Cara Schulz’s religion wasn’t an issue until less than two weeks before the election. The Burnsville City Council candidate is part of a small polytheistic pagan community whose members have been threatened when running for office in other places.
Still, Schulz hadn’t faced that in her campaign. Discussion focused on city issues rather than candidates’ personal lives, and she was grateful.
But on Oct. 24, a letter to the editor in a Burnsville community newspaper changed that. Headlined “Intriguing information on Cara Schulz,” it detailed her religious involvement. It urged voters to choose incumbents Bill Coughlin and Dan Kealey, “who are not pagans, but longtime Burnsville residents who understand all the responsibilities and duties as members of the City Council.”
Said Schulz: “Whenever you see something like that, it’s painful. You look at it and you think, how could someone say ‘Don’t vote for this person because of their religion?’ ”
What happened next was unexpected. Schulz got calls asking, out of curiosity, how her religion works. People from other religious minorities came forward to tell her that the letter bothered them.
“They just came away from that feeling that they may not be represented the way that they feel everyone should be represented,” she said.
On election night, Schulz nipped at the incumbents’ heels. By the end of the night, Kealey and Coughlin had garnered about 8,000 votes apiece, while Schulz fell back to about 7,200. The other challenger, Jake Nelson, had fewer than 3,700 votes.
Schulz said Wednesday she was disappointed with the loss but feeling good about how the campaign had gone. Throughout her door-knocking, she said, she learned a lot about her community and the people in it: “Smart, engaged, wonderful people with stories that just blow you away.”
“Of course I’m disappointed that I wasn’t elected, but I’m extremely pleased with the results,” she said.
And the letter to the editor?
“People are always a little nervous about things they’re not familiar with,” she said. “But I’ll tell you, the voters in Burnsville really didn’t seem to have a negative reaction to that.”