Over the summer, Texas State Rep. Scott Turner, a Republican, announced that he would not be running for re-election next year, leaving a vacancy in House District 33 (which includes the cities of Frisco and Rockwall).
… Padgett is going out on a limb to let voters know from the outset that she has “no religious affiliation or belief in a higher being.”
“I don’t want to make it a big deal, but I do want people to open up and think critically about it,” Padgett told the Observer…
She said she wanted to get the question out of the way early in her campaign. “It’s going to be a concern for people,” she said. “People are afraid of what they don’t understand.”
I love that she’s not trying to hide it. By getting in front of the label, it blunts any potential “attacks” from opponents who may want to use it against her.
But she still has a very uphill climb. She’s in a predominantly Republican (and heavily gerrymandered) district where “Democrat” is almost as dirty a word as “godless.” In 2012, Turner won with 85% of the votes against a Libertarian candidate. In 2014, he ran unopposed.
Atheists haven’t fared well in other parts of Texas, either. Daniel Moran, an atheist who ran for the Texas House in 2014, barely earned 25% of the votes. And other candidates for public office in the state have previously used atheism as a punchline or black mark (even when it wasn’t true).
But we don’t win any of these elections unless we run, and the anti-atheist stigma doesn’t go away unless more people are willing to embrace the label. Padgett is running on a platform of defending civil liberties, improving education, and bringing back economic stability. She may be an atheist, but she’s not interested in pushing her non-belief on her constituency. And that may be the best (and only) way to win over voters who may be turned off by the fact that she doesn’t believe in their God.
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And as an added bonus, keep in mind that Texas is one of seven states where the Constitution still has a ban on atheists in public office. It’s not enforceable, due to the Supreme Court case Torcaso v. Watkins, but Article 1, Section 4 still says:
No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.
Those bans tend to stay in place, even when they’re nothing but relics of an older time, unless someone forces the change by getting elected. (It’s the reason Herb Silverman ran for Governor of South Carolina decades ago.) If Padgett wins, maybe that clause requiring belief in God finally gets wiped away.
It’s too early to know who will run against her in the primary or general election. I promise you it won’t be a cakewalk, though. We’ll keep following her race on this site.
(via Texas Observer)