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Rep. Bill Johnson accepts university post, but not quitting House right away

Some Youngstown State alumni protest board's decision to hire the conservative lawmaker

Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, is resigning to take a job as president of Youngstown State University.
Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, is resigning to take a job as president of Youngstown State University. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Republican Rep. Bill Johnson of Ohio announced Tuesday he will not seek reelection in 2024 after accepting an offer to become Youngstown State University’s new president.

Johnson, who was first elected to represent The Buckeye State’s 6th District in 2010, said in a statement he will continue serving in the House “for several more months” and that the decision to leave was “extremely difficult.” 

The website Mahoning Matters reported Johnson would be paid $410,000 annually and needs to start by March 15. Members of the House are paid $174,000.

“I will continue serving in the House for several more months, and you will see no let up,” Johnson wrote on the social media platform X. “There is still much left on my agenda to do before I depart Congress, including doing all I can to help pass tax exemption legislation to benefit the people of East Palestine as well as a broader rail safety bill, streamline America’s LNG export process, and advance a responsible budget and spending package for the remainder of this fiscal year.” 

When news of the job offer got out on Nov. 16, Johnson said in a statement on X that he “wasn’t looking for another job” but had been approached by an executive search firm and was weighing the offer.

Johnson’s departure would not likely put his seat in play next year. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 2024 race Solid Republican, and in 2020 President Donald Trump carried the district by 29 percentage points. Johnson had $1.3 million in his campaign account on Sept. 30, the most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission shows.

Johnson’s legacy

Johnson, a social conservative, opposes abortion and restrictions on gun rights. He was among the more than 100 GOP members who voted against certifying election results from Arizona and Pennsylvania in January 2021 after former President Donald Trump falsely claimed to have won the 2020 presidential election.

His conservative values have sparked controversy among YSU alumni, who sent a letter to the university’s board of trustees Saturday denouncing Johnson’s opposition to gay marriage and questioning of the 2020 election results. 

“The Board’s refusal to incorporate the greater YSU community in its decision making flouts basic values of transparency, accountability, and democratic participation,” they wrote. “The fact that Johnson’s positions are highly contentious — and directly relevant to the diverse interests and identities of YSU’s student body — increases the need for public vetting of his candidacy.”

Alumni also launched a Change.org petition Friday disagreeing with YSU’s decision to offer the position to Johnson, also citing Johnson’s stance on abortion, immigration and diversity, equity and inclusion issues. As of Tuesday morning, the petition had over 1,800 signatures.

The board held a special meeting Monday afternoon regarding the presidential search, but local reports indicated Monday that Johnson and YSU were negotiating contract terms. 

Johnson will be leaving Congress with a policy resume focused on expanding domestic energy production and expanding internet access to rural communities — priorities that reflect his relatively rural district with a large fossil fuel production base. 

In the 118th Congress, Johnson took over as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, Manufacturing, and Critical Minerals. But he was launched into the national spotlight when a Norfolk Southern train derailed outside of East Palestine, Ohio, a small community in his district, in February, blanketing the village with black smoke and spilling hazardous chemicals into the community’s soil and water.

Since the derailment, Johnson has made rail safety one of his central policy priorities. He introduced a bill (HR 1633) shortly after the accident that would direct the Federal Railroad Administration to consider rules on train length and weight, speed restrictions and track standards, and to review and update car inspection requirements, including the use of technology to spot defects. 

Johnson graduated from Troy University in Alabama in 1979 with a degree in computer science and Air Force ROTC cadet experience. He continued in the service and retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1999. While still in the Air Force, Johnson got a master’s degree in computer science, and when he entered the private sector he worked in information technology positions at various companies. He also operated his own consulting business. His IT background brought him to northeast Ohio in 2006. 

Ohio state officials have discretion about when to schedule a special election, but Johnson’s seat could be vacant for a while.

When Rep. Marcia L. Fudge left the House in March 2021 after being confirmed as Housing and Urban Development secretary, GOP Gov. Mike DeWine set the election for November. That angered some Democrats who said it was leaving a safe seat vacant for much of the year when they had a narrow House majority, but state officials said they followed a similar pattern when Republicans gave up their seats.

The deadline for candidates to file to run in Ohio’s March 19 primary for a full term is Dec. 20. Johnson is the second House member this month to announce plans to resign to take another job. Democrat Rep. Brian Higgins of New York announced on Nov. 12 that he plans to leave in February, reportedly to take a job as president of a performing arts center. Another 31 members — 21 Democrats and 10 Republicans — are running for another office or do not plan to run for reelection next year.

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