Congressional hopeful Paula Overby certainly is shaking up politics in Minnesota, but she’s also making waves across the entire country. Since announcing Aug. 12 her candidacy to compete in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (the state affiliate of the national Democratic Party) primary for Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District ahead of the 2014 election, she’s not only received media attention from local Minnesota news outlets, but the National Review and Huffington Post as well.
While the 59-year-old quality assurance analyst spent years advocating for a variety of social justice issues, Overby also happens to be the first openly transgendered person from Minnesota to run for Congress — and that’s what the national media remains fixated on. While she has acknowledged that her gender identity could be a “polarizing issue,” she says her campaign is about the issues, not the fact that she was born male.
The national media seems not to have gotten that memo. Overby’s actual motivations for running for office — and what she hopes to accomplish if elected — have gone unexamined by traditional media sources.
In an interview, I asked Overby about all this and more.
Carissa Wyant: Why are you running for Congress?
Paula Overby: To end the tyranny of wealth that has overtaken our government. I lived most of my life in fear of social injustice. My involvement in issues of sexual violence, domestic abuse and human trafficking have given me a deep understanding of models of power and control. Those models have deeply infected our political process.
It is not possible to maintain a culture of equality and social justice within a political process that is driven entirely by the acquisition of wealth.
CW: Which issues are you most passionate about? What do you want to accomplish?
PO: I am, of course, passionate about social justice and basic human dignity. We need to return our government to the people. It is also time to end the serious violence in this country, which is also related to political models of power and control.
People, hard work and cooperation creates economic prosperity. We need to protect people’s social security savings, which is a major share of what little wealth remains in the middle class. We need to continue expanding the Affordable Care Act. We can never claim to be ‘pro-life’ if we can not provide basic healthcare and nutrition to our children.
CW: Since announcing that you plan to run, how have others responded?
PO: Very favorably. Many see my candidacy as a mark of courage, strength and hope. Others, of course, are afraid that what I intend to do is beyond impossible. To them, I say Gandhi defeated the most powerful empire in the history of mankind with simple passive resistance. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I am fully committed.
CW: The Pioneer Press article about your campaign said that you were hoping to fight against “rule by the rich” — how does this connect to what you hope to accomplish in office, and also, perhaps, the values of the Democratic Party?
PO: I have some specific goals. I would certainly love to co-sponsor Rick Nolan’s bill to overturn Citizens United, which greatly exaggerated the politics of wealth. I would continue promoting and introducing legislation for campaign reform, especially with respect to full disclosure of campaign funding. Certain PACs [political action committees] are allowed to conceal funding sources, which is absurd, and other nonprofits that represent most average citizens are completely prohibited from participating in the political process. I would work to restore and strengthen regulations for paid lobbyists and provide additional staff funding for our legislatures that would allow them to do more independent research and improve citizen access to our government.
I would seek to restore initiatives for regulating our monetary system. Wall Street investing is no longer a capital investment that builds our economy. It is simply a way of migrating wealth to persons who are already obscenely wealthy.
Challenging the values of the DFL is certainly a big part of my campaign. Real integrity includes responsibility for mistakes as well as successes. I believe the party that assumes responsibility for the excesses of wealth that dominated our government for the past 40 years will also be the party of the next 40 years.
CW: Did you always believe that you would one day run for office?
PO: Had you asked me that question just a year ago, I would have said that’s insane. I love people. People hate politicians. It was an important question I had to answer before making the commitment to run for congress. Can I really insert myself into an environment like that and still maintain my integrity? The answer is yes.
A friend of mine offered me something Hubert Humphrey had once said to her. “A politician worries about the next election. A statesman worries about the next generation.” I am a statesman.
CW: How do you hope your running for office will impact the LGBT community?
PO: I certainly intend to present a positive role model and positive public image for the LGBT community. As a candidate, I am the image, the spokesperson, the hope, but this is not my campaign. This is our campaign. To anyone who has ever felt the injustice of prejudice, bigotry, neglect, indifference or abuse: This is our time. This is our future. I know that I have already been an inspiration to other LGBT who have called to thank me for my courage and encourage me to continue. This is a campaign about ‘we, the people.’
CW: Do you think the recent victories for same-sex couples in Minnesota and nationally are a sign that society at large is becoming more accepting to the LGBT community? Do you think it will be an inspiration for others?
PO: Unquestionably. The campaign to defeat the marriage amendment and pass marriage equality had a profound impact on people’s awareness and clearly improved people’s perceptions of LGBT.
The LGBT movement has expanded the boundaries of our imaginations and expanded our understanding of diversity and our uniquely human experience. Our culture is maturing, but many still live within the boundaries of oppression. We must continue to press our message. LGBT is something that has grown beyond the boundaries of gender and sexuality into the realm of real love and compassion — the kind Christians are always talking about.