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Against long odds, write-in candidates seek governor’s office

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TEMPE – A write-in candidate has never been elected governor of Arizona, and the odds are long that one ever will be. But don’t tell J. Johnson that.

Posters bearing his smiling face are popping up at street corners in the Valley, and while greeting people at a coffee shop here recently Johnson said he’s serious about challenging Republican Doug Ducey and Democrat Fred DuVal even though he lacks their campaign teams and money.

“I’m 100 percent sure I’ll win,” he said.

One of five people listed by the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office as write-in candidates for governor, Joseph James Johnson, known to his friends and supporters simply as “J,” has spent nearly $3,000 that he loaned his campaign, according to his most recent campaign filing. He’s also the only write-in candidate with a campaign website.

“I answer right to the people,” Johnson said. “I don’t have to check with any kind of political party person in D.C. I’m going to govern by the will of the people.”

Johnson said his political beliefs don’t belong to any party. While he leans conservative on many issues, focusing his campaign around “Faith, Family, Friends, Farming and Firearms,” he said that he sets himself apart from traditional conservatives through his interactions with people.

“I’m very liberal when it comes to caring for people, helping people,” he said. “But it’s the way that you deliver that help. You don’t just give somebody food, you teach them how to fish.”

The 48-year-old Johnson, younger brother of current Phoenix Suns announcer Eddie Johnson, was born in Chicago and came to Arizona State University to pursue a basketball career, though he said an injury cut that short. Since then, the Casa Grande resident said he has been a television actor, a stand-up comic and a marketing specialist for Kraft Foods.

Though he doesn’t have is any political experience, he called that an advantage.

“What you need in the governor’s seat is a regular person,” Johnson said. “You don’t need another politician in that seat.”

A place on the general election ballot would require him to gather more than 30,000 signatures from registered voters – 3 percent of the total number of registered independents in Arizona. The only requirement to become a write-in candidate was filing with the Secretary of State’s Office to ensure that he meets the age and residency requirements.

Matt Roberts, director of communications for the Secretary of State’s Office, confirmed that Johnson met the requirements.

Stephen Nuño, associate professor of politics and international affairs at Northern Arizona University, said that if a write-in candidate were to make a splash this year it would likely be because voters are fed up with politics as usual. But he noted that Johnson and other write-in candidates are up against a lot, starting with a lack of name recognition and money.

“It is unusual to see someone with serious aspirations run as a write-in candidate,” Nuño said. “There are very few, if any, advantages to running as a write-in.”

Geoff Vetter, DuVal’s press secretary, said the campaign doesn’t view Johnson’s candidacy as a threat.

“I don’t think a write-in candidate will have much impact on the race for governor,” Vetter said.

Torunn Sinclair, deputy communications director for Ducey’s campaign, asked a reporter to email questions about Johnson but didn’t respond.

Johnson said that while he has followed the political discussion in Arizona, he decided to run after his wife told him, “Stop griping about it and do something about it.”

Doing that within the two-party system, he said, would be entering the “kill box.”

“When you decide to run for an office, you get into this situation where you’re made to choose between being a Republican, a Democrat, or just be shoved aside and marginalized,” Johnson said. “If you jump into the system the way that they want you to do it, you’ll be killed in there.”

He said this route has freed him to go straight to the people with road signs and a grass-roots campaign.

“My street polls bring back a 95 percent approval rate with the common person walking up and down the street,” he said.