DES MOINES — At the Iowa Statehouse, he often gets the cold shoulder from colleagues and has been shut out of all but one committee.
But state Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan said he has no second thoughts about switching his party registration from Republican to independent last year, and he insists he's still working hard on his key issues of education and environmental protection.
More than halfway into the 2017 session, Johnson remains convinced he did the right thing in bolting from the party last summer after publicly airing his strong concern for the direction the party was headed with outspoken businessman Donald Trump as the GOP presidential nominee.
"I will not stand silent if the party of Lincoln and the end of slavery buckles under the racial bias of a bigot," Johnson said at the time.
Trump ultimately became the 45th president, and Johnson watched national politics with a high recoil factor.
"It is a period of deconstruction going on ... It is not the party of Lincoln, it is the party of Trump," Johnson said.
In the November election, Johnson also watched his former party capture control of the Iowa Senate, 29-21 and maintain its majority in the Iowa House. Of the 150 legislators, Johnson is now the only independent, but he insists the number will grow.
Being a distinct political minority is fine with Johnson, who said, "I've never been a follower. I feel I am voicing the opinion of Iowans better than I ever have before."
Johnson said he has been unshackled from the days of worrying whether he could air reservations with Republican plans to Senate party leaders.
Lots of aspects of the legislative job remain the same for Johnson. The former journalist rises at 5 a.m. and watches MSNBC's morning political show, "Morning Joe" and then pages through daily newspapers. He still works long days at the Capitol, often staying until the early evening hours. After leaving last Tuesday, Johnson described fielding phone calls for four more hours, until 11 p.m.
Johnson introduces amendments to bills and gives floor speeches during the so-called personal privileges period. He continues to attend weekend legislative forums in his northwest Iowa district.
Much has changed for Johnson, however.
After he stopped caucusing with Senate Republicans, Johnson lost all his committee assignments. This session, Democrats gave him a seat on the Natural Resources and Environment Committee after a Democrat stepped aside.
Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said he had no qualms about appointing a former Republican to the committee.
"He has been an strong advocate for the environment and clean water," Hogg said.
Johnson also no longer has access to party research analysts, although he said he always did a lot of his own studying in prior years.
When encountering other senators, he often gets a cool reception.
"It is disappointing," Johnson said. "It is petty. I've got friends, too."
In summarizing whether he has loyal friends or new detractors among Republican and Democratic senators, Johnson would cite only one senator by name, Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock.
"Senator Dix refused to meet with me, in spite of numerous requests," Johnson said.
"I can't help but believe that the leadership has passed down ... that my bills are dead on arrival," Johnson said.
Dix did not respond to a Journal interview request.
Hogg said it has been fascinating to watch independent Johnson, sometimes voting with Republicans and sometimes not.
"He is being highly effective, because he is able to speak up on everything," Hogg said. "It is kind of like he has been liberated from any party apparatus."
Last year, the Senate was controlled by Democrats on a 26-24 count.
With Republicans holding both legislative chambers and the governor's mansion, the House and Senate have been quickly moving legislation that Johnson contends is not good public policy. He cited Iowa K-12 schools receiving only 1.1 percent growth in their budgets for fiscal year 2017-18, cuts to community colleges and sweeping changes to the collective bargaining law for public employees.
"It is outright union busting ... How many times can you slap a teacher or state worker in the face before they flee the state?" Johnson asked.
In spite of the obstacles, Johnson insists he's having fun.
"I call it serious fun. The adrenaline is flowing, and at (age) 66, I guess that is a good way to feel," said Johnson, who is in his 19th year in the Legislature.
Johnson's term runs through December 2018 in Senate District 1, which covers all or parts of Clay, Dickinson, Lyon, Osceola and Palo Alto counties. He has not decided whether to seek re-election to a four-year term.
Prior to the election, Zach Whiting announced he would seek the Republican nomination for the Senate post, citing Johnson's decision to leave the party. Whiting, of Spencer, is a staff member for U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.
Johnson said he knows many in the state Republican Party and in northwest Iowa are dismayed with his switch to an independent. He also said many Iowans he's known for years have told him privately they like his lawmaking skills.
He said he is convinced more independents will be elected, and a third party could arise, "with government accountability at its core."
"Let's make this tri-partisan," Johnson said. "The Legislature should get used to this, because I think in the years ahead, you will see more independents.
"It is great. I just continue to be amazed by people who are community leaders, maybe not publicly, who voice support for me."