Camp McDowell executive director considering run for Alabama governor

By ED HOWELL, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 3/5/17

NAUVOO — The leader of Camp McDowell for the past 26 years says he will be retiring — and that he is seriously exploring the idea of running for governor in 2018.

The Rev. Mark Johnston, a Democrat, posted on social media Wednesday night that …

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Camp McDowell executive director considering run for Alabama governor

Posted

NAUVOO — The leader of Camp McDowell for the past 26 years says he will be retiring — and that he is seriously exploring the idea of running for governor in 2018.

The Rev. Mark Johnston, a Democrat, posted on social media Wednesday night that he is considering a run and was overwhelmed by Friday afternoon at the response he had received.

“I’ve thought about it for two years,” Johnston, 66, said Friday, adding that he plans to retire from his post at the camp probably sometime this summer no matter what he decides on the governor’s race.

“I’m really exploring. I’ve found it has been affirming and humbling that so many people have contacted me. It’s pretty unbelievable,” he said. “I’m so overwhelmed with phone calls I am just exhausted.” 

He noted he knows people from across the state, but added he is “pleasantly surprised” at how excited people have responded to a possible campaign.

On Wednesday night, Johnston posted he had shared his political exploration that day with the staff at Camp McDowell and the camp’s board of directors, noting he had kept the idea to himself for more than two years.

“For the past 26 years I have had the best job in the whole world as the executive director at McDowell, Maybe the next best job in the whole world will be governor of Alabama,” he posted on Facebook. “I seek your prayers and support during this period of discernment. I love Alabama and I have lots of ideas of how to create a vision of Alabama, the way we could be. Through this media and in many other ways I will be inviting your dreams to be a part of this movement.

“Those of you who know me well know that I am not much of a singer or dancer, but I do have a knack for developing consensus and vision, and then providing the leadership to make vision reality, Want to join me and change the world?”

Johnston has become familiar at the Christian camp, which was founded in 1947 by the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama and includes 1,140 acres and residential facilities with 770 beds.

The Birmingham native says lives on 160 acres next to the Winston County camp. “I’m also a carpenter, and I built my own house there,” he said.

He said he has looked at a possible campaign for a while.

“For a couple of years, I have just had these nagging feelings and thoughts that I was called to a broader public service than Camp McDowell,” he said. “I just couldn’t get them out of my mind. I look at Alabama and we seem to be first in all the bad categories and last in all the good categories.” 

He said he sees a Band-Aid approach to finding budget solutions in the state, as well as dealing with federal lawsuits on problems such as state prisons.

“I feel like I have the experience and leadership to come up with a vision and plan that could move toward long-term solutions like education” and other issues, Johnston said.

He said he had a large amount of business experience, not just from running the camp but also running his own housing business. He said he successfully buys homes, renovates them and either sells or rents them out.

“I’ve grown the camp here. I know it is a ministry, but it is really a business, too. When I came there were four full-time people and now we’ve got more than 50 full-time people,” he said. The camp is now the largest camp and conference center in the Episcopal Church.

He said he has been successful in growing churches and was named Alabama’s Outstanding Young Religious Leader in 1983. He said he was involved in the creation of the West Alabama Food Bank in Tuscaloosa, which today delivers approximately 250,000 pounds of food across nine counties each month, according to its website.

“I’ve got a lot of experience in helping people have a vision of who that want to be and what they want to do, and helping them get there,” Johnston said.