Making 'Em Smile

MU Republican Brian Johnson wins over political opponents with pointed messages and a killer grin
Friday, October 8, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:47 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

The president of one of the largest student political organizations on MU’s campus is determined to get his conservative message out, even if it means being mistaken for a “Deaniac.”

Before Brian Johnson became president of the Mizzou College Republicans and editor of Equitas, a monthly publication on conservative thought, he was merely a face in the crowd at a meeting of MU Howard Dean supporters. He told the Dean crowd he was a conservative and attending as an observer for a new publication called The Campus Review.

It sounded innocent enough. But the review he wrote in the December 2003 issue was not.

“…the (Democratic) Party continues its sputtering odyssey to the fringe left.”

“The small, vanilla-colored Dean for America card smelled strongly of marijuana.”

“…Generation Dean members are young, passionate and quite liberal.”

Looking back on the scathing review, Lori Lamprich, the publicity coordinator for College Democrats whom Johnson describes as a feminist, leftist and “Deaniac,” smiled and shook her head. She was at the meeting.

Now, she said, Democrats know him.

So, when Johnson arrived at a party Lamprich threw recently for the College Democrats and the staff of Prospectus, a monthly liberal publication, it created a commotion. Lamprich watched some of her guests’ jaws drop when Johnson strolled up the steps of her home.

“He’s the Republican on campus — he’s public enemy No. 1!” Lamprich said, laughing. She did invite Johnson but didn’t expect him to show up.

Where does he get the backbone to do these things?

“Once you get in (politics) a while, you’re used to the clashing,” Johnson said. “You know you’re going to be attacked; you know you’re going to be the only person in some situations. I kind of like the conflict. When I went to Lori’s house, I kinda wanted to create a stir,” he said, grinning.

It’s easy to grin right back at him. He’s charming and good-natured. Most of the time he sports a T-shirt and jeans, but he looks just as comfortable in a tie and dress slacks. And he smiles so often, it’s infectious.

His opponents grin at the mere mention of his name — or in response to his political views. When Johnson, 23, spoke on a voter-education panel on Sept. 28, he faced three Democrats on the panel, two of whom were several years his senior.

Johnson addressed the group, sharing Republican views on gun control: Every citizen has a right to a gun; it’s in the Second Amendment. Lara Underwood, a former Democratic candidate for state representative of the 25th District, pulled a copy of the U.S. Constitution out of her purse, walked up to the panel and handed it to the panelist next to Johnson. The panelist passed on the booklet and suggested Johnson read the Second Amendment out loud.

Without missing a beat or interrupting his speech, Johnson took the booklet and set it down on the floor next to his chair, continuing on in spite of the distraction.

Underwood couldn’t do anything but shrug — and grin

Johnson was happy to speak on a panel to help educate voters about politics.

“I think everyone should vote. That’s the first obligation of every citizen, perhaps, but you are also obligated to learn and be informed,” Johnson said. “Ultimately, I want all citizens to be involved and aware. I respect some of my political adversaries on this campus more than people who are apathetic.”

Johnson also spoke highly of other young Republicans, singling out freshman Henry Atkinson. They met at a Bush/Cheney and Kit Bond event in Columbia this summer. At the time, Johnson was an intern for U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo.

“He really cares about the Republican Party and conservatism,” Atkinson said of Johnson. “I even compared him to Bill Buckley,” he said, speaking of the conservative writer. “He’s very intelligent. He’s very aggressive.”

Johnson is spending much of his spare time working on campaigns. The College Republicans’ biggest priorities are the presidential and gubernatorial races.

“We want to make Missouri a red state again in November,” Johnson said.

Johnson and the College Republicans do the usual campaign activities, such as phone banking and precinct walking, but also partake in political tailgating — handing out stickers and cards at MU football games.

The cards couple diagrams of football signals with political messages, such as “Personal Foul: when a player intentionally commits a serious penalty or when John Kerry intentionally flip-flops on issue after issue” and “Interference: illegal in football — but a great way to describe President Bush’s effect on terrorist activities on American soil since 9/11.”

Steve Easton, faculty adviser for the Mizzou College Republicans, said students sometimes relax after they become the president of an organization — but not Johnson. He works hard to keep it active.

“Brian is building the organization right now,” Easton said. “It really takes self-starters. It’s easy for the organization to go dormant. Brian’s a go-getter.”

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