TOLEDO — Speaking at a town hall meeting in the Cumberland County seat of Toledo, retiring U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, said he has talked to "several education institutions" about teaching once he leaves Congress next January.
"I'm getting more and more interested in the possibility of teaching. I've talked to several universities, several have sought me out, and it's getting to be a more attractive option for me," Johnson said Monday. "Just doing some teaching and maybe doing some board work for a university, allowing me to feed my brain."
One of the reasons, he said, is his role in founding and now serving as co-chairman of the House Center Aisle Caucus, which has attempted to return civility and bipartisan cooperation to Congress.
Only about a dozen people attended Johnson's town meeting at the Toledo Village Hall on Monday evening. Another town hall is scheduled for noon today at the Arcola City Hall.
Within six weeks, Johnson said, he plans to do a joint town meeting in Connecticut with U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, a Democrat who attended a town meeting with Johnson in central Illinois last year.
"The whole purpose of that is to show people that you can cooperate, compromise and act civilly with one another at a time when the world is full of food fights," he said. "Overall I have many, many favorable feelings about my service in Congress. But never in my political life, 44 years, have I seen people as angry as they are now, or so disillusioned. We have become such a polarized nation and a polarized Congress that it is beyond comprehension."
He blamed the polarization in Congress on the 24-hour news cycle and on political redistricting.
"It's no story when I'm kind or decent to somebody or they're kind or decent to me," he said. "The story is when you call somebody a communist or a fascist or whatever the case may be. That's what gets you on CNN. The 24-hour cable news outlets are not our friend when it comes to civility in the process.
"The other enemy we have is redistricting because redistricting makes overwhelmingly Democratic districts, overwhelmingly Republican districts, and so the way you get nominated is by appealing to the extreme. So if you're a Democrat in San Francisco or a Republican in South Carolina, you can be as inflammatory as you want and it will get you votes. Once you get past the primary, there's no election anyway."
Regarding the selection of his replacement in the 13th Congressional District this fall, Johnson said he still may contact GOP county chairmen to offer them advice. They're expected to choose a candidate later this month.
"I haven't chosen anybody yet, but if I determine that one person is best qualified for the job, I'm going to have no hesitation to share that with the county chairmen. Not dictatorally, just to tell them what my input is and who I think is most electable, and who I think would be a good congressperson," he said.
Johnson expanded on last week's comments that appeared to derail the candidacy of his former chief of staff Jerry Clarke, an Urbana Republican who once appeared to be the leading candidate for the nomination.
He said he is "not inclined to support somebody" who has the appearance of an advantage.
"I just thought that the appearance that some kind of a deal was made here is sufficient that the inside the Beltway people, ... and that includes former staff, are not the ideal choices," Johnson said. "Frankly I suppose you could include that to include members of Congress' staff, including Mr. Davis from Taylorville," Johnson said of Rodney Davis, an aide to U.S. Rep. John Shimkus. "Since he's not on my staff, I'm not sure it would have the same appearance. But I think the issue is still the same in people's minds and that is 'the inside baseball people,' there's just an appearance that there was just something untoward when in fact there wasn't.
"I think that would hurt their candidacy and kind of taint the election to some extent. I can't control what the county chairmen do, but I can only say that those kinds of things are not the kind of message I want to send. I've tried to keep this thing straight from the beginning."
Johnson said that former Urbana resident and Miss America Erika Harold, who also has entered the race for the nomination, "is a first-class lady," but that he is concerned "that she is now living in Chicago and I would want to make sure that people knew she was a true local person.
"They're all good people. But they've all got pluses and minuses. I'm like the county chairmen. I'm going to hear them all out."