Southwest Mississippi Legislators: Rep. Johnson providing opportunities

Published 12:09 am Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Rep. Robert Johnson III

Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Rep. Robert Johnson III

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of stories profiling the legislators who represent southwest Mississippi.

NATCHEZ — Rep. Robert Johnson III knew he wanted to be an elected official from the time he was a child.

“I have to admit that from the time I was 10 years old, I was interested in running for office,” he said. “I ran for every student government office in middle school and high school.”

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Johnson, D-Natchez, represents Mississippi’s 94th district in the state House of Representatives, a seat he’s held since 2004. From 1993 to 2003, he was the state senator for district 38.

But before the Natchez native could fulfill his lifelong dream of public service, he had to get an education, earning an undergraduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis and a law degree from the University of Illinois College of Law.

“As soon as I was done there, I came straight back to Mississippi and began to work at the attorney general’s office for four years,” he said.

In the attorney general’s office, Johnson was a special investigator with the Medicaid fraud unit and a special assistant attorney general.

“Those four years really laid a groundwork for me to have an understanding of how the Mississippi legislature works,” he said.

After leaving the attorney general’s office in 1989, Johnson entered into private law practice, in which he still works.

In 1992, the 38th district Senate seat came open, and he successfully ran for the position, taking office the next year.

“Fifty-five percent of my district was in Amite and Pike counties, so I have always appreciated that those people who didn’t know me elected me then,” he said.

After redistricting in 2003, Johnson lost the senate seat, but he was able to successfully run for the House position the next year.

“The Senate is a much more formal, staid body, while the House is far more active and moves a whole lot faster. When I walked into the House, I found it to be more suited to my personality. I am a lawyer, a litigator, and I like moving parts and being active, and the house moved at a pace that suited my personality.”

But his experience in the Senate has paid off well in the lower chamber, Johnson said.

“Because mechanically or technically the Senate works differently, there were things that I went into the House understanding how to work with,” he said. “I get things done quicker, not because I am smarter or better, but because I have that understanding.”

Johnson said his roots in a working family have always informed his decision-making process.

“Growing up, my dad was a contractor and my mom was a school teacher,” he said. “My family for generations were farmers, ranchers or construction workers, but we have worked, so my philosophy is that I want to be involved in legislation that will provide people opportunity. Even people who have never really had jobs, if you provide an environment and infrastructure that allow opportunity, they will work.”

The key to providing that opportunity is better schools and economic development, Johnson said.

“I push economic development as a core source of everything, and now I find myself doing that as the chairman of transportation,” he said. “The lynchpin to providing opportunity is that we have to rebuild or improve the infrastructure we have, and that is what I do.”

Working as a legislator is Johnson’s effort at improving the world, and he said he’s not in it for the pay.

“I love practicing law and litigation, and that is what feeds my family,” he said. “I look at my work with the legislature as my contribution to giving back to the community.”