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Johnson prioritizes ending shutdown, state’s needs

Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., speaks about his first weeks in office in Sioux Falls on Saturday, Jan. 19, during the South Dakota Corn Growers Association's annual meeting. Ellen Bardash / Forum News Service

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Despite being a member of the first congressional freshman class to be sworn in during a government shutdown, South Dakota’s newest congressman said things are running more smoothly than he expected.

Rep. Dusty Johnson told Forum News Service on Saturday, Jan. 19, that’s been in large part thanks to his staff of people with experience in both South Dakota and Washington. He also said he started the session with plans to be a South Dakota-first representative, hoping to serve on committees that address issues of particular importance to the state, with the House Agriculture Committee being his first choice.

“I would like to be on another committee that is critically important in South Dakota, whether that’s transportation or the Education and Labor Committee,” Johnson said. “It’s because those issues are so critically important. Workforce and education are going to be critical for South Dakota to continue to make economic strides.”

Johnson said he’s interested in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee because transportation is a priority across the country, not just in South Dakota.

“We need to have good roads, good bridges,” Johnson said. “We want to make sure that the government takes care of its business in that arena, which puts the private sector in a position where they can make investments on top of that infrastructure that will create more and better jobs.”

Since the 116th Congress convened on Jan. 3, Johnson has sponsored his first bill. Known as the Custer County Airport Conveyance Act, the bill proposes allocating federal land to Custer County, giving the county airport ownership of the land on which it operates.

The bill was introduced in the House on Jan. 9 and was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources the same day.

While in most respects he said he’s been able to hit the ground running, one obstacle Johnson said he hadn’t expected in Washington was to see the government shutdown continue without Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, proposing a counteroffer to President Trump’s proposed border wall funding.

“I know what the president has offered is not acceptable to her, but I expected that she would provide a counteroffer,” Johnson said. “At least in South Dakota, that’s how you make a deal. The fact that she has been unwilling to provide a counteroffer means that I don’t quite understand how this ends, and it does have to end. We need to reopen our government.”

Johnson said he’s made a point to talk to someone, whether they be from the White House, a Republican or a Democrat, on a daily basis about trying to find the common ground to potentially end the shutdown.

He also said he’s filed a letter with the clerk of the House to have his pay withheld while the government shutdown remains in effect.

“I’m not going to get treated any better than other federal employees, so until they have some certainty about how this is resolved, I won’t have that certainty either,” he said.

After about four years as vice president of consulting at Vantage Point Solutions in Mitchell, Johnson said that being in Washington while his family remains in Mitchell has not been a difficult transition, as the family got used to him being in Pierre for a significant amount of time during his 12 years working in state government.

“This is important work that’s worth doing,” Johnson said, “and that kind of service is never going to come without some cost.”

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