Robert D. Mather, Ph.D.

The Conservative Social Psychology Blog
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Kelly Johnston, 28th Secretary of the United States Senate

Kelly Johnston was the 28th Secretary of the United States Senate, and the second youngest ever selected (1995-1996) to the position. He was born in Edmond, OK and attended the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma. Early in his career he served as a newspaper reporter and editor in Oklahoma. He held a number of notable Republican administrative positions during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. He gives insightful political commentary at his website ( I had the opportunity to interview him. Here is our discussion.


RM: What was your role as Secretary of the United States Senate? What should citizens know about how that body of government truly operates in governing in our interests?

KJ: The Secretary of the Senate is the chief legislative, financial, and administrative officer of the Senate. The Secretary is considered the "senior" officer, one of five, confirmed by the Senate, and the only one who is sworn in on the floor of the Senate, in session. The other officers are the Sergeant at Arms, the Secretary for the Majority, the Secretary for the Minority, and the Chaplain. The Secretary is responsible for the legislative process - the Parliamentarian, the Bill and Journal Clerks, the document room, historical office, chief counsel for employment, and more offices (some 19 in all) that fall under his/her jurisdiction. The current Secretary is Julie Adams. Most notable is the first Secretary, Samuel Otis, who still holds the record for the longest tenure in the office - 25 years. A visit to Congress Hall in Philadelphia, next to Independence Hall, features Otis's office just off the grand Senate floor. It is worth a visit for anyone living in or visiting the Philadelphia area.

Not to be overlooked is the role of the chief financial officer of the Senate, and also his/her responsibility for the Senate Office of Security. The Secretary is responsible for the handling of all confidential and classified information in the Senate.


RM: Your role in the Senate came while your Majority Leader was running for President. What was Bob Dole like as both a politician and as a man?

KJ: Bob Dole was not only a serious and very hard-working legislator, but he also enjoyed enormous bipartisan respect and demonstrated a unique ability to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats, especially on agricultural and hunger issues (he, with Sen. George McGovern, are the architects of much of our nation's nutrition programs). His remarkable WWII experience, where he was seriously wounded in Italy as part of the 10th Mountain infantry division, shaped and influenced him in many ways - especially his long road to recovery and painful disabilities that have hindered him physically but not deterred his entire life. Because of that, among his considerable legislative and political skills, he inspired a great many of us.

Interestingly, he was considered an "ardent conservative" when first elected to the House and then the Senate but was considered a "moderate" as his career progressed. Dole could sometimes appear dour and even bit negative on the stump, but behind the scenes, he demonstrated a terrific and quick sense of humor and was fun to be around. He could have been a great stand-up comic (and, often was) Sadly, that reality never really emerged until after his 1996 election defeat. He was one of the most successful Majority Leaders in the Senate's history.


RM: You spent time as a local news reporter and editor in Oklahoma for many years. How has local and national journalism changed over the past 50 years?

KJ: I was a part-time newspaper reporter during my college years (1974-1976) for the Chickasha Daily Express, also serving briefly as the editor of my campus newspaper, The Trend (University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma). Little did I know, but I was auditioning for a job as The Donrey Media Group's state capitol correspondent when I was assigned, in 1976, to cover a campaign visit to Lawton by President Gerald Ford. I won the job, working from our flagship paper, the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise. I would later be promoted as Editor of the Henryetta Free-Lance, then a daily newspaper (sadly no longer). I left the news business for a political campaign in late 1978, then on to Washington, DC. 

I mention all that to provide a frame of reference for my answer: I no longer recognize my former profession. I was trained, both in college and my first jobs, to pursue objective truth and clearly delineate between journalism and editorializing. My news coverage focused on facts and context; I save the editorializing for my weekly column or clearly-marked editorials. I used visuals (photos) as often as possible.

The keywords here are "objective truth," which tragically have been replaced by "narrative." In our post-modern world of subjective truth ("your truth," "my truth,"), so many journalists no longer pursue objective truth but instead focus on their preferred narrative. Major news outlets color or distort their headlines and stories to favor certain narratives over others, and demand conformity from their newsroom and editorial colleagues (so much for "diversity"). And with the advent of social media since around 2008, traditional media have opted to monetize division and focus on niche markets, such as conservatives (FOX) or liberals (CNN). Print media has largely gone all-in for their leftist audiences. However, let me make an exception for "local media," which I find does a much better job at retaining their "objective truth" roots. I have canceled my subscriptions to most major national media, such as the Washington Post and New York Times, and instead turn to the Tulsa World, Daily Oklahoman, Chicago Tribune, and even the Myrtle Beach Sun-Times, among others. I also ignore most of the wire services (especially AP), although Reuters and, to a lesser extent, Bloomberg, retain some objectivity (not always).

This is why, I think, you are beginning to see explosive growth in independent journalism, such as The Epoch Times, "Just The News," and Sharyl Attkisson's "Full Measure" News. Chicago's WGN TV is now going national. People are yearning for objective journalism, I think smarter heads in the media are taking advantage of this opportunity. There is hope.


RM: I have had the chance to spend time with former Governor George Nigh, who was governor during your time covering the Oklahoma State Capitol as a reporter. Despite having different political views than me, Governor Nigh is extraordinarily entertaining. What were some of the central issues from your time covering Oklahoma politics during the oil bust? Was Governor Nigh effective in working in a bipartisan manner?

KJ: I love Governor Nigh. I first met him when I had a one-on-one interview in 1977 early in my days as a wet-behind-the-ears state capitol news correspondent for Donrey's 12 newspapers in Oklahoma, and Nigh was Lt. Governor, a position he would serve in for 16 years if memory serves. A gracious, approachable, positive, and gregarious person, he was always delightful. Nigh was an "old fashioned" Democrat; culturally and socially conservative, as Oklahoma was then and remains, but knew how to take care of Democratic constituencies and work with the business community. He hated polarizing politics, eschewed controversy, and always tried to find a common denominator. I remember voting for him every chance I had, and the newspapers I worked for always endorsed him.


RM: The United States Senate procedures will take center stage in the coming months after the passing of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. What do we need to know about the operations of the Senate to understand what is coming?

KJ: The Senate's role here is actually very straightforward, as outlined by the Constitution: The President is empowered to nominate to fill vacancies in the Supreme Court, and the Senate gets to decide whether to confirm or not, or even whether to consider the nomination. There is no law or "rule" that restricts when such nominations can be made or confirmed (during a two-year Congress). Any other considerations (whether to hold a confirmation vote before or after an election) are purely political.

There have been 29 Supreme Court vacancies in election years in our country's history. Presidents have nominated someone in every instance, and the Senate, on 17 occasions, have confirmed them. Sometimes they have rejected them, and most recently, in 2016, they chose not to act. The Senate follows historical precedent, except when it doesn't. Given that the Senate majority (at present) is of the same political party as the President, I fully expect a nomination to be made, and the Senate to act on it with hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee and, possibly, a vote by the full Senate either before or after the election, during a planned "lame duck" session. Ultimately, it is about who has the votes. We will soon find out.

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