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Democrats’ Senate Majority Endangered

Posted on Dec 13, 2006
Tim Johnson

South Dakota’s Sen. Tim Johnson

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) appears to have suffered a stroke and remains under evaluation at George Washington University Hospital.  Should Johnson have to resign because of illness, the governor of South Dakota, a Republican, could appoint a replacement from his own party, taking away the Democrats’ majority in the Senate and giving Vice President Dick Cheney the tie-breaking vote.

It’s possible that Johnson could become incapacitated but refuse to resign.


Should the 59-year-old Johnson’s health problem be serious enough to force him to resign from the Senate, according to the South Dakota secretary of state, the governor of South Dakota may appoint a replacement. The appointment would last until the next general election—in this case, 2008. Johnson’s term happens to expire in 2008.

The 17th amendment of the U.S. Constitution says state legislatures can give their governors the power to appoint someone else to take over, but only in the case of “vacancies.”

What’s a vacancy? Clearly death or resignation, but history suggests not much else. Serious illness doesn’t count.

The Senate historian’s office cites several examples of a senator being incapacitated for years and remaining in office.

Most recently, Sen. Karl Mundt (ironically, also from South Dakota) suffered a stroke in 1969 and was incapacitated, but he refused to step down. He remained in office until January 1973 when his term expired. Mundt was pressured repeatedly to step down during his illness, but he demanded that the governor promise to appoint his wife. The governor refused, and Mundt remained in office.

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By Common Sense, December 14, 2006 at 2:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Love your headline “Democrats’ Senate Majority Endangered”, not “Best Wishes for a Speedy Recovery” or even “Sen. Johnson Suffers a Stroke”.  Liberal compassion at its finest.

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By Bob, December 14, 2006 at 12:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As usual, the underhanded Republicans will come out smelling like a rose.  How many more wars can they get us into and how much more loss of our civil rights, if this one Democrat dies or cannot finish his term?  Pray for the man and our country as if all our lives depended on it!

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By John Earl, December 14, 2006 at 12:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Is Leiberman counted as a dem?

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By David Datz, December 14, 2006 at 9:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I understand the political implications should Sen. Johnson have to resign.  But I, for one, am not comfortable with this discussion. Isn’t the man’s health the most important thing right now?

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By DennisD, December 14, 2006 at 8:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I hope people are concerned about Tim Johnson as an individual and not what his health problem does or doesn’t do to the “balance of power” in the Senate. When the balance of power shifts from the corporate interests to the people in this country you’ll have a real story. In the meantime let’s wish Mr. Johnson a full and speedy recovery.

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By Antonio Ingles, December 14, 2006 at 6:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You Americans are weird!!!

Here in Portugal, if someone die while elected, the party who choosed him in first place gets to indicate a substitute.

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By CK, December 14, 2006 at 5:43 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Should the Senator die, I wonder how long until the tinfoil hat crowd starts whispering about the ‘assassination’ of Tim Johnson and the ‘neocon plot to retake the Senate’ by poisoning him.

Of course, some in the Christian Right will see it as divine intervention and claim it was god’s will to give the Senate back to the republicans.

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By Noonan, December 13, 2006 at 9:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Worst case scenario, where Sen Johnson needs to retire from the Senate: no sooner than 80 days and no later than 90 days after the Governor would replace him, South Dakota state law requires a special election to be held. The replacement does not automatically serve out the remainder of the term.

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By Anthony Bono, December 13, 2006 at 5:37 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

C’mon Trith Dig.  Your smarter than most.  See this for what it is, before it’s too late.  Please.

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By Madison Guy, December 13, 2006 at 5:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Republicans shouldn’t be too quick to celebrate regaining control: Jane Brody had an excellent column this week on strokes—including a good mnemonic for symptoms—pointing out that with strokes, time is of the essence. Sen. Johnson seems to have been rushed to the hospital very quickly.

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By melvin mcbee, December 13, 2006 at 5:02 pm Link to this comment
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The people of south dakota elected a democrat. i think he should not resign because a likely republican appoint would disenfranchise the electorate who chose a democrat for this job.

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By James, December 13, 2006 at 4:22 pm Link to this comment
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This is becoming absolutely hilarious.

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