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'Bull' Johnson faces uphill climb in U.S. House race

Travis "Bull" Johnson is running for Minnesota's Seventh Congressional District this November under the Legal Marijuana Now party and hopes his honesty, realism and political outsider status will be enough for voters to send him to Congress.

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Travis "Bull" Johnson, 2022 candidate photo
Tribune File Photo
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DETROIT LAKES — "I'm real," stated the bearded man, firmly. "What you see is what you get with me and I am not a professional politician."

He also said he aims to be a reflection, so when voters look at him, they see themselves.

"Our whole message has been that we're coming from outside the two parties, I'm small government, leave you alone, kind of what the GOP used to be at one time," he said, with a small chuckle.

Travis "Bull" Johnson is running for congress in Minnesota's Seventh Congressional District this November for the Legal Marijuana Now party.

In 2018 — after completing 20 years in the U.S. Army, including deployments to Kuwait, Iraq, South Korea, Washington D.C. and Amman, Jordan — Johnson, his wife, Terri, and their family moved to Beltrami, Minn., where they have an 8-acre homestead and 40 acres to raise about 100 kinder goats, cattle, swine and poultry. He said he likes raising goats because he can get about quadruple the value per pound at auction as opposed to cattle, and the smaller animals keep his feed costs down, which, he said, have easily doubled over the last three years.

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Johnson holds three college degrees, including: a bachelor's degree in human resources from the University of Maryland - University Campus; a master's degree in international relations (conflict resolution) from American Military University; and a bachelor's degree in animal science from the University of Minnesota - Crookston, which he received in 2021.

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He said he wanted to run for congress after watching the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol and the partisan aftermath that followed.

"It became obvious that (Republicans and Democrats) would just continue fighting each other as long as they were on top of the ashes at the end," said Johnson. "That's all they cared about and it made me go, 'no,' we can't keep doing this, they are tearing the country apart."

He also said he knows he is running as a political long shot, but thinks he can draw enough support away from the non-Trumpy wing of the GOP and conservative Democrats to make the three-person race competitive. He added, after talking to some voters, he believes many of the Minnesota Seventh District residents don't have a favorable view of Michelle Fischbach, the district's current representative.

"I was shocked when I started talking to people, about the number of people, and this is going to sound bad, the number of people who thought they voted for Michele Bachmann," said Johnson. "It was more than a handful."

Bachmann, a conservative Republican, represented Minnesota's Sixth Congressional District from 2007 to 2015 and was a television favorite on cable news during the Tea Party movement.

Johnson said he wants the voters in the Minnesota Seventh District to see some of themselves in him and has made it his mission to engage truthfully and honestly in-person with area residents and online with anyone who comments of his posts.

"I can't represent somebody I don't talk to," said Johnson. He also added how much he appreciates the back-and-forth comments on his social media posts because they do help him shape his positions on subjects he may be unfamiliar with and can sometimes lead to their own face-to-face meetings.

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Johnson told a story of a man he met from Thief River Falls who heard Johnson talk about his transgender position on a radio show, which led to the man reaching out on social media to tell Johnson how wrong he was in blaming societal pressure for gender transitions. Johnson called him to learn more. During an hour-long phone conversation, the man told him about the gender transition they had to deal with in their own family, of which they started seeing signs in one of their twins at age four that something wasn't quite right.

Johnson said the man put their son in front of numerous psychologists and specialists, and, they all agreed the boy had the brain of a girl.

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"And I looked it up afterward, and there is some physical differences between male and female brains and I didn't know that," said Johnson. "And then (the man) went through and told me, these are procedures and this is the process for (gender transitioning), and it's got all these different doctors and these guys have to all be in agreement before anything happens."

The conversation caused Johnson to reach out to other members of the transgender community that he knew and ask them about their experiences.

"It opened my eyes to something that I was scared of, because I didn't really know enough about it," he said. "I was scared that societal impact ... with that kind of pressure would it cause somebody to think they are the wrong sex, and from talking to (the Thief River Falls man) and (members of the transgender community), it kind of put that fear to rest ... because there's so much more to it. He said, when you do this, you have four or five specialty doctors involved and everybody needs to be on the same sheet of music."

However, on transgender athletic advantages, Johnson said he's "not completely sold" on whether the competition would be a level playing field.

He also provided straight answers to a variety of issues-based questions.

  • On taxes, he said, he supports a flat, nationwide sales tax instead of an income-base tax system and believes that would simplify the tax process. He also said he isn't opposed to taxes on large corporations with more than 20 shareholders.
  • On abortion, he said he is personally pro-life. However, he believes abortion exceptions for health of the mother, rape and incest need to be included. Johnson also said, from the voters he's talked to, conservatives can't agree on when person-hood starts, which has made the issue much more complicated.
  • On guns, he said he should be able to "park" his guns wherever he wants on his property. He also said, while he supports the theory behind red-flag laws, he does not see how it could be implemented while giving due process before the weapons are taken. He did, however, acknowledge something needs to be done to curb gun violence in the United States.
  • On the 2020 election, Johnson said, as clearly as possible, that he did not believe the 2020 election was stolen. And, he would have voted to certify the election on Jan. 6.

Johnson also reached out to Collin Peterson, the former 30-year DFL representative of the District 7 congressional seat, to discuss large-scale farming operations, as opposed to Johnson's small acreage, and his work on federal farm bill legislation.
"He brought me out here and we sat down at his lake house for a couple hours," said Johnson. "One of the first questions he asked when I told him I was gonna run for congress was, 'do you have a plane?'"

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Minnesota's Seventh Congressional District is more than 30,000 square miles and Peterson was known to traverse the entire area piloting his own small-engine plane. Even without a plane, Johnson said he was committed to meeting as many residents of the district as he can and estimated he has averaged between 15 to 20 hours of driving each week over the course of the spring and summer to attend various parades and events.

"My biggest way to get to people is parades and the person who told me that was Collin Peterson," he said. "Parades work well for my demeanor and my attitude, and my whole charisma because I will go out there and I will make a spectacle ... but the feedback we've gotten is just so strong and people will listen."

In a brief interview, Collin Peterson said Johnson has an uphill climb ahead of him this November, but likes that he's asking for advice and is always seeking to become more knowledgeable on the issues facing the district.

"He's got a military background and demeanor, he's a really hard-working guy in terms meeting people," said Peterson. "I just like the guy, but like I said, he's got an uphill battle."

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