Beltway insiders report that since his appointment in February 2005, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has been preoccupied with the fact that he is ninth in the line of presidential succession.
Said Johanns: "It's really something to think that, if the president and the vice-president, the speaker of the house, the president pro tempore of the Senate, the secretary of state, the secretary of the treasury, the secretary of defense, the attorney general, and the secretary of the interior were somehow unable to fulfill their capacities as president, I would have to be the one to take up the mantle."
Those close to him say that Johanns never expressed any particular knowledge of or interest in presidential succession prior to his appointment as head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture....
Johanns said he has promised his children that should he become president, he will not allow the press to exploit them or put them in the spotlight.
"I used to be intimidated by it a little," Johanns said. "But now that I've had a chance to settle into the post of the presidency nine times removed, I finally feel up to the challenge. God forbid it should ever come to that, but if my country needs me to take the helm of the ship of state, I'm ready."
Last Thursday, Johanns testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee On Agriculture, Rural Development, And Related Agencies about the potential dangers of avian flu communicability within the poultry industry.
"Alarmingly, bird flu can attack, and possibly kill, people in their prime. If we don't take aggressive preventive steps now, people from all walks of life — even the eight most important people in the executive branch of our government — could be victims."
A December visit by officials from Mexico's Agricultural Ministry was marked by Johanns' insistence on distributing number-nine-embossed T-shirts, pencils, and coffee mugs to all assembled...Johanns "kept saying things to them like 'the president didn't make me numero nueve for nothing.'"
In recent weeks, Johanns has taken his preoccupation to a new level, formulating contingency plans in the event he is forced to assume control of the presidency. During a four-hour meeting earlier this month, Johann debriefed his staff on possible scenarios, and their corresponding duties.
"He rattled off everything from mass assassination to a catastrophic roller coaster disaster...."
Honestly, I don't know whether to laugh or to be frightened that former Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns is only nine successions away from the presidency. Johanns' left this state's economy in tatters (50th/49th in the nation), while turning state budgeting into an all-out assault on the University system and Nebraska's low-income working families.
It's not a legacy Nebraskans will look kindly upon in the future. I've got to say, Johanns probably made the right call jumping ship to the Bush administration where such incompetence will be less noticeable and might even pass for the norm.
"You're doing a heck of a job, Jo-Jo!" You can almost hear President Bush saying those exact words in the midst of some total agricultural disaster he doesn't want to acknowledge, can't you?
Doesn't make Johanns' proximity to power any less troubling, but I can certainly appreciate the bit of laughter this article inspires that should also serve as a warning about the quality of leaders running this country, at least for those of us in Nebraska who've seen their failures for ourselves.