Lots of Democrats across the state who are not connected
to national politics are asking the same question: Who is Lon Johnson?
Johnson was suddenly thrust into the spotlight earlier
today when he became the leading contender to challenge Macomb County’s own Mark
Brewer for Michigan Democratic Party chairman. Relatively unknown outside of
Democratic Party circles, Johnson represents a substantial challenge to Brewer,
an 18-year veteran chairman, based on today’s endorsements from Sen. Debbie
Stabenow, the Levin brothers and the four other House Dems from Michigan.
Johnson, 41, has experience working for the Democratic
National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. A native
of the Downriver community of Rockwood, Johnson established residence in the Kalkaska
area prior to making a 2012 run for state House in a Republican district.
He lost that race by a 52-47 point margin, in large part
due to claims by his Republican opponent that he was a “carpetbagger.” Some
voters also thought Johnson would be a proxy for his wife, Julianna Smoot, who
was serving as deputy campaign manager for President Obama.
But Johnson’s prior work on congressional campaigns earned
him a strong reputation and his work as campaign manager for Congressman John Dingell
in a new district in 2002 also was noticed.
As a result, some top party
officials, such as Stabenow and Sandy Levin, jumped at the chance to back him
in a race against Brewer.
On his newly created website, lonjohnson.com, he said: “Like
you, I am frustrated that the gains we continuously make on the national level
are not replicated at the state level. We have no choice but to pick
ourselves up, and forge ahead seeking more effective and efficient ways of
winning at the ballot box. I am committed to this. But it
will take more than just better strategies and tactics – it will take
you. And that starts with the next election for chairman of our
party on Saturday, February 23.”
According to a brief news item published
in the New York Times announcing his October 2011 marriage to Smoot, Johnson at
that time was a partner in TVV Capital, a private fund in Nashville that
invests in small and midsize manufacturers and other companies, chiefly in the
Southeast. He graduated from Arizona State University. He is the son of Vivian Pluff
of Onsted, Mich., and Gary Johnson of Richland, Pa.