Steve Johnson said he loves to challenge himself. That means running on a cold winter night and then taking a cold shower right after, starting a handyman company in Alaska, or going up against four challengers in his first Republican primary.
Johnson, who attended Hillsdale College for two semesters in 2014 and 2015, is running for the 72nd District of the Michigan state House of Representatives against Democrat Steve Shoemaker. He said he felt called by God to enter politics and saw an opportunity when Republican Rep. Ken Yonker, R-Caledonia, had reached his term limit maximum.
“I was looking at the federal government, and the Republicans there failed to defund Planned Parenthood,” he said. “That was really my turning point and told myself I just can’t trust Republicans anymore.”
Johnson won his primary in August, with almost 30 percent of the vote, defeating his nearest opponent by more than 500 votes. He said he was able to beat his better connected and well-funded opponents because he had the “right message” for voters in the district, which includes parts of Allegan and Kent counties in western Michigan.
He quit a substitute teaching job to knock on doors six days a week in order to reach more voters than his opponents.
“I knew that was the only way I could win,” he said.
Since then, Johnson has continued to work hard to win the Nov. 8 general election, even though voters chose the Republican candidate by a 68-to-32-percent margin in the 2014 state house election in his district.
“The state is going in the wrong direction,” Johnson said. “Taxes are going up, spending is going up, no movement on pro-life bills. Now we have transgender bills that would allow men into women’s bathrooms. I felt it was incumbent upon me to step up and speak out and to run.”
Johnson’s most important motivation in running was speaking out for what he believes in, even if it meant losing, he said.
Johnson entered the U.S. Air Force after high school in October 2009, where he maintained nuclear missiles in Montana. While in the Air Force, he completed the first three years of an interdisciplinary studies degree in business administration and government studies through Liberty University’s online classes.
After being honorably discharged during the summer of 2016, Johnson enrolled at Hillsdale.
Fellow veteran junior Mike Lafountain, who lived with Johnson during his time at Hillsdale, said his housemate was always looking to challenge himself and was his own man.
“He’s not heavy on the thinking side of politics,” Lafountain said. “He’s more into getting out there.”
After a year at Hillsdale, Johnson decided to leave, saying he wanted to finish his degree at Liberty and pursue politics.
Associate Dean of Men Jeffery Rogers spoke well of Johnson and said he did everything he could to try to convince him to stay at Hillsdale.
“I guess he got what he needed, and Hillsdale gave him a pump of the good,” Rogers said.
After leaving Hillsdale, Johnson interned in the office of then-Michigan state Rep. Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell. It lasted only three weeks, after reports released that Gamrat and fellow former state Rep. Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, were using state resources to cover up an affair.
Johnson said his stint working for Gamrat was used against him in one mailer during the primary campaign, but he said he didn’t know about the coverup. Johnson said he was volunteering for a missionary at a Christian wilderness camp in Canada when news of the scandal broke.
“I was never investigated — the house business office, the police, they never even called me,” he said.
After hearing news about the scandal, Johnson left for Alaska and started his own handyman business. But he soon felt the pull of politics and returned to West Michigan in October 2015. He continued taking online classes from Liberty University and worked as a substitute teacher in Grand Rapids public schools and other nearby districts.
In January, he filed for the state house. Johnson is running on a pro-life, pro-second amendment, and reduced taxes platform.