Schrader: ‘Cinderella’ senator comes back home

Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 5:30 a.m.CDT

A Shabbona farm girl named Christine Johnson has experienced a Cinderella-like story, going all the way to the Illinois State Senate and now back to her roots and old job as DeKalb County Treasurer. She was sworn in again as the county treasurer Monday.

Her journey to Springfield happened quite by accident when the incumbent veteran Sen. Brad Burzynski decided to retire mid-term, leaving the Republicans to name a replacement until the next election in two years. They chose Johnson because of her 17 years of experience as county treasurer and good credentials as a respected and knowledgeable public official.

So she entered the Senate in February 2011 as part of two minority groups – being a Republican and a female. She is proud to point out she has the distinction of being the first Northern Illinois University graduate to represent the Senate district containing her alma mater.

It could have been a lifetime political career except for one big obstacle – it was time for the 10-year redistricting and the Democrats were in control. So they gerrymandered her district to pit her against veteran GOP lawmaker Dave Syverson of Rockford. She was not even in the newly drawn district and would have had to move from Shabbona further north if elected. But as expected, Syverson waged a vigorous campaign, using his clout and financial backing to win the primary, thus keeping his seat. He collected $129,000 for his campaign while Johnson raised $82,000.

But she has fond memories of her two years traveling back and forth to Springfield representing her constituents.

“It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and I am glad I did it,” she said. “It was awesome when I walked into the Capitol, walking up the same worn marble stairs used by many famous lawmakers over the years. It makes one realize how historic this place is.”

Johnson is not a political novice. At age 17, she volunteered on the gubernatorial campaign of Jim Thompson as she knew his two aunts in Sycamore at the time. She said she admired the way Thompson was able to work with both parties to get things done. After college she worked at Shabbona State Park and Lake in the office area. Her next move was to run for county treasurer; a post she held for 17 years and now returns to it, making her the longest serving treasurer in the county’s history.

Asked about memorable anecdotes in Springfield, she said her first day walking up to the Capitol a man arrived at the door about the same time with his hands full of materials, dropping his keys. She retrieved them for him and it turned out to be House Speaker Mike Madigan.

Then there was the time she went to a women legislators’ event at the governor’s mansion and had her briefcase and purse stolen from her car parked a block away. Fortunately, she recovered most of her belongings when they were found in a nearby Dumpster –minus the cash.

New senators get to introduce a noncontroversial “honeymoon bill” and she chose one that defined the practice of illegal wildlife baiting, mostly for turkeys and deer. After some good-natured ribbing from colleagues it was passed and sent to the House where it was also approved and signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn.

Considering the role redistricting played in her primary loss, I asked about her opinion of the process. She favors a computer-based redistricting method to avoid the political gerrymandering by the party in control. But she said a Fair Map Amendment will take 500,000 signatures just to get on the ballot. However, she is not in favor of term limits for legislators.

She mentioned she was thrilled to introduce a resolution lauding the NIU Huskies football team for again capturing the MAC championship, then paid her own way to see her alma mater play Jan. 1 in the Orange Bowl.

Any political ambitions in the future? None that she has in mind at the present time, but she is considering writing a memoir. Another possibility for her could be a political science teaching position where she can share her firsthand practical political savvy with college students at NIU or Kishwaukee College. But for now she just wants to return to the county treasurer’s office and be among friends she made there during her four terms in office.

• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at barry815@sbcglobal.net or at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL. 60115. His column appears the first Tuesday of each month. A Shabbona farm girl named Christine Johnson has experienced a Cinderella-like story, going all the way to the Illinois State Senate and now back to her roots and old job as DeKalb County Treasurer. She was sworn in again as the county treasurer Monday.

Her journey to Springfield happened quite by accident when the incumbent veteran Sen. Brad Burzynski decided to retire mid-term, leaving the Republicans to name a replacement until the next election in two years. They chose Johnson because of her 17 years of experience as county treasurer and good credentials as a respected and knowledgeable public official.

So she entered the Senate in February 2011 as part of two minority groups – being a Republican and a female. She is proud to point out she has the distinction of being the first Northern Illinois University graduate to represent the Senate district containing her alma mater.

It could have been a lifetime political career except for one big obstacle – it was time for the 10-year redistricting and the Democrats were in control. So they gerrymandered her district to pit her against veteran GOP lawmaker Dave Syverson of Rockford. She was not even in the newly drawn district and would have had to move from Shabbona further north if elected. But as expected, Syverson waged a vigorous campaign, using his clout and financial backing to win the primary, thus keeping his seat. He collected $129,000 for his campaign while Johnson raised $82,000.

But she has fond memories of her two years traveling back and forth to Springfield representing her constituents.

“It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and I am glad I did it,” she said. “It was awesome when I walked into the Capitol, walking up the same worn marble stairs used by many famous lawmakers over the years. It makes one realize how historic this place is.”

Johnson is not a political novice. At age 17, she volunteered on the gubernatorial campaign of Jim Thompson as she knew his two aunts in Sycamore at the time. She said she admired the way Thompson was able to work with both parties to get things done. After college she worked at Shabbona State Park and Lake in the office area. Her next move was to run for county treasurer; a post she held for 17 years and is now returning to, making her the longest serving treasurer in the county’s history.

Asked about memorable anecdotes in Springfield, she said her first day walking up to the Capitol a man arrived at the door about the same time with his hands full of materials, dropping his keys. She retrieved them for him and it turned out to be House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Then there was the time she went to a women legislators’ event at the governor’s mansion and had her briefcase and purse stolen from her car parked a block away. Fortunately, she recovered most of her belongings when they were found in a nearby Dumpster –minus the cash.

New senators get to introduce a noncontroversial “honeymoon bill” and she chose one that defined the practice of illegal wildlife baiting, mostly for turkeys and deer. After some good-natured ribbing from colleagues it was passed and sent to the House, where it was also approved and signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn.

Considering the role redistricting played in her primary loss, I asked about Johnson’s opinion of the process. She favors a computer-based redistricting method to avoid the political gerrymandering by the party in control. But she said a Fair Map Amendment will take 500,000 signatures just to get on the ballot. However, she is not in favor of term limits for legislators.

She mentioned she was thrilled to introduce a resolution lauding the NIU Huskies football team for again capturing the MAC championship, then paid her own way to see her alma mater play Jan. 1 in the Orange Bowl.

Any political ambitions in the future? None that she has in mind at the present time, but she is considering writing a memoir. Another possibility for her could be a political science teaching position where she can share her firsthand practical political savvy with college students at NIU or Kishwaukee College. But for now she just wants to return to the county treasurer’s office and be among friends she made there during her four terms in office.

• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at barry815@sbcglobal.net or at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115. His column appears the first Tuesday of each month.

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