Johnson, Shuler, Wyche among sports figures to win government seats

Updated: November 5, 2008, 12:48 PM ET
Associated Press

Basketball's Kevin Johnson became mayor of Sacramento, Calif., while Heath Shuler and Sam Wyche scored victories that had little to do with football Tuesday on a night when more than a dozen sports figures ran for office.

Kreidler: KJ in the mayor's chair

Unproven in the political world, former NBA star Kevin Johnson returned home and unseated a two-term mayoral incumbent. As Mark Kreidler writes, Johnson wants to make Sacramento a "destination place." Story


Appearing on the Scott Van Pelt Show, Sacramento Mayor-elect Kevin Johnson said the road to victory was a long and difficult one but he did have some help from some famous NBA friends. Listen

Joe Mesi, once one of boxing's top heavyweights, had a rough time in the political ring, losing a bid for a legislative seat in New York.

Craig Robinson wasn't listed on any ballot, but the first-year Oregon State basketball coach could soon be a frequent White House visitor. Robinson was in Chicago to watch election results with his family, which includes brother-in-law and President-elect Barack Obama.

Johnson, a former All-Star point guard for the Phoenix Suns, is the first black mayor of Sacramento. The 42-year-old Democrat with conservative social views defeated two-term incumbent Heather Fargo in a run-off election.

"Sacramento also made history today in electing its first black mayor," Johnson said. "Both Obama and myself, we ran on a promise and the theme of change. No more business as usual."

Johnson put some flash into his campaign with the backing of basketball royalty Shaquille O'Neal, Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley. He wants to raise the profile of his hometown and bemoans his city's image beside that of Los Angeles and San Francisco.

"We should be a destination place," he said leading into the election.

Shuler, a Heisman Trophy runner-up at Tennessee who played quarterback for the Washington Redskins and New Orleans Saints, won in his first bid for re-election to Congress.

Shuler is a North Carolina Democrat whose district is in the state's western mountains. He defeated Carl Mumpower, who had irritated local Republican officials by saying he would support efforts to impeach President Bush.

"I did what I said I would do and I think the people saw that," Shuler said.

Wyche coached in the NFL with Cincinnati and Tampa Bay and made it to the Super Bowl with the Bengals after the 1988 season. He ran as a Republican and commandingly won a seat on the Pickens County Council in South Carolina, an area that includes Clemson University. Wyche, once a quarterback at nearby Furman, promised better roads and schools and more jobs.

Mesi had a 36-0 record as a fighter and once had to stop fighting for two years because of bleeding in his brain. The Democrat had the support of Buffalo Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano in his attempt to win a state Senate seat but lost to Republican Michael Ranzenhofer.

Joining Shuler in re-election to the House was Rep. Baron Hill of Indiana, a former Furman basketball player. He defeated former Rep. Mike Sodrel, a Republican and trucking company owner. The two have faced off in four consecutive elections.

Norm Dicks, an ex-linebacker at the University of Washington, also was successful in his House re-election bid. Jason Chaffetz, a former BYU kicker who once had 10 extra points in a game, won a congressional seat in Utah after beating the incumbent in the Republican primary.

Sports was on the sidelines for the U.S. Senate races. The only ones with jock connections were not up for election -- Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, a Hall of Fame pitcher, and Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, owner of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Joey Browner, a former Pro Bowl safety with the Minnesota Vikings, ran as a write-in and was almost certain to lose his bid for a place on the City Council in the Minneapolis suburb of Eagan.

In state legislative races, Peter Boulware, a former star linebacker at Florida State who went on to the Baltimore Ravens, was vying for a seat in Florida. Boulware, a Republican, appeared headed for a recount in his attempt to claim a Democratic stronghold.

Official outcomes of the Browner and Boulware races were not known Wednesday morning.

Bob Heaton, who played with Larry Bird on the Indiana State team that went to the 1979 Final Four, lost a close race in Indiana.

Two ex-college football players were re-elected in the Oklahoma Legislature -- Todd Thomsen, a former punter and kicker for Oklahoma, and Tad Jones, a former backup quarterback at Tulsa. Anton Gunn, once an offensive lineman at South Carolina, was headed for victory in the South Carolina Legislature.

Greg Hopkins, a former Arena Football player with the Los Angeles Avengers, was beaten by Bill DeWeese, the Democratic caucus leader in the Pennsylvania House.

In Hawaii, Mufi Hannemann, a 6-foot-7 former Harvard basketball player, won a second term as Honolulu mayor.

Sports and family were not limited to the Obamas. Connie Mack, the great grandson of the legendary manager, won re-election as a Florida congressman. George Unseld, the brother of NBA great Wes Unseld, easily captured a spot on the Louisville (Ky.) Metro Council.

And Michael Victorino, the father of Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino, was unopposed in Hawaii for the Maui County Council.

In ballot measures tied to sports, Massachusetts voted to ban greyhound racing, and Maryland authorized slot-machine gambling, which could be key in bolstering thoroughbred racing in the state.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press