Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., announced Monday that he will not seek re-election in 2014, saying he wants a “quieter time” with his family after a long political career that included stints as governor and President George W. Bush’s agriculture secretary.
The senator, who is 62, said he was retiring from the Senate after one term. He said he and his wife, Stephanie, had decided that the time had come to end a public career that has spanned more than half of his life.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Johanns said he and his wife — a former state legislator — had endured a combined 16 primary and general-election campaigns together. They have held eight offices over the course of 32 years.
“That’s enough,” Johanns said. “We just felt, both Steph and I, that it was time. That’s really what we talked most about. We always said we’d know when it was time. And it was time.”
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Johanns, who began his career as a Democrat, was elected to the Senate in 2008 when Chuck Hagel retired (he is one of the few Republicans to support Hagel for defense secretary) and seemed assured of re-election. He was Nebraska’s governor from 1999 to 2005 and served as agriculture secretary in Bush’s second term.
Johanns faced a health scare during his first year as a senator, undergoing surgery in March 2009 after doctors found a spot on his left lung, the AP reported. No cancer was found, but doctors removed the lower left lobe of his lung. He had been a smoker but quit more than 20 years ago.
His announcement came as a surprise, and he was praised for his collegiality and thoughtfulness in a deeply divided Washington. Johanns was a member of the “Gang of Eight” that tried to negotiate a federal deficit-reduction deal in 2011.
“I am personally grateful for Mike’s leadership in the Senate and all he has done in helping to smooth my transition,” said Nebraska’s new Republican senator, Deb Fischer, who was sworn in just in January. “His rare mix of strong leadership and warm collegiality has earned him the respect and admiration of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle. While I am fortunate to have two more years to serve alongside him, I am sad to see Mike leave the Senate.”
Johanns’ departure in solidly Republican Nebraska leaves an opening for Gov. Dave Heineman, who must leave office in 2015 thanks to term limits. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., has also been mentioned as a possible candidate. In a press conference Monday afternoon, Heineman said he’d consider running.
“The Cornhusker state will look to continue its strong conservative tradition by electing an equally dedicated Republican leader in 2014,” Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told The Washington Post.
Johanns is the fifth senator in recent weeks to announce retirement plans ahead of 2014 elections. The others are Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.; John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va.; Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.