By David Fleet
Ruth Johnson is in.
On Thursday, Johnson, 63, who has served as Michigan’s Secretary of State since 2011, announced her candidacy for the Michigan State Senate 14th District with rallies in Waterford and Davison. Due to term limits current Sen. Dave Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, cannot seek reelection. The 14th District includes Brandon, Groveland, Highland, Holly, Rose, Springfield and Waterford townships along with the cities of Fenton, and Lake Angelus. The district also includes southern Genesee County.
Johnson, a Groveland Township resident, former lawmaker, county commissioner, county clerk, social worker and public school teacher political career has spanned more than three decades.
“There was a time when women in my grandmother’s family couldn’t vote,” said Johnson, during an interview with The Citizen on Wednesday. “This year we celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage in Michigan. We’ve come a long way. The best advice I can give is to get involved. Volunteer, promote a case, join a group, and at the very least get out and vote.”
Johnson’s interest in politics began about 35 years ago when she joined ‘The United Citizens Against a Ruined Environment’ (UCARE) as a citizen activist following a proposal for a Groveland-Holly township landfill.
According to a Holly area newspaper, in December 1980, Stablex Corporation, an England-based corporation, drew the ire of area residents, including Johnson when they targeted the area for a chemical plant dedicated to neutralizing toxic industrial waste into inert matter at the junction of Grange Hall Road and I-75.
“I learned early on that one person can make a difference, but a dozen people can move mountains,” said Johnson. “When I found out that we might lose our clean drinking water I knew we had to do something. I went to my friends and neighbors for help. We got organized. We educated ourselves on how a foreign hazardous waste site would ruin our water supply. We took action.”
Groveland Township Supervisor Bob DePalma said Johnson will do a fantastic job in the senate.
“Ruth was one of the first members of UCARE back when it all started,” said DePalma. “I was in those UCARE meetings too during the 1980s and remember Ruth—we were very lucky to have her then and now. “I’ve never met a more dedicated public servent then Ruth— she’s hard working and results oriented.”
The UCARE citizen group impacted Johnson.
“This sparked my passion for public service,” she said. “If I was going to make an impact, I had to run for office. It was not my plan. But that is where the decisions are made that affect our lives and communities.”
In 1988, Johnson was elected to the Oakland County Board of Commissioners in Oxford District 1 and served five terms a total of 10 years, including six years as vice chairperson. As a county commissioner, she tackled such issues as putting trustee prisoners to work, educating the public regarding the dangers of arsenic in local water supplies, and pushing for an ethics policy in county purchasing.
In 1998 Johnson was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives, representing the 46th house district for six years. As Assistant Whip, she co-chaired the Capitol Caucus and served on the Leadership Committee. She chaired the House Land Use and Environment Committee and also served on the Education, Health Policy, Transportation, Veteran Affairs and Homeland Security committees.
As a representative, she also chaired the Land Use and Environment Committee, sponsoring Open Space Preservation legislation.
As a state representative, Johnson exposed unethical business practices at the Oakland Intermediate School District. The year-long investigation led to criminal charges against one top administrator, tougher laws, and, more importantly, restored money earmarked for kids to kids.
“I saw a lack of accountability at the ISD,” said Johnson. “I wanted to make sure that money went to the students in the districts rather than the administration.”
We have to remain vigilant, added Johnson.
“We have to make sure our tax dollars go where they belong,” she said. “What happened with the ISD all those years ago was outrageous. But public officials need to keep watch and fight against fraud and corruption.”
In 2004, Johnson was the first woman elected clerk in Oakland County’s 188-year history. She reformed the office, providing many online services to residents and saving Oakland County taxpayers millions of dollars.
Her accomplishments include obtaining – with the help of local clerks, the Board of Commissioners and the Secretary of State – more than $5 million in grants for the purchase of new M-100 voting equipment for all of Oakland County’s 61 communities.
In 2006, just two years after being elected clerk, GOP gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos asked Johnson to join the ticket for lieutenant governor. Devos/Johnson ultimately lost the election to Democratic incumbent Jennifer Granholm.
In 2010, Johnson announced her candidacy for the Secretary of State and was elected in 2011. Since taking office, she has worked to increase online service by launching ExpressSOS.com. This allows for the completion of her department’s most popular transactions online.
Due to term limits, Johnson cannot seek reelection.
Johnson, a Waterford Township native, put herself through college, working to earn an associate’s degree from Oakland Community College and a bachelor’s degree from Oakland University in 1977. She earned her teaching certificate and went on to earn her master’s degree – with honors – in 1985 from Wayne State University.
She taught for the Clarkston Public Schools and later owned and operated a small business. During her graduate years, she had an internship at Oakland County Probate Court. Following graduation, she worked at Oakland County Children’s Village.