U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson doesn't get to choose his Democratic opponent in next year's general election. But if he did, it would be former state Rep. Jay Hoffman.
Hoffman, a Collinsville Democrat, announced Thursday that he is looking into running in the new 13th Congressional District and would make his decision by the end of September. Already in the race is Bloomington physician David Gill, whom Johnson has already defeated three times when the two faced off in the old 15th Congressional District.
Hoffman's close association with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was used against him last year in his unsuccessful campaign for re-election against Republican Dwight Kay of Edwardsville. Hoffman also came in for criticism earlier this year when, as a lame-duck legislator, he voted for a 67 percent state income tax increase in the closing days of the old 96th General Assembly.
"I guess given the fact that there's a long history of votes that I would say are safely out of the mainstream of the people of this district, for example nearly doubling the income tax in a lame duck session of the Legislature, I'd rather run against somebody who's been a part of the problem," Johnson said Friday.
Johnson pledged that he "won't run a negative campaign in any way against either one of them."
On other issues Johnson said:
— He will attend President Obama's speech on jobs and the economy scheduled for a joint session of Congress on Thursday night. One of Johnson's Illinois colleagues, Rep. Joe Walsh, R-McHenry, announced earlier this week that he will skip the speech. The freshman congressman was backed by the tea party in the 2010 election.
"My gosh, what could be a worse message, to be sending out press releases that I'm not going to the president's speech?" responded Johnson.
— He hopes Obama offers a realistic jobs program. "I hope we don't have a repeat of the 2009 stimulus debacle where we spent 90-some percent of the stimulus dollars for what I believe were nonjob-creative activities," Johnson said. "I hope the president comes to us and talks about roads and bridges and culverts, especially things to put people to work.
"I'll tell you what I'm not going to do. I'm not going to sit on the sidelines and bash the president. I may not agree with everything he's set forth, but I think the time has passed when everything that Obama proposes we criticize and everything that we do the Democrats criticize."
— He isn't taking any sides yet in the Republican presidential campaign. "I'm personally the most familiar with and acquainted with and a personal friend of (Rep.) Ron Paul. He and I have served together for all of my 12 years. We have a Thursday lunch every week. I think a lot of Ron's ideas are good ideas but at the same time no one has asked me to endorse them."
He said that is also is "a friend" of Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and said that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney "offers a lot."
Asked if there were GOP contenders he could not support, Johnson said, "I guess I would endorse whoever the nominee is. I think there are a few who will remain unnamed now who would cause me a little concern. The frontrunners for the most part are ones I could accept. I'm more enthusiastic about some than others."