You may remember Cecil Bothwell, the atheist who won an election to become city councilperson in Asheville, North Carolina.
When he ran, his atheism was used against him by his opponents. Despite that, he won the race… but that didn’t stop opponents from claiming atheists couldn’t serve in elected office because it was unconstitutional. Rachel Maddow even ran a segment covering the Bothwell controversy:
Of course, the law was on Bothwell’s side and he was able to keep his seat. That all happened at the end of 2009.
Bothwell has received a lot of publicity since then, including winning the “Courageous Elected Official of 2009” award from American Atheists. He is invited to speak across the nation frequently and his books (including the recent Finding Your Way in Asheville 2011/2012) are selling better than ever.
With all that in mind, Bothwell has officially announced that he will make a run for Congress in 2012.
I herewith declare my candidacy for the United States Congress in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District. This decision was jump-started by recent events in both the Buncombe County Democratic Party and Congress.
The election is more than 18 months away, but it will take that kind of time to build a viable grass-roots campaign across the 15 counties of Western North Carolina. Position statements, organizing information, and all the rest will be posted here in coming days…
The seat is currently held by “Blue Dog” (conservative) Democrat Heath Shuler. Among his many decisions, Shuler rightly voted against DADT, but wrongly voted against stimulus funding. And then, there’s this:
Earlier this year, he launched an intraparty campaign to unseat former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, claiming congressional Democrats needed a more conservative leader.
Regardless of what you think of Pelosi, the idea that the Democrats need a “more conservative leader” is absurd. They’re hardly that liberal to begin with and they could stand to be more so.
Shuler will probably run again, though, so Bothwell will campaign as an independent. The Asheville Citizen-Times puts that in context:
This means Bothwell will avoid a confrontation in a primary. And that suggests he’s more interested in trying to steer the debate toward his brand of Democratic politics than actually winning. If Bothwell really wanted a decisive victory, he’d line up against Shuler and go head to head.
But that would also mean going wallet-to-wallet, and Bothwell doesn’t have that kind of money.
No doubt this race will be an uphill battle for him. Bothwell has a long way to go to make himself known to voters outside of Asheville. But it’s terrific to see an atheist running for a high public office.
If Bothwell wins, that would make him only the second Congressperson to openly not believe in a god (joining California Democrat Pete Stark) — and the only one willing to describe himself as an “atheist.”
I would never suggest voting for someone simply because he’s an atheist (or even a Democrat). But his positions probably sit well with a lot of you (ending the war on drugs, introducing a public option into the health care system, etc).
It’s early, but you can already donate to Bothwell’s campaign.
If you’re excited about this, please help spread the word. The moment the attack ads from his opponents begin, you know the national coverage will be huge. It’d be nice to have a groundswell of support before that happens.