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What Is The Health Status Of Sen. Tim Johnson?

From South Dakota’s Rapid City Journal:

South Dakota deserves to hear directly from Johnson

By the Journal Editorial Board

Aug 5, 2007

Ever since South Dakota’s senior senator, Sen. Tim Johnson, was stricken with a brain hemorrhage in December of 2006, he has been recovering in near total seclusion from the press, the public and, most importantly, from his constituency.

The shield of privacy that Johnson’s family, friends and congressional staff erected around him in those early days, weeks and months was certainly understandable.

Speculating on Johnson’s political future as he fought for his life was offensive to many, and rightfully so.

But more than seven months have passed since South Dakota has had a full contingent in Congress, and many now suggest that it may be time for more transparency in the senator’s recovery and in his timetable for a return to Congress.

We agree, and we urge the senator to communicate directly with the media and the people of South Dakota about those matters. Several intermediaries, including Johnson’s wife, Barbara, and former Sen. Tom Daschle, have offered glimpses into his recovery.

But there have been no firm answers about how much longer South Dakota can expect to be without one-third of its voice in Washington, D.C.

The truth is that Sen. Johnson is an elected official, not a private citizen, and his election to that office comes with responsibilities to the public he serves. The people of South Dakota deserve to hear from Sen. Johnson – in person.

It’s time to offer an open and honest view of where he stands, health-wise, to the public that elected him.

At this point, to do any less might appear to be more about protecting a political seat in the Senate than about protecting his health or privacy.

Like people everywhere, the Rapid City Journal Editorial Board wishes Sen. Johnson a full and complete recovery from the devastating effects of a brain hemorrhage.

Barring that, we wish him a speedy return to public life, with whatever physical challenges or limitations his illness produced.

And from Roll Call, via the Rothenberg Political Report:

And the Senate Race Is On in South Dakota

By Stuart Rothenberg
August 6, 2007

… Last week, Roll Call reported that [South Dakota’s John] Ensign and the GOP were “no longer putting off mounting an aggressive campaign to unseat Sen. Tim Johnson.”

That announcement brought an unnecessary overreaction from Fisher, who called Ensign’s comments “a classless attack by a desperate chairman.”

“We don’t fear John Ensign and the national Republican hit men,” said Fisher, who apparently was taught that there is no need to use a match when a flamethrower is available.

“Classless.” “Desperate.” “Hit men.” My, my. I’m not sure which statement applies best: The lady doth protest too much, methinks, or, people who live in glass houses … .

Anyway, let’s all take a deep breath and start over.

I, too, have been concerned about the fact that we haven’t heard directly from Sen. Johnson himself.

We all know the Senator’s world changed on Dec. 13, 2006, when an aneurysm in his brain because of a congenital condition put his life, to say nothing of his political future, at risk. The next day, Johnson underwent brain surgery at The George Washington University Hospital in the nation’s capital.

Slowly, the two-term Democrat is trying to change his life back to something resembling what it was. But the process has been difficult.

The Senator’s family and staff never sugar-coated Johnson’s prospects, but they also allowed precious little information out about his condition. Starting in March, we started to see photographs of the Senator, and, increasingly, his office has released statements from him.

The most misleading information to come out of the whole story probably came from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who, the day after surgery was performed on Johnson, said he had seen his colleague and “he looked great.”

“Mr. Reid declined to say whether he believed Mr. Johnson looked well enough to be able to return to the Senate, saying that anything he said would only raise more questions among reporters. ‘To me,’ [Reid] said, ‘he looked very good,’” according to a New York Times piece.

We now know the idea that Johnson might have looked well enough to return to the Senate some 24 hours after surgery was ridiculous. And while the South Dakota Democrat may have looked “great” to Reid, it’s hard to believe that most people would have described Johnson that way, since he apparently needed a full-time ventilator, had significant damage to the right side of his body and was in critical condition for weeks after the surgery

Everything is relative, of course, and I’m not suggesting that Reid intended to be misleading. But it is clear that Johnson was not in great shape then. In fact, some close to Johnson were less than happy at Reid’s overly optimistic statements, believing they didn’t accurately reflect Johnson’s state at that time.

In mid-March, Johnson’s office released four photographs of the Senator. In a Rapid City Journal piece that included one of the photographs, staff writer Bill Harlan noted that “Johnson has not spoken to reporters” and that the Senator was recovering “at an undisclosed health-care facility” because “the family wanted Johnson to have privacy.”

Two of the photographs showed Johnson with a newspaper (one with his wife). Two others showed him outside with his wife and daughter.

Given the lack of contact between the Senator and reporters, the photographs easily could have been interpreted as an effort by his family to show that things were returning to normal for him. But, in fact, things were still a long way from normal for Johnson.

The heavily staged shots made it easy to disguise the fact that his right side continued to be very weak and his speaking skills were a far cry from what they had been before the aneurysm. Johnson, of course, was under no obligation to call attention to his physical limitations at that time.

On May 16, Johnson’s office posted a photograph of him standing with a physical therapist that presented a fuller picture of his condition.

Democrats close to the Senator told me in June that they wanted to wait until Johnson’s speech is virtually back to normal before re-introducing him to South Dakota voters and the national media. Their fear is that, while his cognitive abilities are back, a verbal stumble or two by the Senator would create a buzz about his abilities and create a media frenzy

Johnson ought not get a free pass this election anymore than any other Member of Congress who has had great personal misfortune should. The question now, as it should be next year, is whether Tim Johnson can do the job and whether he is representing his constituents effectively and as they wish.

Johnson can do part of his job from his home in Virginia but not all of it. I’m told he can get around and that his speaking is improving. He needs to return to public life if he is physically able to do so. And if he isn’t, his office needs to explain, and show, why he isn’t…

From the DNC’s Associated Press:

Ailing Senator Returning Home to S Dakota

By MARY CLARE JALONICK
Tuesday, August 7, 2007

WASHINGTON — Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson is returning to his home state of South Dakota for the first time since suffering a life-threatening brain hemorrhage eight months ago.

The senator has been recovering at hospitals and in his Fairfax, Va. home and has not appeared in public since he fell ill. He will travel to South Dakota this month and is expected to return to the Senate in September. Johnson has been undergoing speech therapy and is expected to use a scooter to get around in the Capitol.

In a statement released Tuesday by his office, Johnson said his doctors have cleared him for travel.

"I know my return has taken longer than some people have liked — count me among them," he said in the statement. "But I learned early on in this journey the importance and necessity of relying on the advice and counsel of those doctors, nurses and therapists without whom, my return would have been impossible."

Johnson, 60, was rushed from his Senate office to George Washington University Hospital after becoming disoriented on a conference call with reporters in December. He underwent emergency surgery for arteriovenous malformation, a condition that causes arteries and veins in the brain to grow abnormally large, become tangled and sometimes burst.

He was stricken a month after elections that gave the Democrats a one-seat majority in the Senate, and his ailment raised the possibility that, if he were incapacitated, South Dakota’s GOP governor would appoint a Republican successor and return the Senate to GOP control.

Johnson is up for re-election next year but has not indicated whether he will run. Senate colleagues have held multiple fundraisers for him, raising $1.3 million for him by the end of June

From The Hill:

Daschle lashes out at GOP for zeroing in on Johnson

By Aaron Blake
August 09, 2007

Calling national Republicans “sad” and “desperate,” former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) decried their pledge to begin pursuing an aggressive campaign against his ill former South Dakota Senate colleague, Sen. Tim Johnson (D).

In an e-mail to supporters issued by Johnson’s campaign committee, Daschle criticizes National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) for saying he would push forward with an effort to defeat Johnson in 2008.

Johnson suffered a life-threatening brain hemorrhage in December and has yet to return to the Senate or begin campaigning, but fellow Democratic senators have helped him raise more than $1.2 million this year for his reelection bid.

In his e-mail, Daschle asks supporters to send Ensign e-mails demanding that he “stop the attacks.”

Tim’s focus should be on his recovery to serve the people of South Dakota, not fending off classless political attacks from national Republicans,” Daschle wrote. “That means we’re not going to sit back and wait for the right-wing slime machine to attack Tim Johnson. We have to fight back.” …

Is Mr. Daschle "advising" Tim Johnson’s staff? Is he serving as an interim Senator?

Mr. Daschle has said in interviews that Johnson is speaking "more softly and slowly than before, but mentally he is as sharp as ever."

If so, why has Mr. Johnson held no press conferences? Why are all statements, even those on the Senator’s website, read by the press secretary? Are the Democrats afraid to let Mr. Johnson be heard?

And if Johnson is strong enough to return to his Senate duties full time, why should he be treated with kid gloves as far as his upcoming re-election campaigning is concerned?

But just for fun try a simple thought experiment here.

If Senator Johnson were a Republican and the Governor of South Dakota a Democrat would our watchdog media allow his condition to be a secret?

Of course not.

An incapacitated Republican would have been hounded from office and replaced with a lockstep Democrat before you could say "Honest Leadership, Open Government."

(All of the photos of Senator Johnson are from his website.)

This article was posted by Steve on Friday, August 10th, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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