December 18, 2006
South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson's prognosis seems to have improved somewhat since he underwent emergency brain surgery, but the long-term outlook for recovery is still very much in doubt. He happens to be from my home town of Vermillion, and barely won reelection in 2002 over John Thune, who went on to defeat Sen. Tom Daschle in 2004. The margin in the 2002 election may have been decided by the newly built bridge over the Missouri River , which Johnson pushed; see Nov. 6, 2002 (scroll down). See Washington Post. There is a precedent in South Dakota for an incapacitated senator holding on to his seat for years -- Sen. Karl Mundt (R) suffered a stroke in November 1969, and remained in office until the end of his term in January 1973, even though he did not cast a single vote during that three-year period.
Whatever happens to Sen. Johnson, and whatever happens in the U.S. Senate as a result of his illness, I hope all Americans who want what's best for the country say a prayer for him. He's a good guy, and a vital (if low-key) moderate voice in the Democratic Party.
In one of the closest House races this fall, it has finally been declared that Rep. Henry Bonilla has lost his seat. That makes a net loss of 30 seats for the Republicans. [Bonilla's district lies along the Texaxo-Mexico border, and the crackdown on illegal crossings cost him many votes.] Robert Novak [cites the Bonilla example to show] that immigration politics "are killing" the Republican Party. (Hat tip to Michael Oliver.) Indeed, like Jerry Kilgore in the 2005 gubernatorial campaign, many Republican candidates use immigration as a divisive "wedge" issue without making any serious policy proposals on how to solve the problem. If the Republican Party could only take the risk of standing up for its basic principles of equality before the law, fair play, and free market economics -- as opposed to compromising on values and rationalizing widespread cheating in hopes of attracting just a few more votes -- they just might regain their credibility among centrist voters once again.