Today on his blog, Jon Ellis* hints at how nasty some South Dakota democratic political operatives have gotten in the past in campaigns, with an example provided from the Johnson/Pressler race way back in the 1990’s:
Cockburn famously came to South Dakota during the 1996 Senate race between Larry Pressler and Tim Johnson where he talked about his book, ?Washington Babylon.? Cockburn spoke in three cities less than two months before the election, and he came to Sioux Falls as the guest of former Sen. Jim Abourezk.
Cockburn had a small chapter in the book that dealt with Pressler. He accused Pressler of being bumbling and inept and of trying to solicit a bribe in the Abscam scandal (Pressler was one of the senators who did not accept a bribe in the FBI sting.)
But the worst accusation in the book said that Pressler had gotten married to quell rumors that he was gay.
Read that here. I think the article does the incident a disservice, as it lightly skates over it. At the time, it was a horrendous smear against Pressler, which despite the Johnson campaign’s protestations, seemed at the time to be just a little too close to the Johnson campaign.
However, Pressler said KELO-TV reporter Vernon Brown had heard Jordan?s remarks, as did one of Pressler?s aides. Pressler also cited a letter to him from a Rapid City woman, Jane Rogers, that said she was told months ago by a member of Johnson?s staff that ?some bad stuff was going to come out about you later in the campaign.?
The letter continued: ?Johnson?s staff member went on to say that a book had been written which accused you of being gay.?
Johnson on Friday denied his staff had put any information out relating to ?Washington Babylon,? the book by Alexander Cockburn that said Pressler married in 1981 ?amid speculation that he was gay.?
?Jim (Jordan) denies any such conversation ever took place and interestingly, Vernon Brown has not confirmed any such conversation took place, so what you have is a desperate political stunt on the part of Pressler?s staff, trying to fabricate conversations that never occurred.
?I think it?s sad and I think it?s pathetic,? Johnson said.
Earlier this week, Johnson said he didn?t believe the allegations about Pressler made by Cockburn. And, he criticized former Sen. Jim Abourezk for promoting Cockburn and his book as doing a disservice to voters. Johnson said he deplored and was ?genuinely saddened by Jim Abourezk?s personal attack upon Larry Pressler.?
But Pressler said Jordan?s comments and the letter from Rogers show Johnson knew of the gay issue in advance and its use against Pressler.
He said he was considering legal action against Johnson.
The question reporters should ask Johnson, Pressler said, was ?what did Johnson know and when did he know it??
Read that here. Between this incident, and the one where Tim Johnson compared the Republican party to the Taliban, as Johnson approaches the twilight of his public service, you have to wonder what his legacy is going to be? One of service, or one of no-holds-barred politics?
* (Yes, I mistakenly credited this to David Montgomery. Jon – sorry for denying you the props!)