By Ross Meisner
I am a secular humanist, an atheist, and a proud member of HumanistsMN. And I am running for the Minnesota State Senate in the Fridley/Columbia Heights area. It’s a strange experience to run for public office: part issues advocacy, part popularity contest, part punching bag, and part community therapist. The motivation to run came after years of general activism and community support, when my professional and personal environment allowed me to embrace the mantra to be part of the solution.
What most energizes me is the possibility of bringing clear-headed and unflinching secular values to the MN legislature. I get a thrill when I “witness” to others about how secularists navigate moral and ethical issues, and apply such ethics to societal problems. I suspect (or hope?) many habitual theists actually question their organized religions, and may just need public “permission” to accept and act on those doubts. I would love to be a public example of the innate ethical secularism we all feel inside.
As a future legislator, I may be an unusual specimen: socially progressive and liberal, financially conservative and disciplined. I would like to make the world a little better, and do it on a responsible budget. I oppose the systemic advantages enjoyed by the wealthy, even though I have benefitted from some of them.
My campaign has been squarely focused on issues. I seek to apply my 20 years in the med-tech industry to establish a public option for healthcare insurance. My experience as a business owner has taught me about the dynamics of a successful workforce, and the diverse skills needed to fully employ our residents effectively. And six years leading a school board gave me insights to help guide the funding and performance management of our public schools.
I firmly embrace Article 13 of the Minnesota Constitution, to paraphrase Sections 1 and 2: Whereas the stability of our government depends on the intelligence of the people, the legislature shall establish a thorough and efficient system of public schools and prohibit any support of schools that promulgate religious doctrines. Our public education is better than in many other states, but trails behind many other countries. And make no mistake, we are in a globally competitive market today.
Some say the measure of a country is how it treats its least citizens. It’s simply unacceptable that the most wealthy and powerful nation on this planet has people suffering from hunger, lack of medical care, or untreated mental illness. That some people risk financial ruin if they have a medical emergency. That some young people face literally decades of debt to get a college education. We can do so much better, and it doesn’t have to break the bank.
These issues reflect our cultural values, which drive the political winds: we can start to change policy, but we also need to show our brethren that it’s the right thing to do. I value inclusion, equity, and respect for all people. This includes rational immigration policies, the right for a woman to make her own healthcare choices, death with dignity, a stable healthy climate for future generations, and full and easy access to secure elections.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a big wrench in our endorsement process. District and state conventions have all been cancelled. By the time you read this, Minnesota will have achieved a historical first: the remote, online voting for party endorsements. My hat is off to the DFL party for achieving such a feat in such short order. At the time of this writing, everything is going smoothly.
The virus also demands an immediate pivot in political priorities. When the legislature convenes in January, it will be all hands on deck to guide the rapid yet safe recovery of our economy, our small businesses, and our jobs.
There is also an element of theater in politics. I confess, I would be absolutely delighted to swear my oath of office on a copy of the Constitution, and omit those controversial final four words. I do not need to call on some deity to ensure my performance. I answer to a far greater power: my community.