The Long Road Back

The Long Road Back
While U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson and his wife, Barb, visited South Dakota the second week of October, the senator continued to tackle official business as he recovers from a brain hemorrhage last December in Washington, DC.

The visit to their home state allowed the Johnsons the chance to look back on the past year and appreciate the senator's physical progress. At the same time, the couple knew they must look ahead and decide whether the Democratic senator will run for re-election in 2008.

Mrs. Johnson indicated during an interview in early October with the Press & Dakotan that the senator plans – for now – to run for another six-year term.

It's official

Approximately a week later, in a very brief, matter-of-fact statement released to South Dakotans Friday, Oct. 19, Johnson announced his future intentions.

The senator plans to seek re-election in 2008. A formal announcement will follow sometime next year, as has been Johnson's practice in the past.

"I was looking forward to asking South Dakotans to allow me to serve them for another term prior to my illness last December. Since then, I have never once lost my desire to continue serving South Dakota, but I needed time to recover and regain my health in order to determine whether I could do the job and best serve our state.

"After months of rehabilitation and recovery, more than a month on the job in Washington and after my recent trips back to South Dakota it is clear, to my family, my doctors, and me that I am able to do the hard work required of a United States senator. I have said before that, I wanted to take this second chance at life and focus even harder on being the best advocate I can for the people of South Dakota," Johnson said in a statement released by his campaign office.�"Today (Oct. 19) I am asking South Dakotans to give me the chance to give back to them by�announcing that I will run for�re-election in 2008."

A number of Republicans within the state had been awaiting Sen. Johnson's re-election plans. However, his decision carries intense interest far beyond the borders of South Dakota. Johnson represents the balance of power currently held by the Democrats. That scenario has thrust South Dakota into the national and international spotlight.

Stay the course

"Day by day, we inch ahead. It's a big step forward. We plan to stay the course," Mrs. Johnson said. "I don't know anything specific, just he is certainly planning on running. The only thing would be if something unexpected popped up."

The Johnson campaign has continued raising donations in anticipation of another run. And many observers think the late-August welcome home rally in Sioux Falls and the current swing through the state are intended to show the senator has the stamina to run a campaign and continue serving in office.

Mrs. Johnson said her husband's condition continues to improve.

"I think everything is going as anticipated," she said. "Tim's speech is strong, his ability to do things is stronger. It's just things moving in the right direction."

A big boost

Mrs. Johnson said she was overwhelmed by the 1,000 people attending last August's welcome-home program at the Sioux Falls Convention Center. The audience included more than 100 residents of the Johnsons' hometown of Vermillion.

"It's hard to put that into words, but it was so positive for Tim – to see that acceptance and that love of people still with him," Mrs. Johnson said.

The welcome home in Sioux Falls provided the start of many "firsts" for the Johnson family, she said.

"It's a day that just gets better over time," she said. "That day, we were all so tense and nervous about how it was going to go. It's one of those things that you keep looking back on, and think about all of our friends, especially from Vermillion. They made a much longer trek than a lot of folks, but we had people who came from all over the state."

The welcome-home audience included ABC News reporter Bob Woodruff, who had suffered traumatic brain injuries while covering stories in Iraq. Woodruff was covering the Sioux Falls event as the final part of his Nightline report on Sen. Johnson that aired that night.

The segment drew criticism from those who felt the senator should have granted his first interview to South Dakota. However, Mrs. Johnson said they chose Woodruff because of his unique perspective in recovering from brain injuries.

"Bob Woodruff is the only person we know who has gone through something similar, not only with the brain injury but having to do so in such a public format. We have so much in common," she said.


The Johnsons have marked another personal milestone by meeting their newly-adopted Ethiopian grandchildren, Trualem and Peneal. The Johnsons met the youngsters while visiting their son and daughter-in-law, Brendan and Jana (Beddow) Johnson, during the August visit to Sioux Falls.

Another milestone came the first week of September, when Sen. Johnson returned to his office and to the Senate floor.

While the Johnsons expected South Dakota media coverage of the senator's return to the Senate, Mrs. Johnson said they were overwhelmed by the national media frenzy.

A moving reception

Mrs. Johnson thought the senator's return would be so low-key that they brought some close friends along to share the moment. U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) was scheduled to give welcome-home remarks on the Senate floor, which the Johnsons thought would be heard by a small gathering.

"We never expected to see 80 members of the United States Senate come in and take their seats on the Senate floor. That almost never happens. It's unheard of," Mrs. Johnson said.

The Johnson family's faith has been strengthened during the past year. The future, like the recent past, remains filled with unknowns, she said.

"You learn you have to put your trust with God and His plan," she said.

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