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The atheist candidate
I guess I won't be running for the Missouri House of Representatives.
I went to a meeting of the Bates County Democratic Party for the first time last Thursday. They were having their caucus for selecting delegates to the regional convention. Bates county has 4 delegates, and although Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama 1427-676, the delegates were split 2-2. At the caucus, we split up into Obama and Clinton groups. The Clinton side of the room had about 12 people, and the Obama side had five. We needed to choose two delegates and two alternates. Two people in our group immediately said they didn't want to or couldn't make it to the convention. I said I was willing to go and so I'm headed to Warsaw, MO later this month to help select delegates to the state convention (where they will select delegates to the national convention.)
At the meeting I met the chairman of the county party and we discussed their website and the possibility of me helping them with it. I came home feeling good about being involved.
Today (four days after the caucus) I got a call from the spouse of a party official. She asked me if I would be interested in running for the State House of Representatives. She said that I would be getting calls from some people in the party, including the campaign of Jay Nixon, who is running for governor, and the representative from a neighboring district.
I live in the 125th district and our Rep in Jefferson City is Republican Barney Fisher. He's a former Marine fighter pilot who rose to Lieutenant Colonel before he retired and he's running for his third term in the Missouri House. Fisher won in 2006 by a count of 3,146 to 2,550 (55%-45%) and he'll probably have no problem winning in 2008.
The fact that the Democrats don't have a candidate yet is a bad sign. The fact that they tried to draft a 27-year-old computer programmer who had come to only one party meeting may be an even worse sign. That's not to say that I wasn't flattered. I like to think that I'm well-informed and well-liked. I like to think that my occasionally political blog is worth something. But surely someone in the 125th has a better shot at this than me. It was all about to be a moot point, anyway.
I said, "Now you should probably know that I'm an atheist."
She said, "Oh, is that widely known?"
"I'm very open about it."
"Why are you an atheist?"
"Because I don't believe in god."
Then I mentioned the poll that Gallup released last year, which says that 53% of Americans would not vote for an atheist. It was the only item in the poll with higher than 50% negative. Mormons, homosexuals, blacks, women and 72-year-olds all did better. The person on the phone agreed that it would be hard to run against a conservative Christian incumbent in a conservative Christian district when you go around saying that god doesn't exist.
She said, "That, as they say, puts a turd in the punch bowl. I'll stop the calls, then." Thus ended my very short political career.
That was probably one of the strangest things I've ever experienced. I was, in rapid succession, confused, flattered, disappointed and relieved. I wish my local party was organized better and had already chosen a good candidate. I think it's very nice that they thought of me. I wish that people who didn't believe in invisible beings were not de facto disqualified from public office. Yet I'm relieved that I won't be sinking time and money into a campaign that would very likely fail. And though it would probably be quite an adventure, I wouldn't have been thrilled about having a job that's three hours away from my home.
I don't blame the party for not wanting to run me, but I do wish that the people of this district (and the whole country) could understand that non-believers can be morally upstanding, sensible and compassionate public servants.
I say go for it. Knowing that you won’t win is just the kind of freedom that you need to be totally honest. That is, as long as you’re not automatically disregarded for being an atheist, which will be a key strategy to oppose you. At least you will know you’re being taken seriously.
I would contribute to your campaign. (But I don’t think used socks would help.)
Oh man you shoulda gone for it! I mean, if all we ever get to elect is more of the same then how will people who refuse to try to see the world a different way ever going to have the truth shoved in their smug little faces?
Gotta admire your honesty though. Cuz, you know, if you didn’t tell them about the “skeleton in the closet” they would have eventually found out and felt, without cause, that you somehow mis-represented reality by not pointing out you’re not gonna wear the suit they think fits.
[quote]"Why are you an atheist?”
“Because I don’t believe in god."[/quote]
Wow. What a ride, eh?
This really brings up a lot of divergent thoughts.
On one hand, to truly “represent", a candidate should be “representative” of the district. So, in a conservative Christian district, I could see that having a conservative Christian candidate would be of some import.
However … (1) Isn’t there supposed to be a separation of church and State? If so, why would religion even enter into the matter (and indeed, it shouldn’t). (2) I for one, would rather have a thinking athiest as a representative, than a follow-the-sheep “believer", any day.
I believe you would make an excellent representative and I’d have voted for you, for sure.
Well … you’ll have more family life if you limit your political career to a tick at the polling booth. ;)
As much as I love the idea of seeing an atheist candidate running for office, I do think you did the right thing to mention it up front, even though the consequence was that the offer was withdrawn. As you said, the party probably appreciates it that you are allowing them to direct campaign funds toward a more electable candidate. Unfortunately, I don’t think our area (I’m northwest of you, in Kansas City), is ready to look at even a non-theist candidate with open-mindedness, let alone an atheist. We’re still stuck with a lot of people who consider strong spiritual belief a basic prerequisite (or substitute?) for competence, integrity, and so on.
Congratulations on the nomination, and sorry things didn’t work out. But I admire the candid, upright way you handled it.
I say do it. Even if you can’t be elected, you have the potential to bring attention to it. The issue of Atheism in politics, or Religion in Politics, and of the bigotry against atheists, needs to be on the national stage. If you’re able to do that wiht a candidacy, even if you can’t win, that’s a great thing.
People make the world out to be this very religiously driven place, where that’s all that makes one good, and all of that BS, but if you can just make a matter of it, well, then you’ve done something that I, as a member of the Atheist community, will greatly appreciate.