November 7, 2013

Spouse-vs.-spouse election a win-win for Maine wife and her cause

A drive to feed hungry kids benefits from the focus on a couple running against each other.

By AMY CALDER Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — Democrat Jennifer Johnson says running against and defeating her Republican husband in the race for city warden has allowed her to spread the word around the country about the need to help poor children.

click image to enlarge

Jennifer Johnson defeated her husband David in a Waterville election for warden Tuesday and along the way used the national exposure the race garnered to draw attention to fighting hunger among children.

Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Jennifer Johnson, 36, overwhelmingly defeated David Johnson, 32, for warden Tuesday in an election that drew national attention and calls from news media all over the U.S. because of the husband and wife race. The vote was 127-76.

“I’m being swamped,” Jennifer Johnson said Wednesday. “I got a call from ‘The Today Show’ and I got calls from Fox News – Greta Van Susteren wanted to interview us live tonight and we said, ‘No, thank you.’ It’s crazy. I was interviewed by NPR’s ‘All Things Considered’ and ‘Politico.’ ”

Johnson, a stay-at-home mother, is raising money to open a food pantry at George J. Mitchell School in Waterville, where two of her children are enrolled, and where the percentage of children who get free or reduced-price lunch is about 72 percent. That’s 404 of the 557 children enrolled in the kindergarten through fourth-grade school.

So when reporters called her to talk about the warden race against her husband, she used the platform to try to raise awareness and money for the food pantry, she said.

So far, she has raised more than $10,000, which will allow the pantry to operate for three years, she said.

“The race started as something silly, but it’s turned into something amazingly, beautifully helpful to small children,” she said.

Johnson will serve a three-year term as warden. Wardens oversee the polls on Election Day to make sure the process follows election law; they check voters in, distribute ballots, supervise clerks tending ballot machines and perform other duties.

The Johnson race for warden began innocently enough last summer.

Jennifer attended the Waterville Democratic City Committee caucus July 31 and accepted the nomination for the warden position in Ward 1 because no one else would. Then, a week later at the Republican City Committee caucus, David Johnson asked to be nominated for the same position.

The couple said afterward that they were disappointed more people had not offered to serve in the city, so they wanted to call attention to the importance of being involved in the community and to getting people out to vote.

David Johnson, a lead solution architect for Oxford Networks who works 50 to 60 hours a week, was in meetings Wednesday and was unavailable for comment on the results of the race. But Johnson did write in an email to the Morning Sentinel: “At least the person I voted for won.”

The Johnsons learned Jennifer had defeated her husband when a friend called them around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jennifer said.

“We were sitting on the couch and I think I said something gloating to Dave,” she said.

It was a good-natured race between a husband and wife who agreed on some issues, including a woman’s right to choose an abortion and on same-sex marriage. But they acknowledged that he is a fiscal conservative and she is more liberal.

Unless asked, they do not discuss their political views, they said in August.

“We really don’t talk about politics very much,” Jennifer said. “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.”

Their three children, Christopher, 7, Sarah, 6, and Gabrielle, 4, predicted their mother would win, the Johnsons said.

City Clerk Patti Dubois said Wednesday that she has never seen a husband and wife run against each other in city elections.

(Continued on page 2)

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