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Signs of the Time

Election Day politicking requires dedication, patriotism and warm gloves

Posted: Sunday, November 12, 2006

 

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  Dick Waisanen shows his support for Pete Sprague and Diane Benson. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Konrad Jackson wears heavy gloves and warm boots to keep his hands and feet warm. Campaign volunteers said they were thankful for the people who brought them coffee and hot chocolate.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

The thermometer in the car says 15 degrees, but a light breeze and a weak afternoon sun are making it feel much colder.

“You should have been out here at 7 o’clock this morning,” says Mary Jackson while standing on the corner of the Kenai Spur Highway and Main Street in Kenai, holding a campaign sign for her candidate and waving to passing motorists on election day.

Indeed, the temperature Tuesday morning wasn’t much above zero in Kenai, but a small number of die-hard supporters nevertheless took their spots at busy intersections around the peninsula for one more show of support.

For each person standing on a corner waving a sign, there’s a different story as to why they feel a need to be there.

 

Blake Johnson gestures toward a motorist while campaigning for Pete Sprague and Tony Knowles.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years. I think I invented it here,” said Jack Brown, who had taken up a position next to Jackson with a sign supporting Sarah Palin.

Brown, long active on the Kenai Peninsula political scene, said a passion for politics was instilled in him by his mother.

“My first campaign was for JFK when I was 12 years old. My mother got me involved,” Brown said. “... No matter what I’m doing, I’ll always take today off. It’s a lot of fun, and if I’m not out sign-waving, I have people call and ask, ‘Jack, are you sick?’”

 

Mary Jackson said she enjoys showing support for her favorite candidates. "It is kind of fun -- in a strange way," she said.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Brown said he actually did get sick during one campaign, catching pneumonia while standing out in the cold all day.

“Now that I’m a little bit older, I take breaks,” Brown said.

Brown said a visual show of support on election day does help candidates seeking office, and he has seen races won and lost by people waving signs on street corners. He cited a race for the state legislature in the not-too-distant past in which the results in every precinct were close — except the one in which no one was out waving a sign for one of the candidates.

“That’s what really showed me it’s good to have some sign-waving,” Brown said.

Standing next to Brown was Mike Wiley, who made the trip into Kenai from Clam Gulch to show support for a friend.

“One of my best friends, the guy that taught me to hunt, one of the first guys I met when I got to Alaska in the ‘60s, was Chuck Heath — Sarah’s dad,” Wiley said.

 

Dick Waisanen shows his support for Pete Sprague and Diane Benson.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Wiley said he’s stayed in touch with the Heaths, and when Palin made a run for lieutenant governor in 2002, they sent him some signs to put up. He said he still has some signs, and he covered over the “Lt.” before putting them up this year.

Wiley said he’s waved a sign for a candidate one other time, but felt compelled to come support a friend in this election.

“Since I know the family, and I feel very strongly that Sarah stands up for us — I don’t agree with all her politics, but I think she deserves our support,” Wiley said.

Ten miles down the Kenai Spur Highway, concerns over the current state of government prompted Dick Waisanen of Soldotna to take a stand at the intersection of the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways.

“If we’re not willing to step out for an hour or two and wave a sign, we’re not doing our part,” Waisanen said while waving a sign for Diane Benson. “I don’t know that waving a sign changes anybody’s mind, but hopefully, it reminds them to vote.”

Waisanen said that because he’s not willing to make the commitment to run for office, he feels it’s important to support those who do.

“We need to make a statement that we have a voice too. That’s why people come out and do this. It’s a way we can come out and support a candidate,” he said.

Waisanen said he had been joined by different people at various times during the day, including a senior citizen from Sterling who sat bundled in blankets, and two school employees who came over on their lunch break.

“If it’s a close election, someone might see me holding a sign and say, ‘Hey, there is a lot of support (for this candidate),’” Waisanen said. “I’m not going to delude myself to think my standing on a corner might help ethics in government, and sometimes I think it’s just cold and we’re crazy.”

Back in Kenai, Blake Johnson was waving signs supporting Democratic candidates on a corner across from Wiley and Brown.

“I’m just supporting people that support our issues,” said Johnson, who is the regional vice president for the Democratic Party.

“Participation makes a big difference. So many people are uninformed, and it’s up to me or other volunteers to inform people what the real issues are,” Johnson said as to why he was standing on a street corner on a cold November day.

Johnson said he enjoys getting out and waving a sign.

“You get to see a lot of people driving by. You see some thumbs-up, and some other fingers,” Johnson said with a chuckle. “We’re getting a lot of thumbs-up as people go by.”

Johnson said he grew up in a politically active family, and his parents taught him to get involved in the process.

“They were on the dark side — there’s a picture out there of me supporting Goldwater,” Johnson said. “But if you don’t participate, you can’t b——.”

Across the street, reinforcements arrived with a Thermos of hot coffee. Jackson, who was out with her husband, Konrad, holding signs for Kurt Olson, said it’s not uncommon for passers-by to stop with a tray of coffee or hot chocolate to share with sign-wavers on both sides of the street.

“It’s not a war,” Mary Jackson said of getting along with supporters of different candidates. “Last year, when Torgy (John Torgerson) and (John) Williams ran against each other for borough mayor, we all mixed here.

“The only ones that got ugly that I remember — and it wasn’t always ugly — were the Jerry Ward races. It ain’t a war. We’re all on the same side.”

Jackson gets a lot of honks and waves as people motor by, and she makes a point of saying “thank you” for each one, weather it can be heard or not.

“I’m sure a lot of people who wave and honk don’t necessarily support my candidate, but they get it — this is about being an American,” she said.

She said she admires people who exercise their right to free expression.

“That fellow that stood here waving a sign about the war — that’s dedication. That was really cool,” Jackson said, referring to Ralph Van Dusseldorp, who spent quite a bit of time during the summer of 2005 holding signs with messages that read “Fisherman for Peace in Iraq,” and “Veteran for Peace in Iraq.”

Jackson said she’s been out waving signs on election day for “a lot of years.”

“I’m always involved in some political race — it’s just critical,” she said.

On days like Tuesday, when it’s cold and dark as the polls open, it’s much easier to stay under a warm blanket, but she said it’s important to put in that one more day of work.

“After today, it’s over. We do it yesterday (Monday) and today, then we’re done,” she said.

Konrad Jackson said he and his wife have manned booths for local elected officials in recent years, including Torgerson, Olson, and Sen. Tom Wagoner. He makes a point of taking the day before the election and election day itself off from work so he can come out and wave a sign.

“As far as the inspiration to get involved, it’s just one of our fundamental rights,” he said. “If you don’t get involved, make your voice heard and participate, you don’t have a lot of room to complain. If I want to complain, I’d better get involved.

“... I never did anything as a kid, but at some point, you have to grow up and be an adult.”

Will Morrow can be reached at will.morrow@peninsulaclarion.com.



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