Wicca Emerged as Controversy in West Virginia Election

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CAIRO, W. Va. In a race for the West Virginia House of Delegates, the Wiccan writings of one candidate emerged as issue. Mr. Jason S. Hashbarger (Rep.) currently holds the seat in question. On October 24, Representative Harshbarger posted  an article on Facebook from The Daily Caller, a right wing website. That post alleged that his opponent, Lissa Lucas failed to disclose her Wiccan practice and writings. Hashbarger claimed to be standing up for West Virginia “values.” Responses to that post showed that some West Virginians felt that a candidate’s religious beliefs were irrelevant. Other responses disagreed.

Hashbarger emphasized Lucas’s lack of disclosure rather than her practice of Wicca. That Daily Caller article described Wicca as a cult and Lucas as a “Pagan Witchcraft Cult Leader”. Other conservative and Christian Right websites picked up on this story. and internet searches failed to find mention of this issue in the mainstream press.

Lissa Lucas did not respond to a request for an interview by press time.


Painting of Llyssa Smith Wylle [Source: Creative Commons]

Lucas responded to these charges on Facebook  affirming that she had authored books on Wicca under a pen name, Llysse Smith Wylle. She went on to state “I’m pretty disappointed that my opponent seems to have such a dim view of the people here, that he thinks attacking my spirituality will help him politically.” She described the people of the district as “generous, kind, and hardworking.” Lucas said, “It sort of hurts me that he must think they’re religious bigots, because that’s just never been my experience, no matter what anyone’s party is. Their just-down-at-the-core kindness and openness is a big part of the reason I love the people here so much.“

According to Wikipedia, Llysse Smith Wylle has written “The Art of Magic Words” and “Wicca 334: Further Advanced Topics in Wiccan Belief.” She is a third Circle member of the Church of Universal Eclectic Wicca.

On October 26, a Facebook page titled “The Wicked Witch of West Virginia: Lissa Lucas” was created by an unknown source. That page has since been removed. The banner at the top of the page said, “Witchcraft, Paganism, Satanism, All of these practices have the same goal: Destroy God, Destroy America, Destroy the President. Remember the wicked witch of Ritchie County”. It went to quote the Daily Caller article. The page also referenced the thousands of witches casting monthly spells against Donald Trump. The page had six followers before its removal.

According to an article in Patheos, on November 2, the Family Policy Council of West Virginia and the (national) Family Research Council jointly briefed West Virginia pastors on the “dangers” of a Wiccan candidate. The objective of the pre-election briefing  for West Virginia pastors focused on how “Christians must shore up our legal protections against known credible threats to our rights of religious freedom in West Virginia. Come learn both good and bad potential outcomes that will impact West Virginia Church operations”. The Freedom from Religion Foundation has become involved and informed the IRS of this “briefing”. According to the Foundation, pastors telling their congregations how to vote could jeopardize their tax-exempt status.

The district and the candidates

Harshbarger and Lucas are competing to represent the Seventh District of the West Virginia House of Delegates. That district includes Pleasants and Ritchie Counties. Pleasants County abuts the Ohio River in the northwestern part of West Virginia. It has a population of 7,605 and a per capita income of $18,770. Trump carried the county with 74.2 percent of the vote. Richie County lies due south of Pleasants County. It has a population of 10,449 and an individual per capita income of $18,255. Trump carried this county with 83 percent of the vote.


Pleasants County, West Virginia By David Benbennick [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Harshbarger. His Facebook page stresses his anti-choice politics. Harshbarger has the campaign slogan, “Conservative for the House of Delegates.”

Both the Sierra Club and the United Mine workers have endorsed Lucas. West Virginia Working Families and the AFL-CIO have also endorsed her.

Lucas has stated her positions as pro-solar power and pro-student loan debt relief.  Last February, the West Virginia House Judiciary Committee held a public hearing. They were debating a co-tenancy proposal about energy extraction. That proposal would allow energy companies to lease land for natural gas drilling. Under the terms of that proposal they would only need the approval of 75 percent of the property owners. When it came time for public comment, Lucas began to speak. She read the names of committee members. She said how much money each one had received from energy companies.

The committee chair called security and she was forcibly escorted Lucas out of the room. As she was escorted out, she yelled the state motto “Montani Semper Liberi,” (Mountaineers are always free). The “New York Times” and the “Washington Post” picked up this story. As a result her campaign received thousands of dollars.

Lucas lives in Cairo West Virginia, a town in northwest West Virginia. in the 2010 census, it had a population of 281.

On October 26, she tweeted a photo of “that time I crocheted a #DrWho and dressed up as a #DIY #TARDIS.” #IAmANerd. The Dr. Who puppet looked like the David Tennant incarnation of the Doctor. That Tweet failed to generate any controversy.


Post Election Addendum

Lissa Lucas (D) lost her race for the West Virginia House of Delegates, District 7. She received 1451 votes (26.6 percent) to Jason Harshbarger’s 4010 votes (73.4 percent)..

Compared to 2016 race for this district, about 18 percent fewer voters participated in the 2018 race. Lucas received 850 fewer votes that the Democratic challengers did in 2015. Harshbarger received 359 fewer votes than he did in 2016. This is consistent with the general tendency for the electorate to shrink to the “right” in off year elections.


Source: Sean McShee

District 7 has historically voted for the GOP. Given 2016 percentages, District 7 would more than likely remain a safe GOP seat. It is unclear why Harshbarger felt the need to bring up Lucas’s Wiccan background.

Most of the discussion of Lucas’s Wiccan writings appears to have been confined to the Christian Right media and commentary. As such it appears to have had no notable impact on the outcome.