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Voters pay for his air of confidence

In his years running Hillsborough's elections office, Buddy Johnson has had a pack of headlines over his shoulder like he was Tippi Hedren and they were the birds.

For instance: Voting locations up and moved without written notice to actual voters. A Johnson employee got hush money on his way out the door like he was working for a corporate law firm rather than an (allegedly) open and transparent public office. Lawyers in a voting rights deposition concluded Johnson himself couldn't answer questions about how things run. Then there was the matter of his own delinquent property taxes.

So you'd think the man would be saying: Enough with the publicity already.

But there's Johnson, pictured in a sharp dark suit and a winning politician's smile, the very embodiment of confidence.

In fact, that's exactly what the print over his head says: A New Vote of Confidence. Buddy Johnson. Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections. Just in case confidence was the very thing you'd lost.

So this is a smart campaign ad for an embattled politician hoping like heck to hang on to his job come November, right?

Wrong.

This comes from voter education materials paid for not with Johnson's campaign funds but with tax money.

Another proposed slogan is TRUSTWORTHY, ostensibly to quell any uneasiness about a new way of voting rather than about Johnson's own troubled tenure. But nice double meaning anyway.

Johnson also bought pricey cable TV spots featuring himself, as well as 100,000 pens with his name on them, as reported by the Times' Janet Zink.

So do we really need his mug to convince us the new optical scan machines are easy and dependable?

Johnson faces a thus-far lukewarm bid by Democrat Phyllis Busansky to take the job out from under him. Busansky has raised nearly three times as much money. But factor in that "voter education" — the kind of publicity (somebody else's) money apparently can buy — and you'd have to say he's way ahead in terms of exposure.

Oh, he has spent some money. Campaign signs printed in distinctive swirly red script reminiscent of his old BuddyFreddy's restaurant are popping up, making me think of cobbler so sweet your teeth ache, and of political home cookin' in general.

Johnson is certainly not the first incumbent to throw his name and face around at an opportune moment. Some elections supervisors say they don't — one took his voice off a radio ad when his race became contested — to avoid the appearance of anything untoward.

Others say they have no problem with it.

Illegal? Nah.

A tad smelly? Maybe.

A fine line? No question.

Some would even call it smart, or in the alternative, slick.

But add it to all the other Johnson-related news, and confidence is the opposite of what I come up with.

Because it's not the Mosquito Control Board he's running over there. Johnson has to pull off a big challenge —some would say a big miracle — in November. And, no, not just his race to keep his seat. He has to run this critically important and historic presidential election for Hillsborough County.

Confidence? Right about now, I think we'd all vote for that.

Voters pay for his air of confidence 10/02/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 3, 2008 7:21pm]

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