In the increasingly close (and heated) Democratic primary race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the role of “superdelegates” has gained a lot of scrutiny and attention as it becomes clear that these individuals will most likely decide who receives the Democratic party’s nomination for president. For a short period, one of those superdelegates was an openly Pagan party official. Rita Moran, Chair of the Kennebec County Democratic Committee, who was outed and stalked by a vindictive local Christian group last year.
So why was Moran a superdelegate for only a short time? That is a matter of some controversy, involving an unnecessary re-vote, and factions within the Democratic party battling it out. I was lucky enough to conduct an interview with Rita Moran about this situation, what it’s like being an openly Pagan party official, and what her future plans are in the wake of losing her superdelegate position.
You are currently the Chair of the Kennebec County Democratic Committee. How did you get involved in politics, and how did you come to be in the position you are in now?
I come from an Italian immigrant family, and it was the Democratic Party that helped my parents learn English and find a place in their new country. When my father became a citizen, and I still remember that day, he became a Democrat and eventually rose to leadership in his county committee. I guess it’s in my blood.
Last year, you were “outed” as a Pagan by the Maine Christian Civil League, did that affect your standing with fellow officials within the local Democratic Party, or hinder your relationship with Democratic voters in your community?
It’s hard to say. Overtly, the Democratic Party leadership stood behind me. Behind the scenes, or in the minds of individual voters, I honestly have no idea what was, is, being said.
You were recently, albeit briefly, elected as a superdelegate for the state of Maine. Could you explain how you were elected, and subsequently removed from your position?
Sure. The Maine Democratic State Committee has a “three strikes” rule which mirrors that of the Democratic National Committee: miss three consecutive meetings and you are automatically removed, but may run for the position at a subsequent meeting.
Jennifer DeChant, who ran unopposed and was elected at the June, 2004 state convention had missed three consecutive meetings; the third was in November of 2007. At that time it was announced that she would have to run for that office again at our January, 2008 meeting. The day before that meeting I was asked by someone in party leadership to run against her; I agreed to accept the nomination. I would not, however, make phone calls or send e-mails asking for support, since I knew Jennifer was experiencing a difficult pregnancy and would be unable to match that effort. I knew it could cost me the election, but it was an ethical decision I felt I needed to make.
The election happened, and I won by a narrow margin.
A few days later one of our state legislators contacted John Knutson, state party chair, and claimed the election was not legitimate. During the two months between the January and March meetings I made many phone calls to state committee members looking for support. I found there was an awful lot of misinformation out there, though couldn’t say by whom it was being spread. I cannot tell you how difficult that time was. I have devoted an enormous amount of time to the Democratic Party, am loved and honored by our county team, and led them to victory in two special elections last year (the first of which led to my attack from the Christian Civic League).
The state party chair asked for an opinion from our Rules Committee, which said there was no problem with the original election. Despite this, at last month’s state committee meeting my election was repealed. Another election was held and I lost by just a few votes.
Do you plan to run for superdelegate status within your state’s party in the future, or are you planning on challenging the “re-vote” that reinstated Jennifer DeChant?
Right now, I’m looking forward rather than back. I am running, and running hard, for Maine’s DNC Woman slot. The election will be held on May 31st at our state convention. The campaign will cost several thousand dollars, but I believe it’s time we sent an “outed” pagan to the Democratic National Committee. Our views, our voices, are different, and deserve to be heard on the national level. I have set up a PayPal account under my campaign e-mail address: DNCWoman@gmail.com, and hope to have the help of my fellow Pagans who agree with me on this. Folks (especially Mainers going to the state convention) can also contact me at that same address with advice and inspiration. I’d love to pull together a Pagan Caucus, if only via e-mail.
What are your broader political goals? Do you hope to run for elected office at some point in the future? Do you think America will get to a point where (open) modern Pagans will be elected to government in our lifetimes?
I’ve been urged to run for political office, but feel that working in the background is best for me. Frankly, I am afraid of the negative effects on our small business (independent bookstore) should my faith become an issue in a legislative campaign. Being “outed” by the Christian Civic League certainly hasn’t helped business, and this would make it all happen again on an even larger scale.
That being said, I believe there may well be open Pagans in elected office right now. We just don’t know who they are!
I know that you are not currently a superdelegate, but had you held on to your position which Democratic presidential candidate would you have endorsed and why?
When the state committee elected me in January, I asked them just that question. Overwhelmingly they urged me to vote so that the superdelegates’ ballots would reflect the outcome of Maine’s caucuses: 60% for Barack Obama and 40% for Hillary Clinton. If I were free to express a public opinion, however, I would overwhelmingly support Barack Obama. I feel his message of hope, his campaign which has been so incredibly inclusive, has inspired me.
On the larger question of superdelegates, I do not, and will never believe that they know more than the voters who participated in primaries and caucuses. That’s elitism, plain and simple. Since the Democratic Party instituted the idea of superdelegates,a lot has changed, making it far easier for voters to be well-informed. When I’m elected to the Democratic National Committee I plan to address two issues: first, the superdelegates; second, the broken system of setting dates for primaries and caucuses.
Oh, and I’m intending to show up for my first DNC meeting wearing my rather discreet pentacle. Imagine that!
Finally, what advice would you give to a Pagan wanting to run for office or get involved in American party politics?
I’ve helped lots of candidates. I believe that job #1 for a candidate is to give p
eople hope…hope that things can be better and that, as a candidate you with with your constituents and fellow legislators to make a difference, to make things better.
One-to-one voter contact, with that message (as well as a good, strong idea of who you are as a candidate) that will resonate with voters, is the key to getting elected. Phone calls and mailers are far, far less effective.