Former La Crosse County Board Chair Tara Johnson Announces Bid for Congress

3CD Cooke Johnson Nytes
By Pat Kreitlow
September 6, 2023

Johnson joins Rebecca Cooke in the Democratic primary field seeking to challenge first-term Republican Derrick Van Orden.

Tara Johnson, who led the La Crosse County Board for nine years, on Wednesday announced her campaign for Congress in Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District. 

Johnson joins a Democratic primary field that includes Rebecca Cooke, a small business owner from Eau Claire, and Aaron Nytes, a Milwaukee native and Harvard Law student who said he will move to the district next year to run. The winner of the August 13, 2024 primary will likely challenge first-term Republican Derrick Van Orden, who has not yet officially announced if he will run for reelection.

Johnson served on the County Board from 2000 to 2020—becoming chair in 2011. Previously, she led a local United Way chapter. In 2022, Johnson endorsed Deb McGrath in the 3rd District Democratic primary. McGrath, who finished third in a four-candidate field, endorsed Johnson upon her announcement. 

Cooke, who finished second in last year’s primary and won a majority of the counties in the district, announced her 2024 campaign last month.

Johnson told UpNorthNews that her campaign will have a strong start thanks to her prominence throughout the Coulee Region—with La Crosse being a major and central population center in a district that extends to Eau Claire and Menomonie in one direction, down the Mississippi to the south, and over to Stevens Point in a stub that was added to the district by Republican legislators during redistricting in 2011.

State Assembly Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) has said she is also considering a run for the seat, in a race certain to draw national attention as a true toss-up district in a cycle where Republicans have only a four-seat majority in the US House.

Van Orden, who succeeded 13-term Democrat Ron Kind upon his retirement last year, has been most widely known during his brief time in Congress for a late-night, expletive-filled tirade in the US Capitol rotunda, where he screamed at high school-age US Senate pages. It was reminiscent of a scene he caused in 2021 when he cursed out a teenager at the Prairie du Chien library over a display of LGBTQ-themed books. 

Van Orden has also been placed on probation for carrying a gun into an airport in 2021. And he continues to face criticism for being on the US Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021 prior to the violent storming of Congress by supporters of former President Donald Trump.


  • Pat Kreitlow

    The Founding Editor of UpNorthNews, Pat was a familiar presence on radio and TV stations in western Wisconsin before serving in the state Legislature. After a brief stint living in the Caribbean, Pat and wife returned to Chippewa Falls to be closer to their growing group of grandchildren. He now serves as UNN's chief political correspondent and host of UpNorthNews Radio, airing weekday mornings 6 a.m.-8 a.m on the Civic Media radio network and the UpNorthNews Facebook page.

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