Senator from S.D. is hospitalized

Johnson's illness could affect political balance

December 14, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Tim Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat, was hospitalized yesterday and underwent surgery, but tests indicated that he did not suffer a stroke, his office said.

Johnson, a centrist who has largely avoided the spotlight since being elected 10 years ago, became disoriented during a midday conference call with reporters. He was taken to George Washington University Hospital, where he was evaluated for a "possible stroke," his office said.

A spokeswoman said later that doctors had found no evidence that Johnson, who turns 60 in two weeks, had suffered either a stroke or a heart attack, but he remained in the hospital. There was no word on the nature of the surgery, which lasted past midnight, or on Johnson's condition.

If Johnson is not able to serve when the 110th Congress convenes early next month, the Senate -- which the Democrats narrowly captured in November's elections, 51 to 49 -- could revert to Republican control.

Under South Dakota law, Gov. Michael Rounds would appoint a replacement, likely from his own Republican Party -- giving each party 50 seats. Because a 50-50 tie would give the tiebreaking vote to Vice President Dick Cheney, Republicans would control the chamber if it is evenly split.

Johnson has worked as a lawyer and county prosecutor and served several years in the 1970s and 1980s in the South Dakota state Legislature.

The senator underwent prostate cancer treatment in 2004, and subsequent tests have shown him to be clear of the disease. His wife, Barb, is a breast cancer survivor. They have three adult children.

In response to one reporter's question on the conference call yesterday, Johnson said he was looking forward to spending the holidays with his family.

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