Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series on the candidates for U.S. House in 2018.
Dusty Johnson is a past member of South Dakota’s Public Utilities Commission and a candidate for the Republican nomination for South Dakota’s one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018.
Why he’s running: “This is a job interview, right? It’s fun,” Johnson said. He recalled growing up in a working-class family of seven from Pierre and Fort Pierre.
“Even at a young age I figured out good jobs can make a difference for a family,” he said. “The reality is what most people want is the opportunity to earn a living.”
Johnson said even the Republicans in Congress don’t understand all the ways Washington, D.C., makes it harder to create jobs. “I’m not sure they understand what I’m talking about,” he said.
Johnson said a thread through his professional history has been working on infrastructure projects. His first job after college was with a U.S. Department of Agriculture program. He focused on infrastructure for then-Gov. Mike Rounds and next at the Public Utilities Commission, after he won a six-year term to the regulatory agency in 2004.
Johnson won election to a second term in 2010. He instead accepted an offer from Gov.-elect Dennis Daugaard to be chief of staff “over a couple of burritos at the governor’s favorite restaurant, Taco John’s.”
After Daugaard won re-election in 2014, Johnson stepped down and took a job as vice president at Vantage Point Solutions in Mitchell. The company specializes in technology for rural telecommunication businesses.
“Frankly,” Johnson said about all of those jobs, “they’re a good fit for South Dakota.”
How he’s organized his campaign: He announced his candidacy for the U.S. House nomination Nov. 15, 2016. Johnson said his private-sector position means he must take a day of leave to campaign during the workweek.
“It’s really hard,” he said. “It’s a good reminder that’s what real people’s lives are like.”
For now vacation days are enough. He plans to take a leave of absence eventually. He and his wife, Jacquelyn, and the older two of their three sons work events on weekends. He said they make those a family day. “It buys down the guilt,” he said.
Because he’s been through two statewide campaigns and worked at the Mitchell office for Republicans in 2002, Johnson isn’t surprised much this time. He said some expect the U.S. House primary would turn negative. “I don’t think it will,” he said.
Johnson has his eye on the U.S. House committees for agriculture and transportation. He said Congress at this point doesn’t seem ready to get big things done. To Johnson, that means South Dakota’s person in the 435-member House needs to be persistent and know how to accomplish what he describes as “the blocking and tackling bills important to South Dakota.”
He said South Dakota needs someone who is ready when Congress is ready to accomplish something larger. “I’ve got the political courage that’s going to be required to make tough decisions,” he said.
Johnson said a mix of selflessness and selfishness is required. “A great majority of my motivation to be in public service is selflessness,” he said.
How he’s raising money: Johnson said fundraising has been “really good.”
“We’re on pace to pass what nobody has been able to do in a South Dakota primary without an incumbent,” he said, referring to the mark of $400,000 plus set by Blake Curd in a 2010 run for the U.S. House seat.
The most-frequent contribution has been less than $100, according to Johnson. He said the money is flowing at a pace that makes his candidacy viable and competitive, and gives him a chance to win the nomination. “It’s not the focus of the campaign,” he said.
How he greets people: Johnson said he’s handed out more than 60,000 mint candies with his “Dusty” logo. At the end of the interview, he said: “I need to get back to work.” He turned back to add, “There are a few cold sweats at night, but mostly it’s a lot of fun.”