Archives For Erin Lale

As many have predicted, a wave of voter discontent has swept the Republicans back into power in the House of Representatives, though the Democrats have managed to retain control of the Senate. I’ll leave what this “means” to the pundits, spin-masters, and politicos, and instead focus on the candidates and races that have involved our communities in some way, and talk a bit about how this new landscape might affect modern Pagans. To start off, Nevada State Assembly District 29 candidate Erin Lale, an out Heathen who was running on the Libertarian ticket and had the backing of a local Tea Party organization, did not win her race. Incumbent Democrat April Mastroluca retained her seat, and Lale’s involvement may have shaved off enough swing votes from Republican Dan Hill to make it happen.

In a recent interview with the Pagan Newswire Collective Lale expressed frustration at how difficult it is for third-party candidates to receive equal treatment and consideration in the United State’s two-party system.

“…the traditional media, newspapers and TV, usually ignore third party candidates, although I got a really good interview in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Voter Guide last Sunday, and I’m all over the internet and radio; some media, including not just internet radio shows but even broadcast TV, frankly email candidates promising news coverage if they buy advertising, and even more blatantly, local news channels — including publicly funded PBS!– refused to allow any candidate for governor who had not raised tens of thousands of dollars to participate in the televised debate; people have the attitude that the election is a horserace and they are supposed to bet on the winner, so voting one’s conscience to vote for a third party or independent candidate is somehow “wasting your vote”, and people think they should vote for the lesser of two evils instead of voting for what they believe in.”

In a message sent to Pagan+Politics last night, Lale had this to say about her campaign.

“Thank you for all your support over the course of this campaign. Although I didn’t win, I did get my ideas in front of a lot of community leaders, organizations, and other candidates, and made a lot of networking connections, so hopefully my ideas can move forward on another front, while I move into another arena of endeavor, whatever that may be. I am now looking for my next challenge.”

This is obviously a disappointment for Lale, but it does show that an openly Pagan candidate with almost no funding or mainstream media attention can affect local politics. As we become more confident, speculations about the “Pagan vote” and Pagan candidates will leave the realm of the hypothetical and be taken more seriously.

Speaking of the “Pagan vote”, one candidate who certainly wasn’t capturing it was Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell.  While some polls saw O’Donnell as competitive early on in the campaign, her dire mishandling of the “dabbling in witchcraft” clip from the 1990s not only created a media firestorm but also earned her the ire of Pagans and real-live Witches.

No matter how Democrats treat the issue, it seems unlikely that Wiccans will turn out for O’Donnell at the polls. “Her inability to separate anything non-Christian from Satanic is going to be an issue not just with her potential pagan constituents but with any other non-Christians or Christians of a flavor that does not match hers,” said Michael Smith, the Wiccan IT analyst who hosted the meet-and-greet the governor visited. “A couple of my local politician friends say she’s losing the Wiccan vote,” said [Ivo] Dominguez. “Well, I said she never had the pagan vote for the most part to begin with.” Ben Crair, The Daily Beast

Ultimately “dabble-gate” cost her the election, and while the abundance of mean-spirited mockery had some in our community questioning why “dabbling” in a minority religion is such a deal-breaker for political office, O’Donnell’s largely unexplored connections to conservative Christianity and how they influence her politics made few Pagans regret her loss.

Turning from Paganism, and those who may have dabbled in it, to other minority faiths, it looks like 2010 will not see the first Hindu in congress. In Pennsylvania’s Sixth Congressional District Republican incumbent Jim Gerlach seems to have retained his seat against challenger Dr. Manan Trivedi. Nor was it a good night for Indian-American candidates in general this election cycle. The sole exception is the win for Nikki Randhawa Haley, the new Republican governor of South Carolina. A convert from Sikhism to Christianity, Haley is the first female Indian-American to win a governor’s race in the United States. While this election may have been disappointing for those who were looking forward to more religious diversity in America’s halls of power, Indian-Americans are a growing political force here, and it’s only a matter of time before we elect a Hindu to high office.

Finally, did the Republican gains also sweep in a lot of Pagan-hating Christian conservatives? The answer to that one is mixed. As I mentioned, O’Donnell was defeated, as was Sharon Angle in Nevada, despite polls saying she was slightly ahead, meaning her somewhat out-of-the-mainstream brand of conservative Christianity won’t be guiding policy decisions. In Hawaii, Republican James “Duke” Aiona, a candidate with ties to the anti-Pagan spiritual warfare-happy New Apostolic Reformation, lost the governor’s race to Democratic opponent Neil Abercrombie, and, as expected, Washington, D.C., Republican congressional delegate candidate, and Wiccan abortion conspiracy theorist, Missy Reilly Smith, lost to the Democratic incumbent.

But is wasn’t all good news. Republican Florida Senate-winner Marco Rubio may be a bit too cozy with rabidly anti-Pagan “Constitutional Scholar” David Barton (who argues that Pagans don’t deserve the same Constitutional protections as Christians) making some wonder how much he agrees with Glenn Beck’s “professor”.

“Senate candidate Marco Rubio revved up a crowd of about 200 supporters at the Alaqua Country Club Wednesday, but Rubio had a little help from the guy who introduced him. David Barton primed the pump with his brand of America first, last and always political/religious revivalism … Barton’s primary message Wednesday – and most days – is that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, was intended to be a Christian nation and would be a whole lot better if everyone started buying into that. Barton traces a number of social ills, for example, back to the prohibition of compulsory prayer in public schools.”

Too bad no one got to question him on the point of equal treatment for non-Christians, specifically Pagans. On the whole, some are starting to see this election not as the rise of the Tea Party, as some had hoped/feared, but as a second wind for Christian conservative candidates (some of whom have latched onto or gained the support from Tea Party groups). What that all means for minority religions (or for the fiscally-motivated Tea Party for that matter) in the next few years remains to be seen.

Have any election-night insights to share? Leave them in the comments!

Over at the PNC blog Pagan+Politics Cara Schulz has posted the first interview in a series of interviews with Pagan politicians. The first installment is with Nevada State Assemble District 29 candidate Erin Lale. Lale is running on the Libertarian Party ticket and recently got the backing of a local Tea Party group.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

“Yes, the deck is stacked against third party and independent candidates, in several ways: district boundary lines are drawn to protect incumbents; campaign finance laws favor incumbents (the winner of the election gets to keep unused campaign funds for next time and keep building up their war chest between elections, but losers by law in Nevada must close their campaign bank account and give away any unused campaign funds to charity or to other campaigns); corporate and union donors usually only give to Democrats and Republicans (my individual donations are running about even with what the incumbent did in the last election, but I only have individual donations, while she also gets corporate and union donations, so while I raise about $500 she raised $150,000 in the last election; we’ll have to wait til the election is over to see how much she raised this time. And that doesn’t even count the advertising bought for her by her party and by corporate, union, and special interest groups) so I can’t afford to do a big ad campaign; the traditional media, newspapers and TV, usually ignore third party candidates, although I got a really good interview in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Voter Guide last Sunday, and I’m all over the internet and radio; some media, including not just internet radio shows but even broadcast TV, frankly email candidates promising news coverage if they buy advertising, and even more blatantly, local news channels — including publicly funded PBS!– refused to allow any candidate for governor who had not raised tens of thousands of dollars to participate in the televised debate; people have the attitude that the election is a horserace and they are supposed to bet on the winner, so voting one’s conscience to vote for a third party or independent candidate is somehow “wasting your vote”, and people think they should vote for the lesser of two evils instead of voting for what they believe in.”

Be sure to head over to Pagan+Politics and read the whole thing. Next week’s installment will feature a rare interview with New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, his first with the Pagan community since winning office in 2009.

[The following is a guest-post from Cara Schulz. Cara is a member of the Pagan Newswire Collective's political commentary blog Pagan+Politics and one of the coordinators of the PNC's Minnesota bureau. As a politically conservative Pagan she has spent several months reporting on the modern Pagan experience from within the Tea Party movement.]

Nevada State Assembly candidate Erin Lale, known in the Pagan community as a cinematographer and author, has picked up several prominent endorsements including a nod from the Tea Party.

From the Press Release:

“May 31, 2010 – Erin Lale, candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 29, was endorsed by local Tea Party organization Anger is Brewing*. Lale has also been endorsed by the LPN Vote Caucus, Liberty-Candidates.org, Gun Owners of Nevada, and the Fraternal Order of Police.

Lale plans to introduce legislation to define fees in Nevada law so fees collected for a specific purpose must be used for that purpose or given back to the taxpayers. Her plan to balance the state budget without a general tax increase is to end marijuana prohibition so the state can tax marijuana, spend $500 million less per year on prisons, free up police resources so we put more cops on the street without spending more money, bring parents back to the community which will help kids do better in school and break the cycle of poverty, have less gang violence, less border violence, and more tourist money in the local economy.

Lale is running against incumbent April Mastroluca, a Democrat. There is no primary in the District 29 race; no names will appear on the ballot for District 29 until the general election in November.”

So far, it appears that Lale’s religion has not been an issue in her race for State Assembly.  This has not been the case with other Pagan candidates such as Alice Richmond and Dan Halloran.

New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, also endorsed by the Tea Party, faced intense scrutiny about his religious practices.  When Halloran ran for office last year the local media conducted a smear campaign, orchestrated by his Democratic Party opponent,  focusing on Halloran’s faith.

We warned you it was going to get interesting in Queens.  But now it’s getting downright weird. The Queens Tribune wrote a story about Republican City Council candidate Dan Halloran’s unusual religious beliefs.  Reporters around the city received an e-mail with a pdf of the article attached — from Democratic rival Kevin Kim’s new spokesman. According to the article, written by Executive Editor Brian Rafferty:  “Halloran is the ‘First Atheling’ or King, of Normandy, a branch of the Theod faith of pre-Christian Heathen religions assembled in the Greater New York Area.”

Although the campaign got rough and there was speculation Halloran would be asked to bow out, the Libertarian, Conservative, Independence, and Republican Parties stood by him – and so did the Tea Party.  Halloran went on to win his seat by a margin of 1300 votes.

Do these two endorsements by the Tea Party suggest that (fiscally conservative) Pagan candidates can expect a fair shake from a group many Pagans consider filled with “racists, birthers, and religious ideologues?” Could the political Right be more accepting of Pagan candidates than the political Left?  We may find some clues in the recent flap over Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell‘s admission to “dabbling” in witchcraft.

“Yes, some religious conservatives are pulling out their “devil” card for this occasion, but it’s the added mockery from the left that is really setting us back. The implication that dabbling in any faith outside the mainstream is toxic to winning elected office in America.”

What was the Tea Party reaction to O’Donnell’s admission?  As of yet they are standing by her.  Pagan+politics featured an interview with two Delaware Tea Party Pagans (C and D) for a first hand account of Tea Party attitudes.

From C: I don’t like how she calls it “dabbling.” That’s my religion you are talking about. What I have enjoyed even less is the Left going after her for this. Should being a witch or “dabbling” in witchcraft make you unelectable? Is it a sign that you are mentally unstable? A joke? Progressive friends and co-workers, not knowing that I’m a witch, have had the most appalling things to say about O’Donnell and witches. It’s very hurtful to hear. The GOP Party leaders are also attacking her over this. Within the Tea Party, the response is what I should be seeing from the Left. Some are questioning her fitness, but the consensus response is now, “Religious attacks are not allowed here and her religious beliefs are none of our business. Take it outside.”

From D: I haven’t seen anyone in the Tea Party throw a fit like they have in the media. When people make fun of her for dabbling in witchcraft they are making fun of us. I’m seeing Pagans do that, too. They are so interested in making a Republican candidate look bad that they are willing to hurt our own path. But no, I’m not seeing the Tea Party get too upset over this. They are saying that it doesn’t matter and is an attempted distraction, don’t fall for it.

Does this mean that the Tea Party, across the USA, can be said to be Pagan-friendly?  I don’t think any uniform statement can be made about the Tea Party as it is a coalition of non-hierarchical, grass-roots, autonomous local groups focused on economic issues.  Alison Shaffer pointed out that local and national Tea Party groups can be very different:

“I see a very obvious disconnect between local tea party politics, such as the kind you often cite Cara, and the broader political force of the tea party on a national level, which can hardly be denied is very overtly right-wing Christian. Ignoring this rather important disconnect is likely to cause problems in the future.”

The waters are further muddied by groups like the Tea Party Express, which isn’t a Tea Party group at all, but PAC that is a front for the GOP in their repeated attempts to control and direct this populist movement.

“The political action committee behind the Tea Party Express (TPE) — which already has been slammed as inauthentic and corporate-controlled by rival factions in the Tea Party movement — directed almost two thirds of its spending during a recent reporting period back to the Republican consulting firm that created the PAC in the first place.”

From personal experience here’s a general rule of thumb – if a group says they represent the Tea Party nationally, they don’t.

As of now, we can’t make a definitive statement about which political parties are more or less Pagan-friendly.  Nor can we make a blanket statement about the Tea Party groups.  We haven’t yet had enough candidates run.  I find it heartening that we now have two Pagans currently holding elected office (Dan Halloran and Jessica Orsini, re-elected Alderwoman in Centralia, Missouri in 2008) and Ms. Lale, running for office in Nevada.

Good luck to Ms. Lale in her race and I look forward to seeing the results come November.

*  The group’s name is “Action is Brewing”.

Hello! It’s good to be back home at The Wild Hunt, and I hope all of you enjoyed the week of thought-provoking and insightful guest-posts. I would like to thank Lee Gilmore, Kulasundari Devi, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, Jordan Stratford, Matthew Ellenwood, and Christian Day for their contributions, and I hope you’ll continue to follow their work in the future. I’d especially like to thank Cosette Paneque for stepping up and running the site while I was away, as well as writing news updates; her efforts are greatly valued, and I’m glad to call her a friend and colleague.

Pagan Spirit Gathering was an immense experience, an intense immersion into a fully Pagan world that leaves you changed in the process. The Pagan Newswire Collective (in partnership with the Proud Pagan Podcasters and Patheos.com) gathered hours of audio interviews from that trip, and as we sort through it, I’ll be sharing some of it with you here, as well as writing about my experiences. You can also experience some of PSG on an upcoming episode of T. Thorn Coyle’s Elemental Castings podcast, and my own A Darker Shade of Pagan podcast. I’d like to thank Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary, and all the Pagan Spirit Gathering organizers for inviting me to the event, and for taking such good care of me once I was there.

It may take me a couple days to get fully on top of things again, but here are a few news items I wanted to share with you today.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s Legal Battle: The Daily Mail has an update on the upcoming court battle in upstate New York between the Maetreum of Cybele, a Pagan temple and convent, and the Town of Catskill over tax exemptions.

“They declared war on us and we’re bringing it to them,” Platine said. “If we file a federal suit we will be looking for punitive damages. We want to send a message loud and clear that you don’t do this to a minority religion,” she said. “They woke up a sleeping giant.” Platine said she has had great support from the pagan community nationwide and was receiving donations to pay the Maetreum’s legal fees. “We just want them to give us back our exemption,” she said, “and leave us alone.”

I’ve been covering this legal saga here at The Wild Hunt, and the outcome could have profound effects on how minority religions approach tax exemption issues, especially if the case goes to the federal level. In the meantime, while Catskill seems to dislike giving property tax exemptions to isolated Goddess temples, mega-retailer Wal-Mart seems to have no trouble getting a big tax break. As a result, the Maetreum’s Reverend Mother, Cathryn Platine, has become something of a local anti-tax icon. I encourage you to read the entire Daily Mail piece, which has lots of interesting details, and I’ll be keeping you posted concerning the court case once I have more information.

Why Are Australian Political Parties Speaking at Christian-Only Events? Bruce Wilson at Talk To Action notes that representatives of Australia’s two dominant political parties recently participated in an event that was closed to non-Christians and broadcasted only to Christian churches.

“Last Monday, the leaders of Australia’s two biggest political parties addressed the right-wing Australian Christian Lobby in an event that excluded non-Christians and was broadcast solely to Christian churches across Australia. As the event website asked, “What values will define the nation after the election ?” Among the issues discussed was government funding of religious schools, which both party leaders support. Banned from the event, the Australian general public couldn’t formulate opinions about positions that Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott, both devout Christians, espoused. Now, only a few days later, Rudd has been ousted from his position as Prime Minister in a Labor Party revolt that has installed Julia Gillard as Australia’s new Prime Minister. It’s unlikely she’ll be a favorite of the Australian Christian Lobby – Gillard is unmarried and rumored to be an atheist. News coverage of Rudd’s ouster has mentioned many reason for his ouster, but Monday’s “Christians only” event does not seem to be on the list.”

The event seems like a slap in the face of all minority faiths, all but making that country’s Christian political power-brokers the de facto king-makers. It is especially troubling when you consider that Australia just recently hosted the world’s largest interfaith gathering. One would hope that such an event couldn’t happen here in the US, though Wilson does remind us that both Obama and McCain willingly participated in a discussion about faith at a conservative evangelical mega-church during the campaign. Reminding all Americans that “religious issues” in this country, at least for the time being, largely means “Christian issues”.

The Religious Litmus Test: To further underline my previous news item, Aseem Shukla, co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), discusses how the political rise of Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley (both raised in Dharma religions) has gone hand-in-hand with repeated assertions of their Christian identity and rejections of their minority religion roots.

“As any observer knows by now, say what you will about Haley and Jindal, but don’t say that they are not Christian. Ask about the Dharma religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism) of their childhood and their parents–Hinduism for Jindal and Sikhism for Haley–and be referred to Haley’s website where she writes of “living for Christ” or Jindal’s own striking testimonial on his conversion to Catholicism.

This year, eight Indian Americans, most of whom are Hindu, are running for national or statewide office–a record number–and the questions of faith become increasingly urgent. The media storyline–”Haley and Jindal triumph despite questions about their faith”– leaves millions of America’s adherents of Dharma faiths stone cold: What is so miserably wrong and unelectable in being a Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist or Jain?”

Shukla notes that while Haley and Jindal’s successes are a positive step for racial plurality in America, it still leaves religious minorities with the message that the US isn’t ready for our full inclusion in the political process. I should also note that Shukla, as he did in a previous post for On Faith, once again includes Pagans when speaking about religious minorities in the United States.

Another Pagan Candidate: In a final note I’m happy to announce that our community has another openly Pagan candidate to root for! Erin Lale, a Gythia of Asatru, is running for a seat on Nevada’s State Assembly on the Libertarian ticket.

“Lale believes in getting government’s eyeball out of your window and its hand out of your pocket. In the last session, the Nevada State Assembly couldn’t agree to balance the state budget by either cutting programs or raising taxes, so instead they raided the budgets of local agencies: cities, counties, water districts, and school districts. They raided the Clark County School District’s capital improvement fund, which was money raised from Clark County homeowners intended for renovating aging school buildings and replacing portables with permanent buildings, and they put it in the general fund to spend who knows where on who knows what. They raided the Clean Water Coalition of $62 million from hookup fees in Clark County intended for wastewater treatment, resulting in a lawsuit. Lale plans to introduce legislation to define fees in Nevada law so fees collected for a specific purpose must be used for that purpose or given back. Her plan to balance the budget is to end marijuana prohibition so we can tax that, spend $500 million less per year on prisons, free up police resources so we put more cops on the street without spending more money, bring parents back to the community which will help kids do better in school and break the cycle of poverty, have less gang violence, less border violence, and more tourist money in our economy.”

You can find out more about candidate Lale at her MySpace profile, which includes a cat-centric campaign ad. If there are any Nevada Pagans of the Libertarian persuasion reading this, I’m sure she could use some local support. I’ll be following Erin Lale’s candidacy in future posts at The Wild Hunt.

That’s all I have for now, I hope you have a great day!