south carolina senator kevin johnson and his daughter kimberly, who serves in the house of representatives

When politics is a family affair: South Carolina Senator Kevin Johnson’s daughter Kimberly was elected to the House last year. The two collaborated on several bills during the 2021 session.

Going First: Senators Blaze Kids’ Paths to the Statehouse

By Eric Peterson | June 16, 2021 | State Legislatures News | Print

Balancing Passion and Pragmatism

Montana Senator Keith Regier

Montana Representatives Matt Regier and Amy Regier

Matt Regier remembers campaigning door to door when his father, Keith Regier, ran to represent Montana House District 4 in 2008. Initially resistant, Matt found he liked that sort of personal politics. “Once you do it, it’s really enjoyable to sit on the doorstep and chat with people,” he says.

Fast forward eight years, and Matt was knocking on those same doors—not for his father, but for his own campaign. Matt, who has a background in real estate and construction, won election to House District 5 in 2017—the same year that Keith successfully ran for the Montana Senate, after being termed out of the House.

But the Regiers weren’t done yet: Amy Regier, a nurse by trade, joined her father and brother in the Montana Legislature last year. This year marks her first session as representative for House District 6.

Matt’s first campaign started a little in jest, Keith says. “I was termed out in the Montana House, and Matthew asked, ‘What are you going to do with all your political signs? Are you just going to throw them out?’ I said, ‘Well, you could use them.’ It got us talking and thinking, and it was kind of like, ‘Why not?’”

Matt had witnessed his father as he served four terms in the House, so he didn’t make the decision blindly. “He’d seen what I’d gone through and knew what he was getting into,” Keith says.

“A lot of people don’t get involved in politics because of the fear of the unknown,” Matt says. “That was a little bit overcome being able to watch Dad go through the process.”

A lot of people don’t get involved in politics because of the fear of the unknown,” Matt says. “That was a little bit overcome being able to watch Dad go through the process. —Montana Representative Matt Regier

Matt says his father taught him to balance passion and pragmatism in politics. “If the committee kills your bill, you can’t go moping about it, or blame people, or get all frustrated; you have to reset and either come at it from a different angle or move on to the next issue,” he says. “That is a tough balancing act emotionally, and that’s something my dad does very well.”

When the seat for House District 6 opened in 2020, Keith gently encouraged Amy to consider a bid. “Dad never said, ‘Hey, you should run for office,’” she says. “I was born and raised in Montana, so I wanted to preserve what I know and love about Montana. The timing just worked out with work as well.”

While Keith didn’t push her into politics, he’s provided numerous teachable moments along the way and remains available for advice. “He is a great resource for me,” Amy says. “One, because he’s been there. Coming in as a freshman—you hear this analogy a lot—you’re taking information through a fire hydrant. So it’s really nice to have somebody that you trust.”

Amy and her father were both in leadership on their respective judiciary committees, and she says Keith has been a huge help with process issues and learning how to run a committee. Plus, he set her up with a desk in his office, as freshmen in the House only have a desk on the floor.

It’s not as much about words of wisdom as it is about walking the talk. “His example as a man of character has just been huge,” Amy says. “My dad’s definitely a statesman, not a politician. Actions speak louder than words.”

Was there any fatherly advice before her first session? “Just relax and enjoy it,” Keith says, adding, “It’s really an honor to serve in the Legislature together, and I’m happy for them and that we can serve at the same time. I just look at it as a good thing for the people of Montana.”

Back in the Flathead Valley, where they have a house on Little Bitterroot Lake, the Regiers like to get together for family barbecues and outdoor recreation. Even if they don’t always see eye to eye on issues, they all agree that the family place rocks.

“It’s tough to beat a 90-degree day on a Montana mountain lake,” Matt says.

That’s exactly where the Regiers plan to be for Father’s Day next weekend—but only after spending the preceding two days in Helena at the annual Montana Republican Party Convention.

“Father’s Day usually consists of going to the lake with all of the family for barbecue,” Matt says, “and hopefully, some boating.”

‘Doing It for the People’

South Carolina Senator Kevin Johnson

South Carolina Representative Kimberly Johnson

Kimberly Johnson’s passion for politics began during her dad’s campaigns for mayor of Manning, South Carolina.

Now she’s a representative in the South Carolina House, and her father, Kevin Johnson, is a state senator serving his third term.

“What he told me before filing to run was to make sure it was what I wanted to do, and not something that others wanted me to do,” Kimberly says. “He wanted me to make sure I was doing it for the people I would be representing—and not expecting anything back in return.”

She ran for House District 64 in 2020, with a professional career spanning the military, community banking and school boards. “We discussed it, prayed about it, and everything started lining up,” Kimberly says. “I couldn’t have planned it better.”

When it came to Kimberly running for the House seat, Kevin says he didn’t push her into it. “I really let her make her own decision,” he says. “I was glad she decided to run … I was happy to see that all her hard work paid off for her.”

I really let her make her own decision. I was glad she decided to run. —South Carolina Senator Kevin Johnson

Following an 11-year stint as mayor of Manning, Kevin served in the House from 2011 to 2012 before his election to the Senate.

In part because she’d witnessed his experience, Kevin says Kimberly hit the ground running in her first session this year. It also didn’t hurt that she’d been engaged in community service since high school, when she was part of student council and ROTC. “You had to be hands-on, you had to be in touch,” she says.

Her dad had warned her that serving in the General Assembly means a bit more personal scrutiny and pointed her in the direction of mentors. “They made me so comfortable that I asked the questions and got the knowledge that I needed to make it through my first year,” Kimberly says.

But Kevin says she’d already learned the most important lessons: “Go in as a freshman legislator ... and sit back, take things in and gradually grow into your position. She picked that up on her own.”

The 2021 session was marked by father-daughter collaboration on several bills, but face time was limited. “We didn’t get to carpool like I thought, because we had different schedules,” Kimberly says.

Kimberly says she has learned a big lesson about integrity from her father’s political career. “I’ve watched some people campaign against him,” she says. “I watched him do for them what he did for people who campaigned tirelessly for him. I think that just spoke volumes to me.”

Kevin says serving with Kimberly is “a joy, but I’m going to be honest—it hasn’t really hit me yet.”

He adds, “She’s there to serve the people. I’m just happy about that.”

Father and daughter see more of each other outside of Columbia than they do in the capital city. “Just about every Sunday, we have a family dinner at my house,” says Kimberly, who has two younger siblings.

The family enjoys weekend getaways to nearby states. For Father’s Day this year, the Johnsons are going to one of Kevin’s favorites. “Dad loves Charlotte, North Carolina,” Kimberly says. “He likes the mall, he likes to sit downtown and people watch, just the simple things, really. We try to go to a different restaurant each time.”

Eric Peterson is a Denver-based freelancer.

Additional Resources