This doesn’t seem to be a good month for politicians who want to keep their Pagan faith to themselves. Just last week Republican candidate for New York’s City Council Dan Halloran was outed as a Pagan by a partisan newspaper, and now the Democratic candidate running for District 1 Supervisor in Page County, Virginia has been outed as a Pagan on a local conservative call-in talk show.
“A local political candidate faces questions about a controversial book she may or may not have written. Alice Richmond is running to represent District 1 on the Page County Board of Supervisors. She recently denied writing a book about Wiccan history and rituals called “Thirteen Lessons for Pleasing the Divine: A Witch’s Primer.” In denying she wrote it, is she being honest about her past? It all started Friday with a radio interview. On the call-in show SpeakOut, a man identifying himself as Jim Logan had some questions for Richmond about two titles he’d found … Richmond said, “That is not me, Jim.” … Richmond denied she was Lady Raya a couple times more.”
On Alice Richmond’s blog she explains that she denied being “Lady Raya” due to fear of retribution from “ignorant morons”.
“Why is my name not tied to Lady Raya? Well, that is very simple: There are ignorant morons out there who think there are real witches who can put spells on them, and they get scared of it so they think it’s fair game to tamper with their mail, invade their offices, and otherwise threaten them physically. A “nom de plume” is used in authoring a book because otherwise, it would be dangerous to present information.”
As you can imagine, local Republicans are having a field day.
“Richmond’s opponent in this case, Robert Griffith, declined to go on camera, but did say he wanted Richmond to be clear about whether or not she wrote the book.”
While it does seem that Alice Richmond was set-up with a planned outing in order to damage her campaign, her denials and subsequent attempts to portray Lady Raya as a “fictional character” only feed into the accusations that her Pagan past is “controversial” and something to hide. Now we’ll have to see if Richmond’s campaign can move past this incident, and if her Republican opponent (not to mention his supporters) can resist using Wicca and modern Paganism as a political football.
Meanwhile, the Queens Tribune article on Republican candidate Dan Halloran, and alleged efforts by his opponent’s spokesman to spread the story to the press may be sucessful in damaging his campaign. While one local story gave sympathetic coverage of Halloran’s religious journey, and another portrayed the GOP as “having faith” in the candidate for New York City Council, the Village Voice claims that Halloran may be on the verge of being replaced as a candidate.
“Up until the story ran, Halloran was the odds-on favorite to win the November general election against newcomer Kevin Kim who won last week’s Deocratic primary against a crowded field seeking to fill Tony Avella’s vacated seat. Now all bets are off, and City Hall news blog reports today that Republican leaders are negotiating to swap Halloran for Paul Vallone, member of the illustrious Queens Democratic clan who lost to Kim in the primary.”
Are Republicans really going to swap out Halloran for a conservative Democrat? If they do, what about Halloran’s ballot lines for the Libertarian, Independence, and Conservative parties? I very much doubt they’ll all want to switch horses at this point. Rumors that Halloran would be given a judicial nod in exchange for vacating the ballot for Vallone seem to be stalled due to legal obstacles to such a plan. As for Queens County Democratic Party chair Michael Reich, he’s keeping in classy by describing Theodism as a “cult”.
“They should stick with the candidate they picked, even if he happens to be in a cult.”
So one political party is privately embarrassed by Halloran’s faith and wants to kick him off the ballot, and the other political party is calling his faith a “cult” and using it to score points against him. I think the Shakespearean response here would be “a pox on both their houses”.
Both of these stories, not to mention the recent trials of Democratic delegate Rita Moran, all point to a simple fact: In the age of the Internet there is no “broom closet” secure enough to keep your secret. If you’ve ever mentioned your faith in public, be it a message board, e-list, book, magazine article, or mass-e-mail then you can’t expect your secrets to remain secret. The only response is to acknowledge that open adherence to a modern Pagan or Heathen faith will make some voters react negatively, and embrace a new level of transparency your most likely uncomfortable with. Pretending to be generically Judeo-Christian for the sake of politics is only a recipe for disaster. Eventually, and very likely before you’re elected, it will leak. If powerful politicians with far more to lose can’t keep their affairs or sexual preferences secret, what hope is there of hiding that article about Witchcraft your wrote, or that public festival you attended?
Pagan politicians, no matter what party they are with, need to be open about their faith from the start. If the message we keep sending to our interconnected communities is that modern Paganism is something we must keep hidden, if we treat our faiths as a “third rail” in politics, then a Pagan politician will never reach high office. We must win as who we really are, or we will never win. Yes, that will make the journey harder, it will remove the short-cuts of easy endorsements and fat contributions, but we need to make that journey no matter how hard. We must remain open no matter how strong the instinct to keep hidden, and eventually, with time and work, we will win. We will win and that victory will shatter the barriers that have hindered so many who tried to run and were brought low by mudslinging and fear. We will win, but we must come out, come out, wherever we are.