Heathen Matthew Orlando running for U.S. Congress in Michigan

Cara Schulz —  August 9, 2016 — 5 Comments

MICHIGAN — Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists living in Michigan’s 9th Congressional District have a candidate they may want to take a closer look at. Matt Orlando is an Ásatrúar running for Congress as the endorsed candidate of the Libertarian Party of Michigan. And one of his campaign stops is at the All Hands Together Harvest Festival hosted by Ancient Faiths Alliance.

Orlando is facing off against incumbent Sander Levin (D) and Christopher Morse (R) in the general election November 8, 2016. Orlando said his platform is focused on jobs, gun rights, freedom, privacy, and federal taxes and expenditures.

12670050_1735882656644681_5004245005220285737_nOrlando is currently employed as a compliance analyst and is married with four children. He has followed the Ásatrú religion for 20 years and has been an active member of the local Pagan community. He’s a volunteer for Pagan Pride Detroit Inc. and serves as president of the newly formed Ancient Faiths Alliance.

Orlando is bringing his campaign to the event hosted by the Alliance as a way to connect with other Pagans and Heathens, and to let them know, “…there are candidates out there who aren’t Christian, who are from our community” Orlando hopes to spread the idea that liberty folks have a deep respect for liberties and rights as a whole.

Kenya Coviak, an organizer for the All Hands Together Harvest Festival, said that she likes the prospect of someone running who isn’t your average candidate and someone who is active in the Pagan community. Coviak said, “Though he is Ásatrúar, he has not fallen into the rutted roads that so many have when it comes to grouping Heathens and Pagans as mutually exclusive communities. This is evidenced by his involvement as a volunteer for Pagan Pride Detroit Inc.”

Coviak admitted that she paused when finding out that he was running as a Libertarian. “As far as his political party affiliation, at first I had to give it a major look because of the unfortunate infestation of authoritarian right-wing hard liner factions, but have found that he is not a part of that.”

“[Matt’s] values and my values are similar,” Coviak added. “He is a fine person, and takes no stance he does not believe in wholeheartedly. I have no concern about him standing in a Hall at the end of his life trying to make excuses, for he stands in his truth. I believe he will be that kind of candidate, and that kind of elected official if he makes it. His party has some things that don’t ring my bell or stir my cauldron, but what is good has endured to make me believe that if he can be endorsed by them, then they are worth the time to look into as a viable choice.”

Orlando explained that he has found a philosophical home in the Libertarian Party. “One day a friend showed me some information on the Libertarian Party and I met with some Libertarians. I wanted to know if it was all just talk or if it was real. They explained it wasn’t about trying to control others, and having respect for people as individuals.” He also noted that when he had a different viewpoint, his fellow Libertarians didn’t browbeat him over the differences.

For Orlando, Libertarianism and Heathenry are very compatible. He said, “Both libertarian ideals and the 9 Noble Virtues are about being part of community and caring for each other while still being able to excel as an individual.”

He added that about half of the Libertarian Party of Michigan know of his religion but it is something the party has never asked about. “It’s not been an issue, I’ve never been pressed about it, and I love that about the Libertarian Party.” He believes that is how it should be, that a candidate’s religion is not part of a campaign or party politics.

Additionally, local voters haven’t seemed to focus on Orlando’s religion. “They’ve only care if I can get things going in the right direction and they come away believing I can,” he said.

Orlando is hoping more Pagans and Heathens run for elected office. And, for those thinking about it, he had this advice: “Do your research into parties and what they stand for. Not just at the national level, but at your state level.”

He also encourages candidates to stand on their principles and be confident so their words match their deeds. “You are your deeds,” he said, adding “I’d rather have people hate me for who I am than love me for who I’m not.”

Although Ballotpedia is calling this race a safe win for the Democratic incumbent, Orlando is optimistic. “If I can get out there and my ideas are seen and heard, my chances are very good. When people from all over the political spectrum hear my ideas, they are very positive about them,” said Orlando.

The challenge is getting his name out there. Currently, Orlando has run his campaign with no fundraising and no attention from the press. The incumbent has raised over $600,000 and garners press. Orlando said that overcoming the deficit in money and media coverage is very difficult, but he has enthusiastic volunteers ready to help him go door-to-door and speak directly to voters.

The Wild Hunt will follow Orlando’s campaign and update readers as the election cycle progresses.

Cara Schulz

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Cara Schulz is a journalist and author living in Minnesota with her husband and cat. She has previously written for PAGAN+politics, PNC-Minnesota, and Patheos. Her work has appeared in several books by Bibliotheca Alexandrina and she's the author of Martinis & Marshmallows: A Field Guide to Luxury Tent Camping and (Almost) Foolproof Mead Making. She loves red wine, camping, and has no tattoos.
  • Erin Lale

    Yay for heathens running!

    • Kenya Coviak

      He is awesome

    • ChristopherBlackwell

      Best of luck and may he prove worthy to the task.

  • kenofken

    I applaud him for putting himself out there. I would, however, offer some thoughts on the larger topic of Pagans running for office. There are really only two ways to higher office in this country: Serious money or a serious record of demonstrated competence at governance. The former has become the dominant path in this country, and we have suffered greatly as a result.

    Without heavy personal or party wealth at his disposal, Orlando’s run is more principled than practical. Principles are important, and standing on them, and standing upon them does indeed make us our deeds, but those principles have infinitely more impact if you actually get elected.

    The numerical realities of Mr. Orlando’s situation are, to say the least, daunting. His congressional district has a bit over 700,000 people, and about half that many households. The last Libertarian to run in 2014 got about 2% of the vote. The incumbent got over 60%, which explains his relatively paltry campaign chest of $600,000. That’s a hella gap to close in 11 weeks with a volunteer door-knocking campaign.

    Where I’m going with this is that Pagans, and regular people in general can probably make a more meaningful impact in politics from the bottom up. Run for your local school board or city council. If that’s a tough nut, go back down the ladder even another rung. Get appointed to a zoning board or to fill a partial term by someone’s resignation. Volunteering and/or running will get you on a local board if you’re determined. Be prepared to do a lot of work learning the issues and sitting through late night meetings. Once you make a name and some connections, parlay that to a run at your state house of representatives. That is an excellent stepping stone to Congress, albeit not always a fast or easy one. I think Pagans of all political persuasions have some valuable things to bring to public service…if we can get elected.

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