On June 7, Rev. Kathryn Jones, a Wiccan minister from Uniontown, Penn. announced her candidacy for state representative in the 51st District. Rev. Jones is running on the Green Party ticket against Democratic incumbent Timothy S. Mahoney. Although this will be her first time running for public office, Jones has had years of experience working around and with the structure of local politics.Since 2010 Jones has been an active presence in city and county prisons, where she performs general ministerial duties for local Pagan inmates. As noted in a Pittsburgh Tribune article, county officials have, in the past, fully recognized and supported her work. Commissioner Vincent Zapotosky said, “We all have a right to worship the God of our choice.”
Then in fall 2013, local officials began to reject her requests to enter the very prisons that she had already visited. In May 2014, Jack Henekes, the local district attorney and a member of the county prison board, told the Pittsburgh Tribune that Rev. Jones was denied access because her religion “is not federally recognized.”
Although these verbal attacks focus on her Wiccan practice, Jones believes that religion is not really the issue. Over the past decade, she has become an outspoken political activist in Fayette County. She joined the local Occupy movement and is currently fighting “the construction of a new $100 million prison facility to be funded by taxpayers and contracted out to for-profit corporations.”
Jones firmly believes that religion is just a reason to stop her activist work. She says, “Being refused the opportunity to minister to Pagan inmates is why I am [now] running for office.” She sees her candidacy as the next step in her personal crusade to make the local community a better place. She explains:
Our community is falling apart. We have lost too many of our young people to gun violence and drug overdoses, while the rich get richer and the poor fill the prisons for profit. … I am fighting decades of corruption in an area that votes 60%+ for Democrats and where Obama lost [twice]. I am fighting apathy and poverty and illiteracy.
The 51st District of southwestern Pennsylvania is a region with a long coal mining history. It has been a Democratic stronghold for years. Rep. Mahoney has been the district’s state representative since 2006 and, before him, other Democrats have won the seat since 1969. Republicans do not even regularly offer opposition. Jones says that if she doesn’t run, Rep. Mahoney will run unopposed once again.
For years Jones herself was a Democrat but, over time, she became disillusioned with the local political scene. She says, “The [region’s] Democratic Party has done a disservice to our community and to the national Party in general.” She adds that they are “way too corrupt” and only want “perpetuate the status quo.”Jones believes her district needs change and needs it now. She told the Tribune, “We just need a two-year break to catch our breath and find a different direction, because the direction we are going is nowhere.”
At first she looked to the Tea Party for support because, like herself, it wants to see Mahoney out of office. However Jones quickly realized that she, “could not overcome the social issues divide.” Then a friend told her to contact Jay Sweeney, chair of the Green Party of Pennsylvania. After speaking with Sweeney, Jones says that she “found a home.” She likened the feeling to first finding Wicca in the mid-nineties.
The state’s Green Party fully supports her candidacy. Sweeney says, “The Green Party is Wiccan and Pagan friendly … I don’t anticipate any backlash, but, will certainly cite our values if necessary to defend any such controversy.” Those values include a “respect for diversity” which includes religion and spirituality. These ideals are incorporated into the Party platform.
After filling out a questionnaire and meeting with representatives from the Green Party of Allegheny, Jones attended the Party’s June 7 state committee meeting in Bethlehem. She says that the delegates asked probing questions but nothing out of the normal. Sweeney agreed saying:
Kathryn has been clear about her religious beliefs. I would say she was universally accepted. The only question was a clarification in regard to her position as a minister. Someone wanted to know if she was a UU minister. A member immediately raised an objection to any question regarding religion.
Along with being the first Wiccan candidate to run, Jones will also be the first third Party candidate. And if elected, the first woman to hold that particular office for the 51st District. She says that the pressure is now on. She wants to be a good representative of the Green Party and of the Wiccan community, saying, “I don’t want to let down either group.”To help deal with the pressure, Jones regularly taps into her spiritual beliefs and training. She says that she is in a “constant state of meditation” which help maintains balance. She also regularly uses Viking runes. As she explains, “there are days when I wonder,’What have I done?’ or ‘Why am I doing what I’m doing?'” The runes and meditation bring her back to a center point so she can focus on her goals.
One of these goals is to show her community that regular people can run for office on a shoestring budget. Whether she wins or loses, she wants to prove that individuals can be heard and can make a difference in politics.
Currently Jones is working on the petition needed to add her name to the district ballot. She is confident that she’ll have the needed 300 signatures by the July 31 deadline. She and her campaign team are aiming for 500 just in case there are any questions. In the meantime, Jones will be setting up the back-end logistics to run her campaign, raise funds and garner support. Her focus is now on social media outreach and the petition.
Supporting her is a group of dedicated volunteers made up of locals from all faith back grounds. Jones has yet to experience any backlash from the community due to her religion. The local press has covered her campaign with interest and curiosity. Jones says there there have been some light jokes about “bonfires in the parks, but that has been it.” Local Wiccan Priestess Lady Annabelle of Grove of Gaia, says:
It is good to see someone who is openly Wiccan run for public office in Pennsylvania. It sets a standard for other Wiccans to lead and become candidates for State Representatives themselves, or seek other government roles … Her chances depend on how she presents herself. It will be interesting to see if she is successful as this would suggest that PA voters can look to the substance of the candidate, regardless of her religion.
Once Jones collects the needed signatures, her name will go on the ballot for the November 2014 election. At this point, it is too early in the process to know if she will receive any real resistance due to her religion but Jones says that she is ready for anything. She welcomes a public debate, open conversation and whatever else may come.