Roman B.J. Kwasniewski Papers, 1892-1953

Biography/History

Former Republican state senator Raymond C. Johnson was born on August 20, 1936 and raised in rural Buffalo County. He attended the one-room Gilman Valley School and Gilmanton High School before his family moved to Eau Claire where he attended the local high school. Johnson later cited the speech and debate classes he took there as the beginning of his interest in a legal career.

After graduation from high school in 1954 Johnson attended Wisconsin State College-Eau Claire, graduating in 1958. As a college student he served as a lobbyist and treasurer in the student senate, and he was an active member of the campus YGOP and president of the International Relations Club. He also worked as a janitor at a local hotel and as an orderly at Luther Hospital. There he met Ellen Nelson, a registered nurse, whom he married in 1958.

In 1958 Johnson enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was assigned to Washington, D.C. where he attended Naval Justice School. He later spent three years at sea as a legal officer on the aircraft carrier Essex and two years on the staff of the chief of naval personnel. Johnson also served as the first administrative officer for the Defense Intelligence School and as a faculty member of the Naval Intelligence School. In 1965 he completed his law degree from George Washington University Law School.

In 1965 Johnson returned with his wife and children Charles and Sarah to Pleasant Valley in Eau Claire County to set up a private law practice. In 1966 he defeated Earl Leverich, a thirty-year Senate veteran from Monroe County. During his first term, 1967-1973, Johnson served as chairman of the Codes and Laws Ethical Committee, the Advisory Committee on State Bidding Procedures, and the Joint Finance Committee's Task Force on Welfare Payments. Later he was also vice chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Interstate Cooperation Committee and a member of the Labor, Taxation, Insurance and Banking Committee, the Joint Survey Committee on Tax Exemptions, the Joint Committee on Employment Relations, the Legislative Council, and the Joint Committee on Legislative Organization.

Johnson quickly rose to a leadership position within the legislative Republican organization, becoming assistant majority leader under Ernest Keppler during the 1969 and 1971 sessions. In 1972, the Republican majority rejected Keppler and promoted the more conservative Johnson to majority leadership. Because of divisions within the Republican caucus, Johnson's tenure was contentious, but under his leadership the Republican majority was able to block or alter several parts of Governor Lucey's legislative program.

In 1973 Johnson ran against incumbent Horace Wilkie for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. His candidacy was a surprise to many who considered Johnson a more likely Republican candidate for attorney general or governor in 1974.

Wilkie defeated Johnson, who was not well known statewide despite his prominence in the Legislature. Shortly thereafter Johnson announced his decision not to seek a third term in the Senate, although he did not rule out further attempts at higher elective office. Johnson returned to Eau Claire where he resumed his legal career. He died on October 8, 1979 from injuries suffered in an automobile accident.