CD 8 special election: Get to know Clair Van Steenwyk

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Retired businessman and former conservative talk radio host Clair Van Steenwyk isn’t a new name in Arizona politics.

The Republican and leader in the local Tea Party movement calls himself a constitutional activist.

He got 30 percent of the vote in the last primary against congressional incumbent Trent Franks and ran against Sen. John McCain that same year in 2016.

He also challenged Franks the election before that, and ran for Jon Kyl's Senate seat in the race before that in 2012.

Van Steenwyk was also the first candidate to be certified in this now very crowded race for Arizona’s Congressional District 8.

[RELATED: Special election for Arizona's Congressional District 8]

He says he’s been fascinated by politics and history since he was a young boy.

“I went to the Republican headquarters in 1956 during the re-election campaign for President Eisenhower and asked if I could have something to hand out to voters. There was something about that man I just liked!” he said.

He was 9 years old at the time, and remembers riding his bicycle around, delivering presidential booklets door-to-door.

He kept going back and they eventually started giving him cases of the booklets to distribute.

He chuckles when voters who call up asking questions assume he’s a woman because of his first name, Clair, which he was given to honor his paternal grandmother, Clara.

“Van Steenwyk is Dutch, which means from stone or rock,” he explains, saying it’s fitting for his character.

He goes by ‘Van’ and has campaign slogans online like, “Join the Van wagon.”

[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona Politics]

He says of all the things over the years that shaped him into the man he is and politician he hopes to be, it’s his father.

A hard-working Christian who worked sunup past sundown, then oftentimes volunteered into the early morning hours, helping neighbors in need.

The family is Van Steenwyk’s foundation for faith, ethics and hard work.

He says he never got an allowance and learned if you want something, you work for it.

“I went out and got a job. I was 9 years old, delivering handbills door to door for a furniture store, Finecra Upholstery, in Bellflower, California. Thirty-five cents an hour for my first job,” he said.

“From that, I graduated to selling flowers on the corner, then I shined shoes, mopped floors, and washed dishes."

He didn't go to college.

But he wound up making more than an honest living, getting into food distribution management for a multi-million-dollar company before running a property management, then antique business.

He never stayed put too long; too motivated, he says, to find new ways to help his community.

Some of his most rewarding work is the outreach he's done with his wife Jean.

Married nearly 25 years, they’ve been together more than 40.

Their outreach efforts included opening a coffee shop for fellowship with “Jesus loves you” painted over the door, to volunteering at Christian halfway houses, to Skid Row, to even traveling down to Mexico where they helped families four days a month for 15 years.

He starts every day the same way: reading his bible.

It's why he’s unashamed to have a cross on every campaign sign, and why he's not giving up on politics.

“There's nothing in this country you can't fix!” he says.

“I run on issues and until these ding-a-lings fix things, they give me an issue to run on,” said Van Steenwyk.

Campaign website:

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