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Bert Johnson Running For Congress: State Sen. Talks U.S. House Bid, Competition With John Conyers

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State Sen. Bert Johnson is one of many Democratic contenders for the newly redrawn 13th U.S. House district seat. He will face 24-term incumbent Rep. John Conyers.
State Sen. Bert Johnson is one of many Democratic contenders for the newly redrawn 13th U.S. House district seat. He will face 24-term incumbent Rep. John Conyers.

State Sen. Bert Johnson became the first candidate to officially file in the race for Michigan's newly redrawn 13th U.S. congressional district last week. His bid for the U.S. House seat is being opposed by a broad field of Democrats including the current 14th district U.S. Rep. John Conyers, Jr., the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, who is currently serving his 24th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Also running are state Sen. Glenn Anderson from Westland, state Rep. Shanelle Jackson from Detroit, Wayne-Westland school board member John Goci, Detroit-based attorney Godfrey Dillard and Detroit businessman Thamar Johnson.

Johnson, a Democrat from Highland Park, is currently serving his first term in the state Senate after spending two terms in the state house. He currently sits on the Senate's Appropriations Committee and has been active with the Financial and Academic Reinvestment Commission, a Highland Park-based coalition which opposes emergency managers. He also blogs for HuffPost.

The Huffington Post recently spoke with Johnson about his campaign.

Why are you running?

I think we have the vision and the foresight in understanding what needs to be done. All of that is in the context or backdrop in what we are not getting from our representative in Washington today. I think the body of work we have produced portends that we can do it just as effectively.

Why not run for state Senate again?

I think it goes back to the fact I've been the most successful legislator in the past four, five, six years in the Senate. Bills we've passed are [based on] ideas that have a real nexus about what's happening or not happening in the federal government. No one was taking up the cause. To say [Conyers has] been around along time, that's not enough.

People need to know they what they are getting from their representative in Washington. Congressman Conyers doesn't live in the 13th congressional district. I do. The folks know me. I have a great relationship with them. While I respect his tenure, I have to respectfully disagree that his leadership has worked.

The 13th district includes suburban voters and city voters. What makes you think this diverse group will support you?

I've done it in the past. Today I represent nine cities in Michigan: the city of Detroit is one, the five Grosse Pointes, Hamtramck, Highland Park and Harper Woods. Diversity reigns supreme in my district. The same diversity will exist in the new district. I'm used to that. I think it's going to be the kind of partnership that people will find inviting when we show up on their doorstep and present to them.

What makes you think you can beat Conyers?

Because, frankly, I think citizens have awakened to the fact that he's extremely out of touch [in terms of] delivering results. The standard needs to be the people and their needs, when you consider that it's clear.

We will engage everyone: white and black, affluent and not affluent, veterans, seniors, people in college, people in high school. This will be a great district to galvanize around similar politics.

Look at the 12 cities that comprise the new district. The policies and needs remain the same. There is a similarity between what is necessary to turn this district around. I'm glad to be in a situation to represent it. I understand the needs of the people in this district, and it will be easy to galvanize around like-minded policies and politics.

Where are you drawing support?

Citizen community groups. Organizations that have residents in them. I'm always largely considered a grassroots candidate. That is certainly where we'll derived our strength in the next 90 days of people-driven efforts.

Do you have or expect any endorsements?

Typically to get an endorsement you have to go through an endorsement screening. I've only been through one screen. Any organization offering an endorsement [at this point] has done so without screening the individual running. It says a lot about the efficacy and unethical nature of what endorsements stand for these days. [About] 20 organizations have endorsed Conyers because that's the way they've decided to do it.

Is there anything in particular that you would handle differently than Rep. Conyers?

For starters we can focus on what it is that citizens actually need out of Washington and namely that's more foreclosure reform, the creation of a regional mass transit system better support and funding for education and educational opportunities. It would be the absolute creation of an environment that favors job growth and opportunities -- making the 13th congressional district ground zero for the creation of small business incubation and development.

To see our citizens are protected, both immigrants and [others] who are depending on homeland security, [so that] the system is working for citizens rather than against them. [Conyers has] chosen to be a congressman who spends a lot of time out of the district and around the country on other people's projects, rather than focusing on our own.

How has your involvement in FARC affected your decision to run?

It didn't affect my decision to run. We've done some disinvestment survey work and are ready to release it. There is so much more than I once thought -- seeing what the state has extracted out of the city. We'll make that report available.

It didn't affect me as a catalyst, [but] it really confirmed why I'm running. I believe government in a lot of ways has turned a blind eye to people who need it the most. I'm sincere enough [to believe] that we can do something better.

What do you want people to know about your accomplishments in the state Senate?

I want them to know I'm a champion on educational reform -- for the fairness of the educational system. I'm getting ready to usher roughly $1 billion for regional transportation -- bus rapid transit.

Issues of immediate concern [that] I've been a champion on [are] the Save the Dream package (saving the dream of home ownership), businesss investment, economic development. I was part of making sure we ushered in the motion picture industry. I've been a champion on utility shutoffs -- seeing that people in the winter time don't experience that tragedy -- and winning on most of them.

Do you think the highly partisan nature of Michigan politics has prepared you for what you might face in Washington?

The state legislatures are microcosms of the U.S. Congress. I've dealt with Republicans and party activists and even Democrats who you might say were not so loyal. You find a way to deal with colleagues, no matter which side they're on.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article mistakenly identified some of the cities comprising the new 13th congressional district. We regret the error.

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Candidates hurry to make their run official by May 15 filing deadline

 
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