August 12, 2013

Couple's political face-off piques national interest

They didn't expect the hoopla but hope it will spark interest in community involvement.

By AMY CALDER Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE - Ask the three Johnson kids who is going to win the election in November, and they chant, in unison, "Mommy!"

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Jennifer and David Johnson are running against each other for Ward 1 clerk in Waterville, Jennifer as a Democrat and David as a Republican.

Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

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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.

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