-461. GPO. June 23, 1988. "We have only one planet. If we screw it up, we have no place else to go. The possibility, indeed, the fact of our mistreating this planet by burning too much fossil fuels and putting too much CO2 in the atmosphere and thereby causing this greenhouse effect is now a major concern of Members of the Congress and of people everywhere in this country."
  39. ^ "U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 104th Congress - 1st Session". Retrieved November 29, 2010.
  40. ^ "U.S. Senate: U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 103rd Congress - 1st Session".
  41. ^ "U.S. Senate: U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 103rd Congress - 1st Session".
  42. ^ Susan F. Rasky (November 30, 1988). "Mitchell of Maine is chosen to lead Senate Democrats". New York Times. Retrieved August 26, 2011.
  43. ^ "Lobbying Report". 2010. Retrieved September 3, 2011.
  44. ^ "Steptoe Forms Strategic Alliance with Former Senator J. Bennett Johnston". January 23, 2008. Archived from the original on May 17, 2011. Retrieved September 3, 2011.
  45. ^ "National Parks Second Century Commission Members". Archived from the original on August 20, 2010. Retrieved September 4, 2011.
  46. ^ "Former U.S. Senator J. Bennett Johnston Is Elected To Chevron Board Of Directors". January 27, 1997. Archived from the original on March 18, 2012. Retrieved September 4, 2011.
  47. ^ "Board Of Directors". Archived from the original on December 29, 2015. Retrieved September 4, 2011.
  48. ^ "Advisory Directors". Archived from the original on October 24, 2011. Retrieved September 4, 2011.
  49. ^ "The Honorable Bennett Johnston". Retrieved June 2, 2012.
  50. ^ "Focus". Retrieved June 2, 2012.
  51. ^ "Jesse N. Stone Lecture hall". susla.edu. Archived from the original on July 19, 2011. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
  52. ^ "J. Bennett Johnston Receives the National Parks Conservation Association Centennial Leadership Award". March 24, 2010. Archived from the original on May 17, 2011. Retrieved September 4, 2011.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Louisiana
(Class 2)

1972, 1978, 1984, 1990
Succeeded by
New office Chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
Succeeded by
Title last held by
Ted Stevens
John Rhodes
Response to the State of the Union address
Served alongside: Robert Byrd, Alan Cranston, Al Gore, Gary Hart, Ted Kennedy, Tip O'Neill, Don Riegle, Paul Sarbanes, Jim Sasser
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Louisiana
Served alongside: Russell B. Long, John Breaux
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the Senate Energy Committee
Succeeded by
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded byas Former US Senator Order of precedence of the United States
as Former US Senator
Succeeded byas Former US Senator