Forced to contend with an energized Democratic Party set to run on the most progressive platform in its history this presidential election cycle, veteran candidates and campaign operations across the aisle are gearing up for a series of hard-fought electoral skirmishes this November.
Working in war rooms across America to craft ironclad tickets top to bottom in answer to a progressive wave orchestrated by the Democratic National Committee in the 2018 midterm elections, however, Republicans are also leaning on fresh conservative faces to fill out the ranks, particularly in purple states and districts key to the national party in 2020.
According to Gina Johnsen, blue-collar Michigan, where she’s running to represent the state’s 71st district in Michigan House of Representatives, is one such battleground, now politically open for a fresh coat of red paint.
Historically fluid in terms of its partisan leanings, Michigan had long rested in the periphery for Republicans — that is, until a surprise 2016 presidential victory for then-candidate Donald Trump, who became the first Republican presidential candidate to carry the state since 1988, seemed to not only put the state back in play, but cement it as key to conservative electoral strategy for the foreseeable future.
A fresh face herself, Johnsen told The Western Journal on Thursday that she has every intention of being part of that strategy.
She said she’s been emboldened in recent months to aid the party in stonewalling Democratic efforts to secure greater legislative and executive control in the oft-overlooked lower levels of government.
“At the state level, if you have an abusive governor, if you have a governor who loves to wield his or her power — especially when they have the support of the attorney general, as in our case — and you don’t have a legislature to push that back, it’s a free for all for them and you just have to live under that rule until it’s over,” she said in an interview.
Enter, Stage Right
A native Michigander, Johnsen has long been active in the conservative movement, working in her spare time as a campaign volunteer for several years now.
With Republican control of the state legislature put in jeopardy by substantial losses last cycle, however, and a Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proving deeply progressive, Johnsen decided 2020 was her time to step into the political foreground.
The decision was not easy.
As the owner of a small business and highly influential member of the local Christian community, Johnsen was in need of neither a job nor the stress of a political campaign when local Republicans encouraged her to run for a seat in the state legislature.
But a month of prayer and a watchful eye over the policy goals forwarded by Whitmer’s growing Democratic coalition seemed to lead Johnsen to the conclusion that no expense or effort could be spared in ensuring Michigan’s conservative resurgence continued.
The alternative would be major steps to the left for Michigan, steps colored by increased economic regulation, restrictions on school choice and an easing of restrictions on the abortion industry — all of which Johnen said are supported by both Whitmer and the Democrat whose seat Johnsen is gunning for: incumbent state Rep. Angela Witwer.
“[Witwer] votes with her radical Dems,” Johnsen said. “She stays in lockstep with them. The only time she’s veered from voting with them is when it doesn’t matter and it’s over some little picky detail on a legislative process.”
“She gets her orders from them, she doesn’t think on her own. So, how in the world can she represent the people?” the candidate said.
And led by who she referred to as a “tyrant” in the governor’s mansion, Johnsen suggested Michigan Democrats would only look to expand the scope of government control further with a stronger electoral mandate.
Sweeping legislation to loosen abortion restrictions, the introduction of transgender curriculums in the public education system and new state taxes and fees — including a gas tax — have all reportedly been floated for passage by an unchecked Democratic government in Michigan.
‘Baptism by Fire’
According to Johnsen, however, there is not a local candidate with more experience facing off against progressives and proponents of big government.
Ideologically tested across four years at the women’s-only Wellesley College in Massachusetts, Johnsen, already a Republican at the time, said frequent and harsh challenges to her beliefs, values and faith were integral to solidifying all of them.
Unlike previous graduates Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright, Johnsen would not depart Wellesley a progressive. On the contrary, the young businesswoman would find herself more certain than ever of her Christian conservative leanings, which she said were fostered through years of political dialogue with her father, a state litigator who made the transition from Blue Dog Democrat to staunch Republican.
“The challenges were all intellectual. The onslaught was nonstop. And if you were a Christian, a conservative, you were a narrow-minded idiot and it was clear from the get-go,” Johnsen said.
“It was a baptism by fire.”
“When in you’re in that kind of atmosphere, when you do come head-to-head with a topic of discussion, classroom or outside the classroom, you better know why you believe what you believe. And it made me better for it. And I now look back, now I’m running for state rep, and I look back and I think, ‘Yep, that was training. Those are training wheels,'” the candidate added.
Control vs. Service
The training wheels have long since been removed, however, and even on the campaign trail, Johnsen prides herself on standing in firm opposition to government overreach.
Johnsen’s team made its presence well known, for example, outside the capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, on Wednesday as thousands of state residents protested Whitmer’s executive management of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — a response effort some constituents believe has been an exercise in partisanship and control, rather than public health.
Thousands of people from all over Michigan are converging on our state Capitol today to protest the governor’s restrictive “Stay Home” order and get their voices, and car horns, heard. #OperationGridlock pic.twitter.com/bgjH4wKCUQ
— MI House Republicans (@MI_Republicans) April 15, 2020
This is a historc event Michigan!!!
Get out here and show your American Spirit!
— ??Gina Johnsen?? (@Gina4StateRep) April 15, 2020
“[Whitmer] is a career politician. She’s not a doctor, but she slammed down the use of hydroxychloroquine. As fast as it was mentioned by Trump, she said we couldn’t have it prescribed in the state,” Johnsen said.
“The stay-at-home orders, I thought, were extreme to begin with,” the candidate added. “But, they were understandable because we didn’t know how bad this was.”
“But as time went on, the way she was rolling out the guidelines was not adding up. It was controlling and, see, she’s a Democrat, so we already know that’s going to be the tendency.”
First put into place on March 24, Whitmer’s stay-at-home order for the state was extended last week to cover the entirety of April and expanded to restrict both the movement of state residents and the occupancy of essential shopping centers, according WDIV-TV.
Unable to sway the Democratic governor, however, Wednesday’s protest was not without its upside, according to Johnsen, who suggested the event was an indicator Michigan residents have begun to feel overly restricted and under-served by their elected representatives.
— Malachi Barrett (@PolarBarrett) April 15, 2020
Driven by her Christian faith, Johnsen said community service would not so easily be replaced by self service in whatever political career she manages to fashion for herself in the coming months.
Leaning on the wisdom of Matthew 20, she told The Western Journal that servanthood would be at the heart of her campaign.
“I have a job. I have a business. I don’t need a job. I need this like a hole in my head. But I’m going to make the time to serve in this way, because the need is there and I can do it,” the candidate said.
“And I encourage everyone else to serve as well.”
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