Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Speaker Steps Back to Focus on Campaign; Eric Johnson Is Now Campaigning for Lieutenant Governor

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Speaker Steps Back to Focus on Campaign; Eric Johnson Is Now Campaigning for Lieutenant Governor

Article excerpt

Byline: WALTER C. JONES

ATLANTA - In an environment where politicians seem reluctant to let go of any power, Eric Johnson says he has benefited by stepping down from his post as the top-ranking member of the Senate.

It may be the next step in an evolution his friends in the General Assembly say they've watched over the years.

"He has mellowed over the years to be much more of a thoughtful person, and I think more of a spiritual person," said Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, his roommate in Atlanta during legislative sessions for 11 years.

Johnson became president pro tempore of the Senate when Republicans took control in 2002 and kept the post until last month, when he voluntarily turned over the reins to Williams. Johnson had announced he is running for lieutenant governor, and he said he wanted to focus on the campaign instead of Senate business.

So instead of worrying about legislative payrolls, staffing and the other details of keeping the 56-member chamber running, Johnson concentrates on substantive issues. Not having a line of people waiting outside his door every time he comes to his office has freed up his mind for reflection, he said.

He's content not knowing every detail of conversations behind closed doors and the negotiations of every bill.

Plus, he said, he's traveled the state on his campaign and has begun to think more like the outsider he was as a member of a tiny Republican minority years ago.

"You get sort of re-energized like your first campaign: Why am I running, what do people want, what's my vision? That's what's consuming me. It's not the size of the office or the size of the staff or the perks that come with power," he said. "I like being able to back off the [proverbial] smoke-filled rooms and take the perspective now of sort of the grass roots where I started my political career. …

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