Former Oklahoma State Sen. Mike Johnson, a Kingfisher auto dealer who became the first Republican in state history to serve as Senate appropriations and budget chairman, died Saturday at age 78 following complications from a recent hip surgery.
Johnson’s former colleagues — Republican and Democrat — remembered him as a likable, thoughtful and kind man.
“Mike Johnson was a leader, and I was proud to serve with him,” said former Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee (R-OKC). “He was the first Senate Republican appropriations chairman. He led our caucus and helped define what we were about — being fiscal conservatives and being stewards of the state’s money. He will be greatly missed.”
Coffee and Johnson led the Oklahoma State Senate’s first Republican majority in 2009 and 2010, but they also served in a power-sharing role with Co-President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan (D-Stillwater) and Co-Senate Appropriations and Budget Chairman Johnnie Crutchfield (D-Ardmore) in 2007 and 2008.
“He was just a really good man and a good friend,” Crutchfield said. “During that two years when we co-chaired appropriations, we got very close. A lot of people thought, ‘Well, they must have a hard time working together,’ but he and I both agreed that it was probably the most enjoyable part of our time there — working together. Contrary to what people imagined or thought, we got along fine.”
Crutchfield said it has been “awfully sad around our house” since he learned of Johnson’s passing Saturday. Crutchfield noted that he was the appropriations chairman during the final years of Democratic control of the Senate. Following the two years of power-sharing where he and Johnson co-chaired the budget committee, Johnson spent his final two years in the Senate as chairman of the budget committee.
“When the Republicans took over and he was in charge of all he appropriations himself, he and I stayed close,” Crutchfield recalled. “One day he said, “You know, whether it was when we were together or when I’ve had it myself, the problems are just the same. The people blame you or support you or condemn you just like it was when we were there together.’ I said, ‘It was just like that for me when I was there.'”
Crutchfield said that, when the Senate was split 24-24 between Democrats and Republicans, the unusual power-sharing agreement offered a clever way to kill bad bills.
“Occasionally, there were bills that we were looking at that didn’t need to pass for each one of us. There were bills from my side that didn’t need to pass. He saw some bills from his side that didn’t need to pass. So we would kill them, and then we would blame them on each other,” Crutchfield said. “I’d say, ‘Mike, this bill doesn’t need to go anywhere.’ And he’d say,’ Johnnie, this bill doesn’t need to go anywhere.’ It was our people that had them, so we would kill them and blame it on the other one, because we could take the heat for it.”
Crutchfield, who entered and departed the Legislature the same years as Johnson and Coffee, said he and his wife had continued find time to meet Johnson and his wife in Oklahoma City for dinner. He called Johnson “one of my best friends.”
“We worked together in a way that we were able to do things and get things done,” Crutchfield said. “We thought we did real well. Sometimes we did a good job of going beyond where our party was to help the state.”
‘Getting things accomplished to benefit our great state’
Born Michael Donald Johnson in Kingfisher on April 7, 1944, he met his wife, Judy, at Oklahoma State University in the 1960s. They both received degrees in accounting, and they wed in 1966.
The couple operated a tropical fish store in Oklahoma City and a CPA firm in Edmond. In the 1970s, Mike Johnson was elected city treasurer of Edmond. They eventually moved to Kingfisher and joined the family’s Chrysler dealership, which was founded in 1927. As a teenager, Mike Johnson operated a fireworks stand in the dealership’s parking lot.
“It is with heavy hearts that our family announces the passing of Mike Johnson, who went to be with the Lord this morning. Mike was a mentor to all of us and a person we all looked up to and respected,” the post stated. “We will forever miss him here at Johnsons and in our personal lives as well. Your thoughts and prayers at this difficult time are appreciated.”
Mike and Judy Johnson were inducted into the OSU Spears School of Business Hall of Fame in 2018, and they have endowed four scholarships at the university. Both have been active Kingfisher community leaders, with Mike Johnson serving stints as president of the board for the Kingfisher Chamber of Commerce and as board president for Kingfisher Public Schools. He was an active member of the Kingfisher Rotary Club, which meets at the family car dealership.
Former Rep. Mike Sanders (R-Kingfisher) called Mike Johnson a respected community leader.
“Sen. Mike Johnson was a friend and colleague. I have known him my whole life and helped with his successful 1998 State Senate campaign,” Sanders said. “He was widely respected in the car business and at the State Capitol. He will be sorely missed. Nellie and I will keep Judy and his entire family in our thoughts and prayers”
Mike Johnson served in the Senate from his election in 1998 until term limits forced him out of office in 2010. His son, Rob, served in the House of Representatives and then in the State Senate as well.
“Mike Johnson was more than just my father. He was my role model, advisor and my best friend,” said Rob Johnson. “I always tried to model my time in public service after his, which no one could replicate. He was a statesman who was respected on both sides of the aisle. He cared more about getting things accomplished to benefit our great state than he did about any type of recognition for his achievements.”
Former Sen. Ted Fisher (D-Sapulpa) praised Mike Johnson as “bright” and “easy to work with.”
“He was just such a pleasant man and a fine man. He represented his district well, and he was very thoughtful,” said Fisher, who served as Senate majority leader during the middle of Johnson’s stint in office. “He wasn’t a contrarian, nor was I. As majority leader, I dealt the cards off the top. I didn’t play favorites for Democrats or Republicans.”
Fisher called johnson “a great asset to the Senate and to the state,” and he said they worked across the political aisle often.
“He was a very thoughtful and amiable man. Very likable,” Fisher said. “We all had our different beliefs, but that just comes with the territory. But that doesn’t make you non-compromising or hard to work with. It can. It certainly has become that way. But that is not the way we did it. We had battles, sure, but it was not like it is now.”
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Services scheduled for Mike Johnson
Mike Johnson was preceded in death by his parents, Donald and Hazel Eakins Johnson, and his daughter, Lori Johnson. He is survived by his wife, Judy; his son, David Johnson and wife, Jerilyn; his son, Rob Johnson and wife, Colleen; his sister, Joyce Stuteville and husband, Jack; his brother, John Johnson and wife, Valerie; and 14 grandchildren.
A wake service has been set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3, and a funeral service will follow at 10 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 4. Both services are scheduled at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, 309 S. Main St. in Kingfisher.
In lieu of flowers, the Johnson family has asked that donations can be made to the Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church building fund or the Center of Family Love, a residential care facility that serves mentally and physically disabled adults in Okarche.