WATERVILLE – Ask the three Johnson kids who is going to win the election in November, and they chant, in unison, “Mommy!”
Their response doesn’t mean they like their mother, Jennifer Johnson, any more than they do their father, David Johnson.
It just means they’ve come to realize their mother is more competitive.
David, a Republican, and Jennifer, a Democrat, are running against each other for the city’s Ward 1 warden position in the Nov. 6 election. A warden oversees city elections to make sure the process follows election law.
The Johnsons say they are not particularly political in nature but they have strong views about many issues. And surprisingly, they agree on a lot of them.
For instance, both believe in marriage equality and both believe in a woman’s right to choose abortion.
The couple quibble over fiscal issues; he is a fiscal conservative, she is more lenient in that respect. A stay-at-home mother who volunteers at George J. Mitchell School, where two of their children are enrolled, Jennifer, 36, says more money should be spent on education.
David, 32, a lead solution architect for Oxford Networks who works 50 or 60 hours a week, supports education but says there are creative ways to keep costs down, such as through volunteerism.
But unless asked, the two don’t discuss their political views.
“We really don’t talk about politics very much,” Jennifer says. “There are some things we absolutely agree on. We don’t want to fight about it. Going back and forth and banging heads isn’t going to change either one of our minds.”
Jennifer decided to accept the nomination for warden at the city’s Democratic caucus July 31 because no one else would take it.
A week later at the city Republican caucus, David asked to be nominated for the same position. He thought doing so might call attention to the fact that so few people want to run for city positions.
Little did the Johnsons know their decisions would draw nationwide interest. Since a story ran Thursday in the Morning Sentinel about their race, the Johnsons have been contacted by ABC News Radio, Fox News Network, New England Cable News and a slew of Maine television news programs.
“It was bizarre — it was unexpected,” Jennifer said Saturday. “Dave did it because he thought it would be funny to see our names together on a ballot. The city clerk called and said, ‘I apologize. I have to give your number out and I’ve given it out a lot.’“
Sitting in their large, sunny back yard off High Street on Saturday as their children, Christopher, 7, Sarah, 6, and Gabrielle, 4, played on a swing set, the Johnsons said they hope the publicity helps point out the need for people to be involved in the community.
“The empty lines on ballots make me sad,” Jennifer said. “If nothing else, we really don’t care who wins, but if we can get young people involved in politics, especially on the local level, that would be tremendous.”
David volunteered on the city’s Safety Council, which was recently disbanded after 40-plus years. They both have worked behind the scenes to help friends in local political campaigns. But neither aspires to higher political office.
Married 10 years, they met in Alaska when a friend and co-worker of Jennifer’s put her profile on Yahoo Personals.
A graduate of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, with a degree in geology, Jennifer was working in insurance when she met David in person after meeting him online three months earlier.
David is a graduate of Lawrence High School in Fairfield and Northern Maine Technical College in Presque Isle, where he received a degree in computer information systems. He moved to Alaska for work in 2002.
Jennifer said that when she met David, she liked that he was good-looking, funny and smart; he says he was drawn to her competitive spirit. Neither paid much attention to the other’s political stance before marrying a year later.
What was their first political discussion like?
“I’m sure it was about (former President George) Bush because everyone was talking about Bush and laughing at him because he was easy to laugh about,” Jennifer said.
David acknowledged he voted for Bush.
“His approval rating was very high back then — everywhere,” David said. “Nationally.”
Jennifer rolled her eyes.
Then they changed the subject. David said he knows Jennifer is going to win the warden race, since Waterville is a predominantly Democratic city.
“She’s going to have the ‘D’ next to her name and I understand that, completely,” he said.
The race may become moot however, as voters Nov. 6 also will decide whether to eliminate election of warden clerks and wardens. If they vote in favor, the Johnson who wins will serve in office for about two minutes, Jennifer said.
But she and David both said they plan to volunteer to help City Clerk Patti Dubois at the polls in future elections. (Dubois, a city clerk of 12 years in both Waterville and Bangor, said she has never had a husband and wife run against each other.)
David, meanwhile, wants to encourage others to get involved in community affairs. Too many voters go to the polls not knowing what the issues are, or who the candidates are, he said. He’s hoping that will change.
“I think the only way people are going to be more educated is if they’re more involved in their communities.”
When she was a child, Jennifer’s parents always took her to the polls when they voted, but she said she did not know until she was older that they were both Republicans.
David said his parents were unenrolled but never really spoke about their political persuasions.
The couple say they will not try to persuade their own children to be members of a specific political party.
But they said they will encourage them to do what their own parents never failed to do: Vote on Election Day.
Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at: