J. Bennett Johnston

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J. Bennett Johnston
United States Senator
from Louisiana
In office
November 14, 1972 – January 3, 1997
Preceded by Elaine Edwards
Succeeded by Mary Landrieu
Member of the Louisiana Senate
from the Caddo Parish at-large district
In office
Preceded by Johnny Rogers (at-large)
Jackson B. Davis
Succeeded by Constituency abolished
Member of the Louisiana House of Representatives
from the Caddo Parish at-large district
In office
Preceded by Wellborn Jack (at-large)
Succeeded by At-large delegation
Personal details
Born John Bennett Johnston Jr.
(1932-06-10) June 10, 1932 (age 85)
Shreveport, Louisiana, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Mary Gunn
Relations Tim Roemer (son-in-law)
Children 4
Education Washington and Lee University
United States Military Academy (BS)
Louisiana State University, Baton Rogue (LLB)
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1956–1959
Unit Army Judge Advocate General's Corps

John Bennett Johnston Jr. (born June 10, 1932) is an American politician in the Democratic Party and lobbyist who represented Louisiana in the United States Senate from 1972 to 1997.


Johnston was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, to the attorney John Bennett Johnston Sr. (1894–1977)[1][2] and the former Wilma Lyon (1904–1996).[3][4] Johnston attended the private elementary and junior high Southfield School in the South Highlands neighborhood of Shreveport, he was inducted into the Southfield Hall of Fame in 1994.[5]

After Southfield, Johnston graduated from C. E. Byrd High School in Shreveport.[6] He attended the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.[7]

In 1956, Johnston graduated from Louisiana State University Law Center in Baton Rouge. He was admitted to the bar that same year,[7] he served in the United States Army, Judge Advocate General Corps in Germany from 1956 to 1959.[7]

Political life[edit]

In 1964, Johnston was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives, along with two Republicans, Morley A. Hudson and Taylor W. O'Hearn, and two other Democrats from Caddo Parish, Algie D. Brown and Frank Fulco.[8][9] Hudson and O'Hearn were the first Republicans to serve in the legislature since Reconstruction.

In 1966, Johnston hired Ralph Perlman, a business graduate of Columbia University in New York City, to the legislative staff. Soon Governor John McKeithen elevated Perlman to the position of state budget director, a role which he filled from 1967 to 1988.[10]

In 1968, Johnston was elected at-large to the Louisiana State Senate, along with fellow Democrats Jackson B. Davis and Joe LeSage.[11] One of the candidates that he defeated was the Republican Tom Stagg, later a judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana in Shreveport. Under senatorial courtesy, Johnston could have blocked Stagg's confirmation but did not do so.

In 1970, state Senator Johnston outlined his proposal for a toll road to connect Shreveport with South Louisiana in the absence of a north-south interstate highway at the time. Johnston said the then state gasoline tax was bringing in only 20 percent of what was needed to construct such a north-south highway. Therefore, he saw tolls as the proper venue to pursue;[12] in time, there was no toll road but Interstate 49, which links Shreveport with Lafayette. Most of the highway was opened in the early 1990s; in turn, there are interstate connections from Lafayette to Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

In 1971, Johnston ran for governor of Louisiana. Harmon Drew Jr., later a judge of the Louisiana Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit, headed the Johnston college campaign. Drew said that Johnston represented a "new outook this state must have."[13] Johnston ultimately narrowly lost this race by 4,488 votes to Edwin Edwards in the Democratic runoff election, the final Louisiana gubernatorial election prior to the adoption of the state's nonpartisan blanket primary in 1975. Edwards' margin was fewer than two votes per precinct. Edwards went on to defeat Republican David C. Treen in the general election held on February 1, 1972. Treen then won election to the U.S. House in November 1972, where he served until his election as governor in 1979.[14]

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.[15] Ellender died during the campaign,[15] and Johnston, with powerful name identification stemming from his gubernatorial bid only 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).[16] Johnston then defeated Republican Ben C. Toledano, then 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 conseutive terms, left office six months prior to the Senate election. Johnston received 598,987 votes (55.2 percent); McKeithen, 250,161 (23.1 percent), and Toledano's 206,846 (19.1 percent). Another 28,910 voters (2.6 percent) chose the American Independent Party candidate, Hall Lyons, a Shreveport native who had relocated in the oil business to Lafayette.[17] He was the younger son of Louisiana Republican pioneer Charlton Lyons of Shreveport. (The position was filled by appointment from July to November 1972 by Governor Edwards' first wife, Elaine Schwartzenburg Edwards,[18] the interim senator.)

Johnston was sworn in immediately upon certification of his election, allowing him to gain an edge in seniority over other senators first taking office during the 93rd Congress. Johnston's freshman classmates included Joe Biden (D-Delaware), who served six terms before his ascension to Vice President, and Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico), who served seven terms.

In office, Senator Johnston cultivated good relationships with the Louisiana media, realizing that their portrayal of him would impact his electoral future, the state's newspaper gave Johnston wide coverage. The Alexandria Daily Town Talk's managing editor, Adras LaBorde, for instance, gave extensive coverage to both Johnston and Senate colleague Russell B. Long.

For a time, Johnston's director of special projects was James Arthur Reeder (1933–2012), a former Shreveport and Washington, D.C., attorney and the owner of a chain of radio stations.[19] Like Johnston, Reeder was later inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.[20] In 1966, Reeder ran as a Republican for a district judgeship in Caddo Parish,[21] he subsequently 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.[19]

In 1978, Johnston defeated then Democrat, later Republican, State Representative Woody Jenkins of Baton Rouge in the nonpartisan blanket primary, 498,773 (59.4 percent) to 340,896 (40.6 percent).[22]

In 1984, Johnston faced minor opposition from Robert Max Ross (1933–2009), a small businessman from Mangham in Richland Parish in northeast Louisiana.[23] Several other minor candidates also filed against Johnston in the primary but none made a showing, some Republicans had encouraged former Governor David C. Treen to run against Johnston. Treen filed but withdrew in the wake of his loss the previous year for governor. Ross therefore ran as the best-known of the Republican candidates, the tally was 838,181 votes (85.7 percent) for Johnston, 86,546 votes (8.9 percent) for Ross, and others took 52,745 votes (5.4 percent).[24]

Johnston v. Duke[edit]

Johnston's closest re-election race was in 1990 against former Ku Klux Klansman and Republican candidate State Representative David Duke, who was not endorsed by his party's leadership; in fact, Louisiana State Senator Ben Bagert of New Orleans dropped out of the primary race in a bid to avoid a runoff battle between Johnston and Duke. Eight Republican U.S. senators endorsed Johnston over Duke.[25] 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 Landon Kassebaum of Kansas.[26][27]

The HUD Secretary at the time, Jack Kemp, also endorsed Johnston.[28]

Johnston defeated Duke in the primary, 752,902 votes (53.9 percent), to 607,391 votes (43.5 percent). Other candidates took the remaining 35,820 votes (2.5 percent).[24] 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.

A conservative within the Democratic caucus[edit]

Considered a conservative within the Democratic caucus, Johnston procured Senate passage in 1981 of a measure to limit school busing for purposes of racial balance to a distance of no more than five miles or fifteen minutes of time. Johnston's bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate, 60 to 39, with the liberal Republican Lowell Weicker of Connecticut leading the opposition.[29] However, Speaker Tip O'Neill of Massachusetts blocked the measure from being considered by the House of Representatives.[clarification needed]

Johnston broke with his party in 1991 to authorize the use of military force in Operation Desert Storm in Iraq[30] and in support of the narrow confirmation of Clarence Thomas as associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.[31] However, in 1987, he had voted with his Democratic majority against President Ronald W. Reagan's choice of former D.C. Appeals Court Judge Robert Bork for elevation to the Supreme Court.[32]

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.[33]

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.[34] One of his major concerns was the threat of man-made global warming.[35]

Johnston was a firm advocate of the Flag Desecration Amendment [36] but opposed abortion and most gun control measures.

In 1988, Johnston sought the position of Senate Majority Leader but lost to George J. Mitchell of Maine.[37] From 1972 to 1987, Johnston's Louisiana colleague was Russell Long, the two agreed on many issues and formed a close working relationship to deliver federal spending to Louisiana. On Long's death, Johnston delivered a moving eulogy at the funeral. Johnston continued the same kind of partnership with Long's successor, former Senator John Breaux, who served from 1987 to 2005.

Later life[edit]

Since leaving the Senate, Johnston formed Johnston & Associates LLC.[38][39] 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.[40]

In 1997, Johnston was elected to Chevron's board of directors[41] but since left the board.[42]

In 2010, Johnston received the National Parks Conservation Association Centennial Leadership Award;[43] in addition, Johnston and former Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee co-chaired the National Parks Second Century Commission.[44]

Currently, Johnston is one of the advisory directors at Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold[45] and Angeleno Group, an energy-based investment group.[46][47]

Johnston's wife, the former Mary Gunn, is a native of Natchitoches, Louisiana, her brother and only sibling was the Alexandria banker and businessman Norman L. Gunn (1926–2011). Norman Gunn was employed from 1950 to 1988 by the former Rapides Bank and Trust Company, for which he was a senior vice president upon retirement, he was also a former president and one of only five lifetime members of the Alexandria-Pineville Chamber of Commerce.[48]

The Johnstons' son-in-law, former Democratic U.S. Representative Timothy J. Roemer of Indiana,[49] served on the 9/11 Commission.[50]

Coincidentally, one of Johnston's Louisiana congressional colleagues was U.S. Representative and Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer, a native of Bossier City, located on the opposite bank of the Red River from Shreveport. Buddy Roemer and Timothy Roemer are not related.

Johnston is a member of the Baptist Church; his wife[51] is Roman Catholic.[52] The Johnston children are Bennett, Hunter, Mary, and Sally; there are ten grandchildren.[39][53]

The video conferencing room at Southern University at Shreveport is named in Johnston's honor; it is located inside Stone Hall, named for the late civil rights activist and former president of the Southern University System, Jesse N. Stone of Shreveport.[54]

DEBRA v. Johnston[edit]

In April 2013, the Kyrgyz Republic's DEBRA filed a claim with the October Regional Court of Bishkek, against several defendants including J. Bennett Johnston, who was the member of the AUB bank board. DEBRA's statement says that although the ex-senator received $175,000 a year, plus share options, "during 2009 and 2010," he attended board meetings only once.[55]


  1. ^ "About CAMD". came.lsu.edu. CAMD. Archived from the original on April 8, 2009. Retrieved August 31, 2011. 
  2. ^ "John Bennett Johnston Sr". Retrieved September 9, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Mother of retiring senator dead at 92". The Advocate. December 2, 1996. Retrieved September 9, 2011. 
  4. ^ "U.S. Congress Votes Database". washingtonpost.com. Washington Post. Retrieved August 31, 2011. 
  5. ^ "Southfield Hall of Fame". southfield-school.org. Archived from the original on December 7, 2013. Retrieved August 15, 2013. 
  6. ^ "C. E. Byrd High School Collection". scripts.lsus.edu. Retrieved August 31, 2011. 
  7. ^ a b c "JOHNSTON, John Bennett Jr., (1932 - )". bioguide.congress.gov. United States Congress. Retrieved August 31, 2011. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ 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. Retrieved September 4, 2011. 
  10. ^ "Ralph Perlman". Baton Rouge Morning Advocate. Retrieved May 31, 2013. 
  11. ^ "MEMBERSHIP IN THE LOUISIANA SENATE 1880 - 2008" (PDF). p. 24. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 20, 2011. Retrieved August 31, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Johnston Outlines Toll Road Proposal," Minden Press-Herald, April 24, 1970, p. 1.
  13. ^ "Harmon Drew Jr., to Head Johnston College Campaign," Minden Press-Herald, p. 1.
  14. ^ "Close Louisiana Race Settled". St. Petersburg Times. December 20, 1971. p. 18-A. Retrieved August 31, 2011. 
  15. ^ a b Press Dispatches (July 28, 1972). "Ellender Dies at 81; Was Dean Of Senate". The Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved September 6, 2011. 
  16. ^ Milburn E. Calhoun; Jeanne Frois (2006). Louisiana Almanac: 2006-2007. Pelican Publishing. p. 542. ISBN 978-1-58980-306-0. Retrieved September 5, 2011. 
  17. ^ 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. 
  18. ^ 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. ,
  19. ^ a b "James Reeder". Shreveport Times. Retrieved April 4, 2012. 
  20. ^ "Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame". cityofwinnfield.com. Archived from the original on July 3, 2009. Retrieved August 22, 2009. 
  21. ^ Shreveport Times, November 9, 1966.
  22. ^ Milburn E. Calhoun; Jeanne Frois (2006). Louisiana Almanac: 2006-2007. Pelican Publishing. p. 544. ISBN 978-1-58980-306-0. Retrieved September 5, 2011. 
  23. ^ "Ouachita-Richland County Louisiana Archives Obituaries.....ROSS, ROBERT MAX September 15, 2009". September 15, 2009. Retrieved September 6, 2011. 
  24. ^ 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. 
  25. ^ Kevin McGill (October 5, 1990). "Republican quits to help Democrat". The Hour. Retrieved September 7, 2011. 
  26. ^ "Johnston Is Endorsed By 8 Republican Senators". The Washington Post. October 4, 1990. Retrieved September 7, 2011. 
  27. ^ "GOP senators shun Duke, endorse Democrat". The Washington Times. October 4, 1990. Retrieved September 7, 2011. 
  28. ^ "Johnston Takes Lead Over Duke in Louisiana". Los Angeles Times. October 7, 1990. Retrieved September 7, 2011. 
  29. ^ "Johnston's anti-busing bill wins bout in the Senate", Minden Press-Herald, September 17, 1981, p. 1.
  30. ^ "U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 102nd Congress - 1st Session". January 12, 1991. Retrieved November 1, 2010. 
  31. ^ "Congressional Record-Senate" (PDF). October 15, 1991. Retrieved November 1, 2010. 
  32. ^ "Congressional Record-Senate" (PDF). October 23, 1987. Retrieved November 1, 2010. 
  33. ^ https://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=104&session=1&vote=00157
  34. ^ "Senator J. Bennett Johnston". Bipartisan Policy Center. Retrieved October 9, 2014. 
  35. ^ "Greenhouse effect and global climate change : hearings before the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, United States Senate, One Hundredth Congress, first session". 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."
  36. ^ "U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 104th Congress - 1st Session". Retrieved November 29, 2010. 
  37. ^ Susan F. Rasky (November 30, 1988). "Mitchell of Maine is chosen to lead Senate Democrats". New York Times. Retrieved August 26, 2011. 
  38. ^ "Lobbying Report". 2010. Retrieved September 3, 2011. 
  39. ^ a b "Senator J. Bennett Johnson". Retrieved September 3, 2011. 
  40. ^ "Steptoe Forms Strategic Alliance with Former Senator J. Bennett Johnston". January 23, 2008. Retrieved September 3, 2011. 
  41. ^ "Former U.S. Senator J. Bennett Johnston Is Elected To Chevron Board Of Directors". January 27, 1997. Retrieved September 4, 2011. 
  42. ^ "Board Of Directors". Retrieved September 4, 2011. 
  43. ^ "J. Bennett Johnston Receives the National Parks Conservation Association Centennial Leadership Award". March 24, 2010. Retrieved September 4, 2011. 
  44. ^ "National Parks Second Century Commission Members". Retrieved September 4, 2011. 
  45. ^ "Advisory Directors". Retrieved September 4, 2011. 
  46. ^ "The Honorable Bennett Johnston". Retrieved June 2, 2012. 
  47. ^ "Focus". Retrieved June 2, 2012. 
  48. ^ "Norman L. Gunn obituary". Baton Rouge Morning Advocate. Retrieved February 17, 2012. 
  49. ^ 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. 
  50. ^ "National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States". Retrieved November 29, 2010. 
  51. ^ "J. Bennett Johnston". Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Libraries. 2002. p. 4. Retrieved November 29, 2010. 
  52. ^ 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. 
  53. ^ 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. Retrieved September 3, 2011. 
  54. ^ "Jesse N. Stone Lecture hall". susla.edu. Archived from the original on July 19, 2011. Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  55. ^ "Kyrgyzstan to sell Zalkar Bank to Russian investors". bne IntelliNews. Retrieved May 1, 2013. 

External links[edit]

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

1972, 1978, 1984, 1990
Succeeded by
Mary Landrieu
New office Chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
Succeeded by
Wendell H. Ford
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
Les AuCoin, Joe Biden, Bill Bradley, Robert Byrd, Tom Daschle, Bill Hefner, Barbara B. Kennelly, George Miller, Tip O'Neill, Paul Tsongas, Tim Wirth
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Elaine S. Edwards
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Louisiana
Served alongside: Russell B. Long, John Breaux
Succeeded by
Mary Landrieu
Preceded by
James A. McClure
Chair of the Senate Energy Committee
Succeeded by
Frank Murkowski