Newly elected U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, delivers remarks with fellow Republicans on the East Front steps of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 25, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Since Republican representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana was elected as speaker of the House last week, journalists and D.C. politicos have been scrambling to learn more about the formerly obscure politician described by a former colleague as a “background guy.”
We already know that Johnson — who was first elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 2015 and won election to Congress the following year — is a determined Donald Trump supporter and helped organize the effort to overturn the 2020 election.
He’s also a climate-science skeptic who has already, in his short time as speaker, helped pass a bill that would cut renewable funding from the Inflation Reduction Act and is a major recipient of campaign donations from the oil and gas sector, which has given him more than $330,000 since 2015.
Meanwhile, legislators and progressive advocates from his home state of Louisiana sketch a fuller, and more disturbing, image and warn that behind Johnson’s genial demeanor lurk extreme views that are out of step with much of the American mainstream.
John Delgado, a former Baton Rouge Metro council member who was critical of Johnson when he was still a state representative, said Johnson’s climate skepticism is borne out of evangelical “dispensationalist belief”—the idea that the end times herald the second coming of Christ. “There are people who just want to see the world burn because they are waiting for the next one,” Delgado told Sierra. He explained that those who are eager for the Rapture “want it [the world] to end sooner…. And so they’re not going to care about the environment, they’re not going to care about the coastline, they’re not going to care about rising ocean temperatures.”
“When you talk about climate change,” Delgado said, “he [Johnson] truly doesn’t care.”
U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, a Democrat from Louisiana, also expressed concerns about Johnson’s views on climate change.
“There is no doubt that climate change is real,” Representative Carter’s office said in a statement sent to Sierra. “Just look at Louisiana’s recent struggle with saltwater intrusion in the Mississippi River, and the wildfires, excessive heat, flooding, mudslides, tornados, and natural disasters we are experiencing globally.” Carter added that he plans to “steadfastly oppose and challenge [Johnson’s] ideas on these important issues.”
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Jack Sweeney of the New Orleans chapter of Democratic Socialists of America said Johnson’s views hurt his own home state of Louisiana, which is acutely vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis.
“He’s specifically opposed to things like wind and solar, saying that they’re inefficient sources of energy, which is pretty remarkably ignorant,” Sweeney said. He further described Johnson’s stance on wind turbines as “bizarre and conspiratorial.”
Johnson was chairing the Republican Study Committee when it claimed that wind turbines cause “headaches, anxiety, depression, and cognitive dysfunction.” That claim is apparently based on commentary written not by scientists but by a Canadian family physician, along with a retired pharmacist and an accountant.
Nikki Reisch, director of the Climate & Energy Program at the Center for International Environmental Law, decried seeing “an avowed climate denier, beholden to the fossil fuel industry, at the helm.”
“Giving Mike Johnson a platform for his pro-oil, anti-human-rights agenda puts our collective future in greater peril,” Reisch said.
Sweeney complained that while Johnson hasn’t championed legislation that would improve the lives of his constituents, like raising the minimum wage, “he has gone out of his way to defend in court, and otherwise, groups that believe the earth is 6,000 years old.” Sweeney was referring to Speaker Johnson’s advocacy on behalf of the Ark Encounter theme park and Creation Museum in Kentucky.
Jackson Voss, a Louisiana native and former policy advocate in D.C., encountered Johnson’s staff during his time as a legislative staffer. Voss, now a policy coordinator at the Alliance for Affordable Energy, described Johnson’s views “as being anti-science” on issues ranging from climate change to reproductive and mental health. Voss also echoed Delgado’s impression of Johnson, that his positions are influenced less by politics than by a deep conviction in Christian fundamentalism.
“His convictions are extreme,” said Voss, “but they’re sincerely held.”
Johnson, who has advocated for public schools to teach the Bible as an “accurate record of history,” is opposed to reproductive rights and LGBTQIA equality. While serving as a state legislator, he received a $400,000 contract to defend the state law he helped pass, which restricted abortion access. He has also written in favor of criminalizing gay sex.
According to Johnson’s previous campaign disclosure filings, he has been a board member of Freedom Guard Inc. — a nonprofit “contending for the Christian faith through legislation”— as well as Living Waters Publications, which offers “Biblical Evangelism training camps.”
In 2018, he received between $25,000 and $100,000 for “private pastoral counseling services” from his wife’s company. He was previously board president of Providence Classical Academy, which offers an education “founded upon a Biblical worldview,” including creationism. The academy’s website states, “in contrast to modern education, we use old (proven) methods of reading old (influential) books.”
Louisianans who spoke to Sierra said it’s very likely that Johnson was able to claim the speaker’s gavel because, unlike the equally extreme but more pugnacious Jim Jordan of Ohio, he is so consistently nice and polite.
Voss recalls encountering Johnson’s equally polite staff, but said he believes the politeness is “very strategic,” as it puts a palatable face on extreme views. Voss said he has “a feeling that many of his [Johnson’s] colleagues are not actually very familiar with his positions. Otherwise, I have a feeling they would have hesitated to make him Speaker of the House.”
Justin Solet, a long-time environmental justice organizer from Louisiana, likewise expressed concern that Johnson is putting “a polite face on a terrifying aspect” of the Republican platform. “It’s frightening to see,” he added.
Solet described Johnson as “a zealot” and says if Johnson’s vision were realized in Louisiana, “we would turn into Gilead,” a reference to the fascist ethnostate in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
Sweeney added, “Mike Johnson’s ideology, beliefs, and policy positions carried to their natural conclusion would result in a south Louisiana that is little more than an industrial enclave not suitable for human habitation.”
Solet said that Johnson’s views are not representative of what many Louisianans want for their state.
“This isn’t the Louisiana I was raised in,” he said, noting that he’s scared for the future of the state. “The Louisiana I grew up in was the Louisiana where communities cared about each other. They cared about the land that they lived on, the water they drank.”
Johnson “will turn Louisiana back 50 to 100 years,” Solet warned. Between Johnson, Gov.-elect Jeff Landry, and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, “you have the three knights of hell in charge. And they’re going to burn this place to the ground.”
Clarification: This article was updated to remove a reference to a CRES PAC fundraiser, which was held in support of state Rep. Mike Johnson of Pineville. The Louisiana Ethics Administration filed the financial disclosure erroneously under the congressman’s name.
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