The consulting community lost one of our own last week, and way too early. Julian Wooten Johnson, Jr., known as Wooten, was a campaign hack’s campaign hack before he passed away Dec. 6 at the age of 51.
A road warrior, and a veteran of many a hard-fought battle throughout the country. He was known as a Southern operative, and if you ever talked to him there was no denying his Tennessee roots. But like most of us, he worked all over.
He was a fundraiser in Alabama, a caucus director in North Carolina, a DCCC regional director, a campaign manager and chief of staff for Rodney Alexander, a Louisiana Democrat-turned-Republican commonly referred to as “that sonofabitch Rodney.”
He was a mail consultant, a strategist, and a father of two. Quick-witted, smart, prematurely gray, and known for his uniform of jeans, a button-down shirt, and tassel loafers or cowboy boots, often with a dip tucked into his lip. He was also a friend and a mentor to many people in the business, who in turn was befriended and mentored by some of the folks in the business who were older than him.
When politicians pass away they get above-the-fold coverage in hometown papers and stretches of highway named after them. When campaign consultants die, it’s up to those in the trenches with them to keep their memory alive. After reaching out to the consultant community, here are some remembrances I can share of our fallen brother Wooten:
John Anzalone, founder, Anzalone Liszt Grove Research: “Wooten was a human golden retriever. You always wanted to be around him because he was such a happy person and he made you feel happy. He loved life and he wasn’t afraid to show he loved you.”
Michael Beychok, partner, Ourso Beychok and former business partner: “When Wooten Johnson walked into a campaign office shit got real for anyone on staff. By that I mean that pretty soon folks knew that Wooten, with the Copenhagen dip in his mouth — the loud voice — and the huge shock of grey hair – knew what he was doing, and everyone better get on board or get run over by a political campaign force of nature. His entrances into a room or on a conference call reminded me of Kramer on ‘Seinfeld’: He barreled in loudly. You knew he was there, and he was going to say something you damn well better pay attention to because it was meaningful. I’ll miss all that, but most of all I will just miss the way he laughed — loudly and out of his belly — which was infectious.”
Casey O’Shea, friend and chief of staff to Illinois Rep. Brad Schneider: “He had this ability to size up an entire situation immediately. And, importantly, he knew the difference between a situation and a problem. The latter being something you can actually solve.
I had often heard Wooten’s booming voice on the consultant calls. Usually, it was something along the lines of ‘You need to raise more money and get up on TV right now!’
This can be a hard profession to hang in on. Long absences and frustration that boils over can make it hard on the people who love you in spite of your best efforts to be a decent partner. The highs are high. The lows can be very, very low. And the costs in physical and mental health are real. Take care of yourselves out there folks. It’s what Wooten would want you to do. God rest his soul.”
Matthew Arnold, friend and colleague: “We worked together, traveled together, and for a little while he and Brad Holley and I lived together in the best cheap apartment that ever was. We watched Tombstone once a week. The night Chuck Berry died, he DJ’d a two-hour Chuck Berry marathon which ended in Wooten spinning on his back [on] the floor and [making] the declaration … “the day Chuck Berry died” [is] an annual celebration.
He loved music. He’d talk for hours about Stax records and Motown. When we were in the apartment together, he led us into a Marshall Tucker band obsession. He was an epic politico. Real campaigner. He had forgotten more about independent expenditure spending than I’ll ever know. He could figure out how to get money where you needed it to be.
Wooten was funny. Fast funny in the dangerous sort of way. He was generous. He was kind. We never met anybody he couldn’t charm. He was loyal to his friends.
Wooten Johnson has died. There will never be another one like him and I am sorry that he’s gone.”
Terry Walsh, partner and president of The Strategy Group: “I hired Wooten in 1998 and brought him up from [Tennessee] to Chicago for the cycle, and then worked with him on a number of races thereafter. Wooten was the kind of guy who you could talk with after not seeing or hearing from him for months on end and pick up right where you left off. He would hold forth for hours about his kids or politics or college football and be full of passion and joy. Wooten was a fiercely loyal friends and all of us who know him and love him will sorely miss him.”
Burns Strider, founder The Strider Group: “It’s impossible to replace a Wooten Johnson. He was heart, soul, and mind of any endeavor, be it a campaign or fishing trip. You don’t replace a person like that. You hang on to what you learned from him and hope to sustain the passion he carried for making the world a better place. Wooten was intrepid.
Wooten and I held a pork butt smoking contest once in DC between the two best pitmasters we knew, Wooten and me. About 150 attended. At the end of a smoke-filled, beer-drenched day, I won that epic battle by two votes and was immediately accused of ballot stuffing and cheating by Wooten — an attack that continued for 18 years. He never conceded. That was my friend Wooten Johnson. Mercy, I will miss him.”
Wooten will be buried at a private family graveside service. Memorial donations may be made to Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, 105 Westpark Drive #415, Brentwood, TN 37027, or the charity of your choice. Online condolences may be submitted at familyheritagefh.com.
David Mowery is the founder and president of Mowery Consulting Group.