Johnson, Cultra make post-politics plans
Updated 7:40 p.m. Monday.
CHAMPAIGN — When his retirement from Congress becomes official next month, Tim Johnson plans to affiliate with the law firm of Frederick W. Nessler of Springfield, and to teach part-time at Illinois State University.
Johnson, an Urbana Republican who is retiring after six terms in Congress, made his announcement Monday at a reception for both him and state Sen. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, who is retiring after 10 years in the Illinois General Assembly. The reception was sponsored by the Active Senior Republicans of Champaign County.
"It kind of marries both things that I want to do," said Johnson, 66. "One, I don't want my brain to be inactive, so teaching will be a tremendous opportunity for me to stay involved in current activities and to interface with young people and to pass along whatever I might be able to pass on to them. The other aspect is I've kind of built a career on solving people's problems, constituent problems and otherwise."
The Nessler firm, he said, "really replicates those characteristics. They're problem-solvers. They do mostly injury work, but they also deal with Social Security disability, workers' compensation, plus general practice."
The firm has offices in Springfield, Champaign, Decatur, Rockford and Lincoln. Johnson said he would spend most of his time in the Champaign office.
"And I want constituents to know that they'll have some kind of a place where they can continue to communicate with me," he said. "People will have problems that will carry over, that in some cases have nothing to do with the law practice. They can continue to communicate with me there."
Johnson said he wanted to be an "ombudsman of sorts for the firm, where I can either direct people to the appropriate government agency or also talk to them as a lawyer about a particular problem. In terms of my active practice, that will be defined. I have to get my license renewed first, but I will do that relatively shortly."
He also said he would not work for the firm as a lobbyist.
"I will not lobby in Springfield or Washington or locally at all, period, not only for 10 years but for the rest of my life," Johnson pledged.
Both Nessler and his firm have been fairly active in Illinois politics, making nearly $60,000 in campaign contributions since 1997, with most of them going to the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association. But Nessler also gave more than $20,000 to the campaign of disgraced ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, including sponsoring a 2004 fundraiser for the Chicago Democrat.
Johnson said Monday that he also will teach a weekly course at ISU titled "Congress and War." In the upcoming semester, Johnson said, the course will meet only in March, April and May. Beyond that, he said, he'll teach full-semester courses.
"First and foremost, I'm going to refocus my life on my family," said Johnson, who announced his intention to retire shortly after winning the Republican primary election in the new 13th Congressional District. "But I don't intend to retire from life. That's why the teaching and the law practice will fit in well with what I'm going to do."
As for the ongoing budget and tax issues in Washington, Johnson said, he's "in a bit of a holding pattern" for now and won't go back to the Capitol until later this week.
He said he'll "almost certainly" have to be in Washington next week.
"We're not scheduled to be, but we will," he said. "It's a good sign that (President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner) are talking, but it's not a good sign that they appear to be dug in."
Cultra, who served eight years in the Illinois House and two years in the Senate, said he will stay in Onarga and work at his family's nursery business when his legislative term ends on Jan. 8.
In a month or so, he said, he'll be grafting juniper, blue spruce and other plants.
"I'm looking forward to doing some of that again," he said. "I've really missed it. I even wake up at night now, thinking about how much I've missed working with plants and being out in the field."