Eddie Bernice Johnson
|Chair of the House Science Committee|
|Assumed office |
January 3, 2019
|Preceded by||Lamar Smith|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Texas's 30th district
|Assumed office |
January 3, 1993
|Preceded by||Constituency established|
|Member of the Texas Senate|
from the 23rd district
January 13, 1987 – January 12, 1993
|Preceded by||Oscar Mauzy|
|Succeeded by||Royce West|
|Member of the Texas House of Representatives|
from the 33rd district
January 9, 1973 – September 30, 1977
|Preceded by||Constituency established|
|Succeeded by||Lanell Cofer|
|Born||December 3, 1935|
Waco, Texas, U.S.
(m. 1956; div. 1970)
|Education||St Mary's College, Indiana|
Texas Christian University (BS)
Southern Methodist University (MPA)
Eddie Bernice Johnson (born December 3, 1935) is an American politician from the state of Texas, currently representing Texas's 30th congressional district in the United States House of Representatives. Johnson is a member of the Democratic Party.
Elected in 1992, Johnson was the first registered nurse elected to Congress. At the swearing in of the 116th United States Congress, she became Dean of the Texas congressional delegation. She will retire at the end of the 117th Congress.
She formerly served in the Texas state house, where she was elected in 1972 in a landslide, the first black woman to win electoral office from Dallas, Texas. She also served for three terms in the Texas Senate before being elected to Congress.
Johnson worked for 16 years as Chief Psychiatric Nurse at the Dallas Veterans Administration Hospital, being the first African American woman to hold the position.
Born and raised in Waco, Texas, Johnson was born on December 3, 1935 to Lee Edward Johnson and Lillie Mae White Johnsons. She and her three siblings grew up attending Toliver Chapel Baptist Church, where her mother was an active church member. After attending A.J. Moore High School, Johnson graduated at the age of sixteen and moved to Indiana to attend Saint Mary’s College of Notre Dame, where she graduated in 1955 with her nursing certificate. Johnson grew up wanting to work in medicine. She left Texas, which had segregated schools, and attended Saint Mary's College in South Bend, Indiana, where she received a diploma in nursing in 1956. She transferred to Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, from which she received a bachelor's degree in nursing. She later attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and earned a Master of Public Administration in 1976.
Johnson was the first African American to serve as Chief Psychiatric Nurse at the Dallas Veterans Administration Hospital. She entered politics after 16 years in that position.
After passage of civil rights legislation and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which enabled African Americans in the South to register and vote, more African Americans began to run for office and be elected.
In 1972, as an underdog candidate running for a seat in the Texas House, Eddie Bernice Johnson won a landslide victory. She was the first black woman ever elected to public office from Dallas. She soon became the first woman in Texas history to lead a major Texas House committee, the Labor Committee.
Johnson left the state House in 1977, when President Jimmy Carter appointed her as the regional director for the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, the first African-American woman to hold this position.
Johnson entered electoral politics again in 1986, when she was elected as a Texas state Senator. She was the first woman and the first African American from the Dallas area to hold this office since Reconstruction. Her particular concerns included health care, education, public housing, racial equity, economic development, and job expansion. Johnson served on the Finance Committee, for which she chaired the subcommittee on Health and Human Services, and on the Education Committee. She wrote legislation to regulate diagnostic radiology centers, require drug testing in hospitals, prohibit discrimination against AIDS victims, improve access to health care for AIDS patients, and prohibit hospital kickbacks to doctors. As a fair housing advocate, she sponsored a bill to empower city governments to repair substandard housing at the expense of landlords, and wrote a bill to enforce prohibitions against housing discrimination.
Johnson worked against racism, while dealing with discrimination in the legislature. "Being a woman and being black is perhaps a double handicap," she told the Chicago Tribune. "When you see who's in the important huddles, who's making the important decisions, it's men." Johnson sponsored several bills aimed towards equity, including a bill to establish goals for the state to do business with 'socially-disadvantaged' businesses. She crafted a fair housing act aimed at toughening up fair housing laws and establishing a commission to investigate complaints of discriminatory housing practices.
Johnson also held committee hearings and investigated complaints. In 1989, she testified in a federal court about racism in the Dallas city government. In 1992, she formally asked the Justice Department to investigate harassment of local black students. That same year, she held hearings to examine discrimination charges about unfair contracting bids for the government's Superconducting Super Collider.
Johnson fears the legacy that discrimination leaves for youth. "I am frightened to see young people who believe that a racist power structure is responsible for every negative thing that happens to them," she explained to the New York Times. "After a point it does not matter whether these perceptions are true or false; it is the perceptions that matter."
Midway through her second term in the state senate, Johnson opted to run in the Democratic primary for the newly created Texas's 30th congressional district. She defeated Republican nominee Lucy Cain 72%-25% in the 1992 general election. In 1994, she defeated Lucy Cain again 73%-26%.
In 1996, after her district was significantly redrawn as a result of Bush v. Vera, she won re-election to a third term with 55% of the vote, the worst election performance of her congressional career. All of the candidates in the race appeared on a single ballot regardless of party, and Johnson faced two other Democrats. Proving just how Democratic this district still was, the three Democrats tallied 73 percent of the vote among them.
Johnson has never faced another contest nearly that close. She has been reelected nine more times with at least 72% of the vote. In 2012, Johnson easily beat two opponents in the Democratic Primary, State Representative Barbara Mallory Caraway and lawyer Taj Clayton, gaining 70% of the vote; she went on to win the general election by a landslide, gaining almost 79% of the votes cast. She was re-elected in 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020. In October 2019, Johnson announced she would be retiring after her 2020 term.
The 17th chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Johnson opposed the Iraq Resolution of 2002. During debate on the House floor, she stated:
I am not convinced that giving the President the authority to launch a unilateral, first-strike attack on Iraq is the appropriate course of action at this time. While I believe that under international law and under the authority of our Constitution, the United States must maintain the option to act in its own self-defense, I strongly believe that the administration has not provided evidence of an imminent threat of attack on the United States that would justify a unilateral strike. I also believe that actions alone, without exhausting peaceful options, could seriously harm global support for our war on terrorism and distract our own resources from this cause.
In 2007, Congresswoman Johnson was appointed by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) to serve as Chairwoman of its Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment during the 110th and 111th Congresses. She was the first African American and first woman in Congress to serve as Chair of this Subcommittee. As Subcommittee Chair, Johnson sponsored the Water Resources Development Act. She successfully secured and led Congress in overriding President Bush's veto of it. This was the only veto override during his presidency.
During the 2007 primary campaign, Johnson initially supported U.S. Senator John Edwards from North Carolina for President. After his withdrawal from the race, she pledged her support as a superdelegate to Barack Obama. Her district backed Obama heavily in the 2008 election.
Johnson and Rep. Donna Edwards (D) proposed a publicly funded park on the moon to mark where the Apollo missions landed between 1969 and 1972. The Apollo Lunar Landing Legacy Act, H.R. 2617, calls for the park to be run jointly by the Department of the Interior and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Johnson has consistently stated an opposition to the historical consensus on the Armenian genocide. In 2009, when asked if she acknowledged the Armenian genocide, she responded "No, I don't." In 2017, when interviewed for a film and asked if she denied that the Armenian genocide occurred, Johnson replied "I do deny that." In 2019, Johnson was one of three House members to vote "present" on a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide.
Johnson and other members of the House of Representatives objected to counting the 25 electoral votes from Florida which George W. Bush narrowly won after a contentious recount. Because no senator joined her objection, the objection was dismissed by Vice President Al Gore, who was Bush's opponent in the 2000 presidential election.
She was one of thirty-one House Democrats who voted to not count the 20 electoral votes from Ohio in the 2004 presidential election. President George W. Bush won Ohio by 118,457 votes. Without Ohio's electoral votes, the election would have been decided by the U.S. House of Representatives, with each state having one vote in accordance with the Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
In August 2010, Amy Goldson, counsel for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, said that Johnson violated organizational rules by awarding at least 15 scholarships to relatives of her own or to children of her district director, Rod Givens. The awards violated an anti-nepotism rule and the recipients also did not qualify for the scholarships because they were not residents of the Congresswoman's district as required. Johnson said she "unknowingly" made a mistake in awarding the grants and would work with the foundation to rectify it.
Opponent Stephen Broden released letters bearing Johnson's signature in which the representative requested that the scholarship check be made out to and sent directly to her relatives, instead of to the destination university as would normally be procedure. Subsequently, the Dallas Morning News ran an editorial questioning her changing story on the matter, saying that it was overshadowing her service in the House.
In December 2010, Johnson was elected as the first African American and the first female Ranking Member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. From 2000 to 2002, she was the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education. Johnson has been a strong advocate for the need to invest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. In April 2012, Johnson introduced the "Broadening Participation in STEM Education Act." This would authorize the Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to award grants to increase the number of students from underrepresented minority groups receiving degrees in STEM. The bill would also expand the number of faculty members from underrepresented minority groups at colleges and universities.
Johnson is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and has been since being elected in 1992. She is also the highest ranking Texan on this committee. Johnson also presently serves on the Aviation Subcommittee, Highways and Transit Subcommittee and Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee.