no. 22: religion and government
Last week I did a talk at the American Humanist Association’s annual conference about being a non-religious elected official in conservative Nebraska and what that’s like.
Atheist groups often ask me to speak with them and I don’t normally do it. I don’t enjoy talking about religion or lack of religion because I think it’s boring. The most important thing to me is that we elect people who are qualified for the work, and that’s not always an atheist or a nonbeliever. However, due to the way we have centered religious belief in our political process, it’s really difficult for anyone who isn’t religious to make their way into the system. I think that Nebraska’s body of elected officials skews a little bit more conservative than the population of our state as a whole. Polling shows that most people in my state support reproductive rights and abortion, immigration, and raising the minimum wage, but we haven’t elected people who are willing to support these policies. Government will not get better and more representative until candidates get better and more representative. I would like to have Jewish colleagues, Muslim colleagues, more Black colleagues, more LGBTQ+ colleagues, colleagues of different abilities, colleagues of different national origins. Mentoring, speaking up about our intersections of difference, welcoming those who want to throw their hat in the ring, and yes, fundraising, is part of what we can do to help get us there. But it’s really hard.
It’s hard to run as Openly Different Anything, but voters deserve to have an opportunity to get to know the candidates as they really are. When I present myself, I am not going to hide any part of myself. If I do, that takes the opportunity away from my voters and from Nebraskans to make an informed decision about who is going to represent them. I am who I am, and I don’t hide anything about myself. If the voters don’t like that, they don’t have to vote for me, but I believe it is vital to be transparent about who you are, especially as a candidate or elected official. You have to run based on your record, your values, and your ideas. To make progress as a culture, we need to reject the idea that we are going to center people’s religious beliefs in politics. We should not contribute to that by making being a nonbeliever a big deal. I don’t see myself as a representative for atheists, for non-believers—I just try to do the best work I can to make sure people of all faiths, of all beliefs, are represented in our state.
Anyway I wanted to talk about how Danny took me to Hawaii and I saw a volcano and went snorkeling for the first time and went on the 11-mile (7,000-mile? I think?) bucket list hike of a lifetime, but instead I got on this thing about government and religion. I also feel awkward talking about going on an amazing trip while 1. COVID is still going on and 2. people are struggling so much, but I also think it’s important to be human and honest and talk about both the good things and the bad things. We all have plenty of both. I’m really trying to focus more on those good things in my personal and private life, because in my public life and in government it is 90% grief and injustice and fight and trying to tuck and roll out of one legislative car crash after another.
Let me show you some Hawaii pics in the next newsletter.
August 5 - Youth Rally at Stinson Park for comprehensive sex education in Nebraska public schools. 6pm. I think I’ll be speaking?? I’m not planning to but I know I will probably end up doing it so it’s safe to say. There will also be a DJ, and every cool teen in Omaha.
August 6 - This is when the State Board of Education is holding a hearing in Lincoln about the proposed health education standards. It’s going to be an absolute food fight and I’ll be there early to testify. Then I’m driving to Kearney to chair a hearing about affordable housing.
August 21 - Dundee Day! I’ll be in the parade — in terms of electeds so far it’s just me and Congressman Don Bacon lol — so please come walk with me if you can. I also will have a pop-up for 5/9 and I’ll be selling lots and lots of beautiful and practical stationery and home goods. How will I do both the booth and the parade? I don’t know yet. Perhaps it will take a bit of child labor.
At some point at the end of this month I am trying to get to Los Angeles to visit a few friends and do some buying for the store. But it may not happen because September will be packed to the gills with 5/9 work and redistricting in the Legislature and time is getting tight.
This month I launched another merch site for my colleague Senator Machaela Cavanaugh who is running for re-election to the Nebraska Legislature in 2022. She’s in the same class as me—we were both elected in 2018—and I’m looking forward to serving four more years with her until we are term-limited in 2026. (2026 seems like a thousand years from now but it’s going to come up so fast…) Machaela solidified her reputation as an absolute bulldog for children and families in Nebraska this year when she fought to create a commission to examine the negligence in our state’s child welfare services and held up the Legislature for days to secure funding for children with developmental disabilities. It goes without saying, but that fight isn’t over.
Check out her stuff at shop.cavanaughforlegislature.org. If you buy it, the money all goes to her re-election, and I’ll ship it to you.
More to come. If you know someone who would like this in their inbox, forward it to them and tell your friends to subscribe. Follow me on Instagram and Twitter, too. If you have a question about navigating the system, getting a benefit, or are generally pissed at the government, contact my fed account at firstname.lastname@example.org. Help me pay my rent and validate the work that fulfills me by shopping at 5/9. Get vaccinated, let’s start masking indoors again for sure, and stay safe!