‘I was devastated’: a second Nationals ex-wife after the end of a marriage

‘I was devastated’: a second Nationals ex-wife after the end of a marriage Dignified: Zenda Casey, the former wife of Nationals Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen, has talked about the impact of the end of their 30-year marriage.
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Loyal: In his inaugural speech to NSW Parliament in 2015 Mr Johnsen singled out his wife Zenda for praise as his most loyal supporter and best friend.

Support: Michael and Zenda Johnsen in 2013 during Mr Johnsen’s third unsuccessful attempt to win a federal seat for the Nationals.

TweetFacebookMichael and I supported each other and had a successful relationship for 30 years. Even though the marriage has now ended, I will never regret that support. But I will always regret that politics took over our lives.

Zenda Casey, former wife of Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen

Mr Johnsen and Nationals state executives were informed in January of the preselection challenge against the Upper Hunter MP who holds the seat by a margin of just 2.2 per cent –making it one of the most marginal seats in the state -down from a safe Nationals seat with a margin of 23 per cent under previous MP George Souris.

Ms Casey, who recently changed her name from Zenda Johnsen and has two childrenwith her former husband, said she supported him for decades because “I loved him and wanted him to achieve his dream”.

He made repeated attempts to become elected at local, state and federal level, including running for a federal seat in 1996, 2010 and 2013 and becoming Upper Hunter Shire council mayor from 2009-12.

“I believed he would be a good MP. However, politics can be very image-focused and this can unfortunately change people and what is important to them.

“Politics became consuming. It became all that mattered and that is not healthy for anyone, for any relationship.”

The past two yearshad been “an extremely challenging time for myself and my family” because “a marriage breakdown is very hard on any children involved”, Ms Casey said.

Mr Johnsen confirmed the marriage ended “just over two years ago” but declined to comment on the circumstances. He also declined to respond to questions about the proportion of time he has been staying in Sydney in the past two years.

In his inaugural speech Mr Johnsen thanked his supporters who had “demonstrated a level of loyalty towards my wellbeing that only true family and friends can do”.

Former Gloucester mayor and former Nationals Party member John Rosenbaum, who was in Parliament House with wife Diana to listen to Mr Johnsen’s inaugural speech, said the Johnsenmarriage breakdown and the circumstances around it were “very disappointing”.

Zenda Johnsen’s strong support of her husband was a factor in how voters perceived him as a candidate, Mr Rosenbaum said.

“Rural people are conservativein the way they see life and the family unit is very important to them, more important, maybe, than for people in the city,” he said.

“If you’re a candidate and your wife’s very supportive and your family’s behind you then people quite naturally decide, ‘He’s a great family man’.”

The end of a marriage relatively soon after an election in which a candidate’s family has featured waslikely to be judged negatively by people, Mr Rosenbaum said.

He said the Nationals were going to struggle to hold Upper Hunter no matter who is the candidate because of resentment in regional and rural areas about issues including council amalgamations and the greyhound ban backflip.

The NSW Nationals said preselections had not been scheduled yet. The party did not respond to questions about Mr Johnsen.

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