Two Pagans run for re-election in local government

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Pagan voters in two U.S. regions have the opportunity to do something unusual –  vote for a fellow Pagan. In Virginia, Lonnie Murray was successful in his bid for re-election as Director of the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District (TJSWCD). And, in Maine, Thaum Gordon is up for re-election as Supervisor for Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District. The Wild Hunt spoke to both men about their experiences as elected officials and what advice they have for Pagans considering running for office.

[Photo Credit: Tom Arthur from Orange, CA, United States ]

[Photo Credit: Tom Arthur from Orange, CA, United States ]

Mr. Murray, who identifies as an Animist, was first elected as Director of TJSWCD in 2011. His bio lists his past experience serving on the Charlottesville Citizens Committee on Environmental Sustainability, the Albemarle County Natural Heritage Committee, and the Biscuit Run State Park Master Plan Advisory Committee. He was also one of the founders of Charlottesville’s Earth Week. In this election, Murray faced Steven Meeks in the November 3 race and defeated Meeks 52% to 47%.

Mr. Gordon, who is an eclectic Druid, was also first elected in 2011 and faces an opponent in his re-election bid. Unlike most other states where supervisors are on the general election ballot, Maine requires voters to request absentee ballots to vote for board supervisor. All ballots are due by November 11.

Lonnie Murray [photo from Facebook]

Lonnie Murray [Facebook Photo]

Although some Pagans and Heathens running for office have faced very public, and sometimes harsh, scrutiny of their religion, both Murray and Gordon said that religion hasn’t come up in either election bid. Murray says he’s fortunate to live near Thomas Jefferson’s home town where he says religious freedom has always been a community value. Although Murray said it’s inappropriate for people to use religion in their campaigns, he believes it’s important for Pagans to know that there are other Pagans holding office. He added, ”When you are a minority of any kind, it helps to know that you do have a voice and that serving in a public office is an option for people like you too. All that said, I represent people of all faiths, and those of no faith.”     

In addition to his time holding elected office, Gordon has been involved with public service over 40 years. “Some folks know I’m Pagan, but I’ve never felt the need to announce myself as such in governmental work,” said Gordon. What he has done is share his experience and qualifications with the public. That won voters over in 2011.

In his election, Murray was able to point out his past accomplishments while serving on the TJSWCD. He said, “As promised, while in office I worked to bring more attention to urban areas, and how we can clean up streams by creating biofilters, and by planting more trees and native wildflowers. Generally people like trees and wildflowers way more than pavement and martian mudscapes.”

Murray said that his advice to Pagans considering running for office is to attend local public meetings and volunteer for public advisory groups. He noted the possible the impact in municipal and county offices.“Local government has way more importance to your life on a day to day basis than anything that happens in Washington. Schools, roads, water, sewer, fire departments, police, land use and many environmental issues are all decided locally.”  

Thaum Gordon [photo from Facebook]

Thaum Gordon [photo from Facebook]

Gordon suggested running for a Conservation District position is a good way to enter public office, “There are almost 3000 Conservation Districts in the US; it’s a great first step to get involved with public service. Likewise, there are thousands of water utility districts, sewer districts, parks commissions, and other special-purpose units of government that need board members. These can be stepping stones to more competitive county or municipal elections.”

Both men believe that Pagans and Heathens may have particular strengths that could prove success in politics. For example, Gordon stressed a certain openness to other people’s ideas and an interest in looking for common ground. Murray notes that there is common approach to working magic and working in politics. “While it takes lots of patience to see progress, there really is magic in how by applying effort and intention you can help solve important problems in your own community.”