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Our View: Speaker Johnson's moment

The story of relatively unknown deeply conservative Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), elected speaker of the House on a first vote and sworn in on Oct. 25, reminds us of a story about a friend who became an unlikely rodeo champion.

Like a lot of improbable tales, this one came about after she, as a young woman, lost a friendly bet. Her consequence? Sign up and participate in a greased pig catching contest. Something about our friend – she had barely been to the rodeo.

Not having a strategy, she quietly stood back and watched fellow competitors sprint at maximum speed, dive for the screeching creature, slip and slide in the mud. Some hit the ground hard. Two who knew their way around a corral got in a shoving match after one cut off the other. Others showed signs of wearing out, limping around the corral with one person surrendering onto the ground, looking up at the sky.

Our friend waited for her moment.

While contenders around her crashed, ran out of air and brawled, the distraught pig ran right toward her. She leaned her weight into him, pinning the animal against the fence, and caught that pig. She took home a blue ribbon, along with bragging rights.

Just like that rodeo event, time and patience were also tools in Johnson’s unlikely speaker win. It was his moment.

It’s easy to imagine Johnson looking from one side to the other, and asking, “Who, me?”

We’re fascinated that he, previously under most Americans’ radar, is only two separations from becoming president. That possibility, of course, is remote. But it’s there. Just like our friend becoming a rodeo winner.

We’ll soon get a better idea of who he is. How personal beliefs will influence his work. How indebted he is to colleagues, while hanging over his head, that pesky motion to vacate that can come from a single member.

Johnson is vehemently antiabortion, supports LGBTQ+ restrictions and voted against aid to Ukraine. He didn’t just speak against certifying the 2020 election or pitch a fit. He was a force behind a Supreme Court brief that laid out lawyerly arguments to keep Donald Trump in the White House.

In December 2020, he rallied fellow Republican lawmakers to support Texas’ brazen bid to overturn election results in swing states Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin. Now part of American history, justices quickly rejected the case, writing, “Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another state conducts its elections.”

Curiously, Colorado Congressman Ken Buck supported Johnson, although Buck has said he wouldn’t vote for an election denier. Did Buck get worn down?

Johnson comes across as a nice guy, as manners are vitally important in Louisiana in ways that don’t rate near as much elsewhere. He showed some grace toward Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), acknowledging that Jeffries “also loves and cares about this country and you want to do what’s right.” Looking in Jeffries’ direction, Johnson said: “We’re going to find common ground there. All right?”

We’re glad to hear this.

Watching the first bill passed in the House – uneventfully – with U.S. support for Israel and condemning the deadly Oct. 7 attack by Hamas was refreshing. But it was a softball lob. Tough Congressional decisions are looming, including aid for Ukraine.

The large question, though, is does Johnson have what it takes to keep the government open and functioning? This will require compromise and principled leadership.

It sure is a lot for someone newly in the spotlight, fresh off that win.