Don’t like Clinton or Trump? How about Denny Jackson?
Teacher’s write-in candidacy used as learning tool for his students
Thursday, November 03, 2016 3:03 PM
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are two of the least-liked presidential candidates in modern history, and so it is no surprise that many people still can’t decide who they are going to vote for on Nov. 8.
Denny Jackson, mayor of Milton, Ky., and a teacher at Switzerland County High School, is a write-in candidate for president in 10 states. (Staff photo by David Campbellemail@example.com)
"Teachers always want to see what effect they have on their students, and I’m seeing it right now by doing this. Was there a risk of looking like an idiot? Absolutely. I know there are some people out there thinking, ‘Does he really think he has a shot at this?’ No, it’s a learning tool, that’s all it is." — Denny Jackson
But there is an alternative — and it’s someone known to many people in the area.
Denny Jackson, the mayor of Milton, Ky. and a social studies teacher at Switzerland County High School, is an official write-in candidate for president in 10 states, including Indiana and Kentucky, and is eligible to receive votes.
Indiana allowed only 15 write-in candidates this year, the best-known of which is probably Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee.
Voters are free to write in any candidate they want, but if they’re not on the list, the vote won’t count.
Jackson’s name is on that list and every vote he gets will be recorded for history. Write-in candidates usually have different reasons for getting involved in the process. Some, like Stein, are trying to push forward a specific agenda that gains attention in the national media. Others simply want the attention.
But Jackson is different. He has no agenda and really isn’t all that fond of attention. For Jackson, his campaign is an exercise in civics.
Jackson teaches several classes at Switzerland County but one in particular, “Current World Problems,” is a current history course with a heavy emphasis in civics. Every election cycle, Jackson and his students break down the election and inevitably, his students would ask him why doesn’t he run for president?
This year Jackson decided to do just that.
“I did this, really, because I’ve always told my kids that anybody can run for president. It doesn’t matter who you are. If you know the papers to file, you can run” Jackson said. “Do I have any realistic chance? Well, heavens no.
“Teachers always want to see what effect they have on their students and I’m seeing it right now by doing this,” Jackson said. “Was there a risk of looking like an idiot? Absolutely. I know there are some people out there thinking, ‘Does he really think he has a shot at this?’ No, it’s a learning tool, that’s all it is. Now, should I have spent the money I spent? Well...”
Jackson began his campaign in December when he filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission and figured he would leave it at that. But in March, Jackson decided to see what it would take to get on the ballot. Most states charge between $500 and $1,000 to get on the ballot and Jackson decided to go the write-in route instead. The first state he contacted was his home state of Kentucky, which charged him $50.
“I knew that was like driving down the road and throwing the money out the window, but I got the required signatures and got on Kentucky’s ballot,” Jackson said. “Then I thought, let’s go with Indiana and that was free. I liked that.”
From there, Jackson branched out to see how many states he could register with. Some, like Alabama, did not have any requirements and any vote for him automatically counted. Others, like Ohio, required petition signatures from citizens and a modest fee.
In the end, Jackson registered in 10 states: Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, New Hampshire, Alabama, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Washington and Alaska. It was Alaska that ended up being the most work.
“During spring break, I got a call from Alaska. They said they were from the secretary of state’s office in Alaska and asked me if I had filed papers with the FEC to run for president? I said yup, and he said that I didn’t check the right box. I thought, well, there goes that state,” Jackson said with a laugh. “He said ‘Can we fax this to you and can you check the box and fax it back?’ Sure, I can do that. A couple of days later, got a phone call from them again. He said, ‘This is Daniel Ruiz, we made a mistake on our application. We have Nov. 4 as the date of the election and it’s Nov. 8 so we need you to fill this out again.’ So I did. I haven’t heard back from them so I assume my paperwork is in order.”
Since then, Jackson has concentrated on his “campaign.” Fellow government teacher Michelle Hicks is his official running mate and his students are serving as his committee, complete with “Denny Jackson for President” t-shirts that they purchased themselves.
“I told them that if they made any money on the shirts consider it a lesson in economics,” he said. “It is a little weird seeing kids walking around the school with my picture on the front and ‘Jackson’ on the back. Just not quite used to that yet.”
Politically, Jackson said he is a registered Democrat but he considers himself a moderate and doesn’t stick with pure party lines. The first president he ever voted for was Richard Nixon and he calls himself a “Reagan Democrat.”
“I just vote for whoever I think will do the best job, not because of the party,” Jackson said. “I think voting straight ticket is a little silly.”
Among the issues in his platform:
• Social Security: “I really think that needs to be protected and I don’t believe in privatization. I understand why they would like to privatize it, but the problem is, you never know when the stock market is going to tank.”
• Second Amendment: “I think people should be able to own guns, but I don’t believe they should build a machine gun nest in their backyard and go mowing down squirrels.”
• Medicaid and Medicare: “They need to be taken care of because there are a lot of elderly that just don’t have the insurance to have themselves taken care of. That’s one of the greatest things Lyndon Johnson ever did.”
• Foreign Policy: “I think there needs to be some more dialogue with our allies about the unrest that is going on in Syria, Iraq and with ISIS. I’m not going to say I know all of the answers even though Trump says that he knows more than the generals which made me smack my head.”
• Immigration: “I don’t know how you’re going to stop it. Look at how long that border is. The only thing we can hope to do is capture them and take them back. True, they’re just going to try to get back over, but building a wall? That’s not going to happen.”
• Trade: I’m not sure how I feel about NAFTA. I know that some of our jobs have gone overseas. I don’t like that, but there are other areas in the job sector that can open up. I think we need to work in the world economy in general, but we need to look at ourselves first.”
Jackson believes that having a chance to teach about the election from the “inside” has gotten his students more involved in an election they might have otherwise ignored. Every week, they go over the issues with the candidates, contrasting Clinton’s and Trump’s views with those of his own and he said it has been very effective.
“I’ve never had students who are getting into the election like this one and I think it’s only because I’ve done something that’s a little different,” Jackson said. “I told them, it doesn’t matter who you’re for, the important thing is to understand what they believe in and what they stand for. It makes you a better citizen.
“Every time there’s an election, they can think back in the back of their mind, ‘well I had a teacher that ran for president one time.’ If they can remember what I said and participate in the electoral process, I’ll be happy.”
Jackson’s message has even gone beyond the halls of Switzerland County High School. He was recently contacted by a woman in Charlestown, Ind. who had researched him on the internet.
“I didn’t know her from Adam. She said she got on the (Facebook) page and read why I was doing it,” Jackson said. “She said ‘I think it’s great that you’re showing young people the political process and by the way, you just gained a vote.’ I thought that was great.”
When the final votes are tallied on Nov. 8, in all likelihood Jackson will not see his name on top. But unlike one of his opponents, he said that he will “graciously concede.”
“It’s been fun, it’s been different. I’ve had fun with this, more fun than I thought I would have,” Jackson said. “It’s like I told my wife, I can go to my grave and in my obituary it’ll say that I was a presidential candidate in 2016.”