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December 14, 2006 01:04 AM UTC

South Dakota Senator's Illness Could Swing Control

  • by: Colorado Pols

As MSNBC reports:

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S. D., has been hospitalized with symptoms described as stroke-like. The seriousness of his illness has not been disclosed. 

In addition to concern about Johnson’s immediate health, his illness draws political concern in that the Democrats currently hold a 51-49 advantage in seats, giving them control of the Senate.

The governor of South Dakota is Republican Mike Rounds. Should there be a vacancy as a consequence of Johnson’s illness and Rounds appoints a Republican to fill the term, that would make the count 50 Demorats and 50 Republicans. Under the rules of the Senate, ties votes are settled by the vote of the vice president – currently Republican Dick Cheney – effectively giving control of the Senate to the Republicans.


36 thoughts on “South Dakota Senator’s Illness Could Swing Control

  1. and the GOP has control again, it’ll be even easier to wipe the remaining Republicans off the map in ’08.  The Senate will be failed man-child Bush’s “body guard” as the Republicans desperate try to salvage the political fallout from the Worst President in American History.

    1. I didn’t see anything mentioned in the article about the guy dying…so rest easy there my little angry lib…you still have control of the house and senate…just relax…

  2. Apparently, he became lightheaded during a press conference, but recovered and signed off. Then he was taken to the hospital. He is still relatively young, by senatorial standards, at 60 and has already survived prostate cancer and a tumor in his ear (weird).

    On to South Dakota, essentially the rule is this: a senatorial vacancy is filled by an action by the state legislature, but which is usually passed on to the governor (all three are republican). If the vacancy occurs within six months of the upcoming election the seat will be contested and the appointee serves until then. *If the amount of time is greater than six months the governor is required to call for a special election no more than 90 days after the seat becomes vacant. He is up for re-election in 08 meaning that if he resigns tomorrow, who knows?

  3. Johnson is not coming back to the Senate.
    Even the Fix in the Washington Post is already speculating. You don’t see that unless the word is out that it is really bad. A shame but that is the way it goes.

    1. Johnson was able to call his doctor after the incident, and apparently walked to the ambulance clear and in control of himself.

      My first guess is, he’ll remain in office.  Unless there’s something that’s happened since he got into the hospital, he doesn’t sound like he was terribly and permanently damaged by the incident.

      1. Let me put my paramedic hat on for just a moment.  If anyone is interested, look up Transient Ischemic Attack, or TIA.  It is essentially the same as a stroke, except the symptoms resolve on their own in less than an hour leaving no permanent damage.  Not being medically educated, lay-people and the media may refer to it as a small stroke, however if there are no lasting effects, it’s technically a TIA although you’ll never hear that on TV I’m sure.

        So this is wild speculation and there aren’t enough facts yet, but that could have been what this was.

        Having a TIA does put you at increased risk for having the “real thing” (permanent damage) later.  Please, no comments about the number of brain-damaged representatives we have already.

        1. LOTS of elderly have had LOTS of TIA’s, and they mostly go about their business until “the big one.”  Even that gets postponed or canceled with the appropriate pharms and oversight.

  4.   While we’re discussing health, illness, potential resignations and/or deaths in the U.S. Senate, let’s not forget that one of the two Wyoming senators (the one just re-elected last month) was diagnosed with a nasty form of cancer on Election Day. 
      In the event that he should resign, the vacancy would be filled by the Democratic Governor of the Cowboy State. 
      In that event, Dick Cheney will have a Democratic Senator.

  5. I remember, I believe it was in the Senate, years back when a vote came down to the wire and some Senators went out to the hospital to bring a member in, on his hospital bed, to cast the deciding vote.

    1. …and let’s not forget our own Diana DeGette, wheeling herself in after hip surgery, to vote against impeaching President Clinton in Dec. ’98.

  6. Cheney can’t control what’s happened and is happening in this country! The Dems won the biggest controlling interest since ’52!

    Let’s ride the Tiger…not run from it.

  7. It’s being reported that Senator Johnson is in critical condition.  No details were given other than he had brain surgery.  Apparently it was a serious attack, maybe a second stroke after the first small one?

    1. alive.
      Worse news is Peter Boyle died this week.
      O(ne of the funniest actors ever.
      Anyone remember his movie with Bill Murray called ” Where the Buffalo Roam”?

      1. It’s too bad abut Peter Boyle. I prefer him in “Joe” and “Young Frankenstein,” though.

        He also played Robert Redford’s campaign manager in “The Candidate.”

        1. He was great in “The Candidate” – played the geeky, behind the scenes, anal retentive, do what you need to do to do what you want when elected, manager perfectly.

    2. Sen. Johnson has been diagnosed with Congenital Arteriovenous Malformation, which essentially means that the blood vessels in his brain have grown a bit tangled up and were bleeding into the brain.

      The surgery closed off the leakage and shored up the malformation so that it shouldn’t bleed in the future.  It was reported to be successful, and the Senator is apparently recovering normally for this type of procedure.

      Recovery is supposed to take a few weeks to a few months; so long as Sen. Johnson is not pronounced dead or braindead, he can maintain his seat and the Senate will continue on with a 50-49 Dem majority.  IOW, the Senator, barring his death, is in control of whether or not he remains in his seat; the SD Governor cannot make that determination.

  8. Phoenix Rising is exactly correct–diagnosis via the Internet or not.  Bleeding into the brain is NOT a “stroke” or “mini-stroke” referred to as a TIA (mentioned above).  However, it is still very serious.

    Congenital Arteriovenous Malformation causing tangling among vessels–both venal and arterial.  That is what makes fixing the problem delicate work.  The trick is to stop bleeding without stopping flow to necessary brain tissue.  Sometimes it takes more than one surgery to fix the problem.

    Phoenix Rising is also correct regarding the politics.  Many arm-chair politicians (like arm-chair doctors) are throwing around words like “incapacitated.”  What they should be saying is “dead,” which results in a “vacancy.”  I have read that no federal or state law can force this issue unless (or until) he actually dies.

    MSNBC mentioned this issue last night, using an incident (coincidentally) from South Dakota in the late 1960s (1969), where Senator Karl E. Mundt (Republican) suffered a stroke, and asked that his wife be appointed to the seat.


    The Governor of South Dakota at the time refused, so Mundt stayed in office, missing a bunch of votes for almost 4 years.  During this time, he was “incapacitated,” but he did not die until August 16, 1974.

    During that time, South Dakota had both Republican and Democratic Governors, which begs the question, why wouldn’t South Dakota Governor Frank Leroy Farrar (a Republican) have allowed Mundt’s wife to hold his seat?  Maybe Mundt’s wife was a Democrat?

    7-Jan-1969 to 5-Jan-1971
    Frank Leroy Farrar
    (b. 1929, Republican)

    5-Jan-1971 to 24-Jul-1978
    Richard Kneip
    (b. 1933, d. 1987, Democrat)

    1. Putting on my paramedic hat again… bleeding into the brain *IS* technically a stroke.  Whether it’s a blockage of the blood vessels or a rutpure of the blood vessels, both count as a stroke.

      But yes, you’re right-on.  This definately rules out the possibility of it having been a simple TIA as I speculated above.

  9. A friend of mine had a TIA a couple of weeks ago–while I was talking on the phone with him!  I arranged assistance for him over the phone, while he was “incapacitated.”

    He spent 2 days in the hospital for observation, and the doctors diagnosed TIA.  He is only 40 years old, and the MRI indicated minor damage to the brain tissue.  Gladly, he is NOT a politician, though with his minor  brain damage, he is MORE THAN QUALIFIED TO BE ONE!

    *Seriously, Phoenix Rising is well qualified medically and politically.

    1. IANAMD, and I don’t pretend to play one on the Internets.

      But I can read doctor’s statements, and like most people I’ve had relatives in the hospital recovering from surgery from time to time, so I know what that’s like.

      Here’s a prayer for Sen. Johnson that he might recover swiftly and fully and continue to lead a long and happy life, and another for his family that they might be given the peace to endure through this tough time.

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