There were a lot of openly non-religious candidates on ballots across the nation yesterday, but one of the biggest victories got virtually no attention at all.
Megan Hunt, a progressive activist from Nebraska, easily won her race in the state’s 8th District.
While her victory — in a non-partisan race to the state’s unicameral legislature — is something to celebrate if you’re a liberal, the Freethought Equality Fund PAC also notes that she’s an atheist:
Megan Hunt is running for the Nebraska State Senate in District 8. She won the nonpartisan primary on May 15 with 56% of the vote. A small business owner, community activist, mother, and sixth-generation Nebraskan, Hunt has worked in her community to empower girls, end sexual assault and harassment, and advocate for comprehensive sex education. Running because “I don’t see enough leaders who are willing to advocate for forward-looking developments in Nebraska policy,” her policy priorities focus on reducing the brain drain in the state, funding quality public education, reforming the criminal justice system, expanding Medicaid, funding for family planning services, and investing in alternative energy sources for Nebraska. Hunt is an atheist.
I wanted to take the opportunity to share some closing thoughts about this campaign and election season.
“My origin story as a candidate goes back about three years. I first thought about running for office in 2015 when Omaha Public Schools was updating their curriculum to include education about sexual health, consent, and healthy relationships. I cared about this issue so much because I believe in science and research, and I want our kids here to receive a world-class education informed by the best possible information, which wasn’t happening in this case. I cared because I am an assault survivor, and I believe that if my peers and I had received this education, I would have grown up in a safer world. I cared because I am a mother, and I want our daughters and sons to grow up supported and without shame or judgment as they navigate relationships. I cared because Douglas County had some of the highest rates of STDs and STIs in the nation, and I knew there was a simple way to change that.
Over the past decade, hundreds of inspiring and hardworking people have become a part of my life through the work I have done with local startups and nonprofits. Over the years I helped plan and organize conferences, supported and helped grow local business accelerators, and connected entrepreneurs with opportunities for mentorship in schools. I did this work because it was fun, because it was a way for me to spend time with my friends, and because I believed Nebraska and Omaha had the potential, with this young and energetic leadership, to be a player on the world stage in technology and innovation. Everybody I worked with also had a serious sense of ethics in business, of community service and social good. The connection between industry and our shared responsibilities to our communities were obvious to me and many of my peers. I put this into practice by founding Safe Space Nebraska, a 501(c)3 that provides training for bars on how to handle reports of harassment and assault, coordinating fundraising relationships between businesses and nonprofits, and giving board service to several local nonprofits where I learned even more about the ways we can leverage the power of people to build a better world.
All of these experiences were outside of government. And it wasn’t until 2015, with the Omaha Public School board and the new health education curriculum, that my eyes were opened to what we can achieve when people get involved in government. When we bring home a win because of public pressure, that’s when government is at its best. That’s when we the people are reminding our representatives who they work for, that we elect them to serve us. The weight of that realization, seeing it work in real life, was significant for me.
The work was important. The win was powerful. And I know that in Nebraska, we need more.
I’m running for the Nebraska Legislature because in the past 14 years of living and working in this district, of getting to know people through my entrepreneurial ventures and through activism and volunteering, I have seen a lot of fighters come and go. The pressure it takes in Nebraska to move the political needle is insurmountable to many people I have worked with. The exact people who our state should be working to attract and retain are the folks who are out here giving their time, money, labor, and love, only to have their healthcare taken away. Their votes suppressed. Their schools underfunded. Their rights denied. To struggle to find work in their field. And that’s when they move away. That’s why we need some political wins, and that’s why we need fighters in the legislature, in the city council, in congress, in all levels of government and policymaking who are hearing and really responding to the needs and concerns of everyday people.
Over the past 510 days, my priority has been listening to the people of District 8. People like Amy, the in-home care nurse in Benson who used her own money to buy diabetes medication for one of her patients until he died because he couldn’t afford to buy test strips. Like Ameen, who lives in the Metcalfe-Harrison neighborhood, the Sudanese immigrant and single mother who is starting a catering business with her daughters. Like Adam and Brooke in Fairacres, who are growing their family as foster parents. And even people like Seth in Dundee, who told me at the door, “I hate you and everything you stand for,” or like John who lives near my child’s school, who called me an anti-gay slur and slammed the door in my face in front of my eight-year-old daughter. The thing about public service is that we don’t pick and choose who we care for. I have worked every day on this campaign to have a conversation with everyone I could have the privilege of representing, and while the encouragement and support throughout this campaign was overwhelming, I also saw people hurting. I saw people confused by prejudice. As a policymaker in Nebraska, my door will always be open to hear, and my pen will always be working to heal.
This has always been a grassroots campaign. It has always been about you. It’s been about the people doing the envelope stuffing, the door knocking, the phone banking, the letter writing. The people doing the work on too little sleep (and sometimes too much pizza). This campaign has been a testament to the courage, strength, and commitment to democracy of everyone who was a part of it. My campaign manager Deena Keilany is a remarkable woman. Deena did all of this work while going to school, while working two jobs to support her family, while helping her mother start a business, and while helping to raise her little brother Omar. The collective effort it took to get us here today was done by students like Deena, Anna, Lysette, Sabir, and Kate, and working parents like Kim, Sofia, Tyanne, and Uroosa. People like Westin, Bobby, Benjamin, Jordyn, Will, and Jack. People of all ages, people of all backgrounds. People came to knock doors with me, people came to make calls with me, people came every two weeks to Blue Line Coffee in Dundee to write postcards with me. I will never forget the people who showed up to support me as a first-time candidate. Thank you for believing in my potential.
On this campaign, over 510 days and 23,000 doors, I saw firsthand the generosity of this community to work for something we believe in. Healthcare, education, climate change, access to the ballot, and civil rights, justice, and equality for immigrants, refugees, for people of color, for workers, for Jewish people and for Muslims, for women and families. This campaign is about everyone who wants to live the good life—from sixth-generation Nebraskans like me, to our newest neighbors who we must welcome with open arms. This campaign is about who we are, and who we CAN be as a state of people who stand for innovation, for justice, for courage, and for equality before the law.
I’m not running because I think I have all the answers. None of my accomplishments were ever achieved alone, and in the next four years if I am elected, I will work eagerly with teams to share the credit for many successes. True greatness doesn’t come from one person, but it can flow through a person who has the skill to channel the greatness of others. I’m not running because I have the answers. I’m running because I know WE have the answers.
I’m a fighter. I’m a survivor, a mother, and an innovator. And I am in Nebraska for the long haul. This is where I live, this is where I have put down roots, and this is the community I care about. Whatever happens in this election won’t change that. Whether I’m working in business, nonprofits, or government, I will always be working with others to increase civil rights, access to opportunity, and make Nebraska an economic and cultural leader in our nation.
I’m asking you to trust me with the work. Please vote for me tomorrow, November 6th.”