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Rep. Timothy Johnson wants voters in Illinois' new 13th district to know that he walks the walk and talks the talk — and that should not be difficult. If there are two things the Republican is known for, they are walking and talking.
But the six-term Republican is adding a layer of difficulty to the already arduous ritual he takes of telephoning each one of his constituents: keeping in touch with his current 15th district while introducing himself to a brand-new swath of voters in the new district he will run in next year.
The practice comes with operational challenges as well. House rules forbid the use of official resources for campaign-related activity, so he uses one phone to call constituents and another, paid for by campaign funds, to call would-be constituents.
A staffer said he stashes another five or six phones in various places around the Hill because his batteries frequently run dry.
"I'm not trying to pose as holier than Caesar's wife, but I do try to go out of my way [to] do everything ethically and aboveboard," Johnson said.
Johnson spends nearly every waking minute between votes, meetings and committee hearings ambling the halls of the Longworth House Office Building's fourth floor or circling a nearby park, cold-calling constituents.
"I don't like to let grass grow under my feet," he said on a recent afternoon, cellphone to his ear, promenading around a park outside the Rayburn House Office Building. "If there's an hour of otherwise dead time, I'm going to use it either in the office or out around the area, calling constituents and asking what I can do to serve them better."
Because of redistricting, however, Johnson is losing most of the people he has called over the years. The new district in which he plans to run includes just 30 percent of his old terrain.
But as the new Illinois map awaits a court challenge, Johnson is walking full speed ahead toward a new constituency, courting potential voters with his quirky take on representative democracy.
"Calls like this, while they're not political, the net result is that if you talk to Mr. and Mrs. Jones in Cerro Gordo, Ill.," he explained, "and they said, 'Here's what the problem is,' and I solve the problem, there's a pretty good likelihood that they're going to vote for me."
His office estimates that he walks some 20 miles per day — part of a monastic health habit that includes near-constant exercise and limiting his food intake. Meanwhile, he calls up to 200 constituents, phone numbers gleaned from countless call sheets his staff prepares for him.