Are Democrats ready for a presidential candidate with a guru?

Fifty-nine percent of Democrats polled say they are "excited" about "someone entirely new" as their presidential candidate. Tulsi Gabbard certainly is that.

Representative Gabbard, who just announced her candidacy for president, first grabbed my attention and admiration when she denounced the anti-Catholic religious bigotry demonstrated by Dianne Feinstein, and by implication her Hawaii Democrat colleague, Senator Mazie Hirono and California Senator Kamala Harris.

This position makes her stand out in a crowded and growing field of over 30 potential or declared candidates for the Democrats’ nomination.

As Ruth King noted on these pages last week, the 2020 nomination contest could well recapitulate the rise “out of nowhere” of Barack Obama from obscurity to an eagerly embraced nominee, as someone new and different. Four days later, The Hill has published an opinion piece making the same point, that

…there's every reason to believe an unknown will emerge and win the Democratic presidential nod. Barack Obama did it in 2008. Bill Clinton in 1992 and Jimmy Carter in 1976 also came from nowhere to win the Democratic presidential nomination. Bernie Sanders didn't even think he had a chance to win when he entered the 2016 race, but he came within a whisker of taking the Democratic nod away from the prohibitive favorite, Hillary Clinton.

 This view is supported by an interesting USA Today/Suffolk University poll revealing that:

Landing at the top of the list of 11 options was "someone entirely new" – perhaps a prospect not on the political radar screen yet. Nearly six in 10 of those surveyed – 59 percent – said they would be "excited" about a candidate like that; only 11 percent said they'd prefer that a new face not run. 

“Someone entirely new” describes Rep. Gabbard in a way that I had not realized until today. She was born into a remains a member of a cult (or “High Demand, Closed Group,” as one former follower called it) based on some Hindu teachings as delivered by its leader, named Chris Butler.

I was reluctant to even mention this because I am a First Amendment absolutist, and believe that “no religious test for office” means exactly what it says. I was politically aware when John F. Kennedy ran for president and was thrilled when a Catholic finally won the nation’s highest office, not because I am Catholic (I am not), but because I passionately believe in religious freedom and abhor religious exclusion from office. I remember in 1960 that there were people calling JFK a pawn of “the pope in Rome” (that was a common expression of anti-Catholic bigots back then) unworthy of the presidency on that basis.

I also realize that, as an old saying has it, one man’s religion is another man’s cult, and many large and well-established religions began life being denounced as cults.

That said, the values and predispositions of anyone seeking the presidency deserve scrutiny. So, it may be worthwhile to learn more about Chris Butler. Especially since she hired a member of that group as her chief of staff in 2015. Hawaii Free Press reported:

Tulsi Gabbard has quietly hired an identified associate of the Chris Butler Cult as her new Chief of Staff. 

After reporters inquired, Gabbard's office hastily sent out a news release Tuesday announcing the appointment of Kainoa Ramananda Penaroza.  Penaroza replaces professional Congressional staffer Jessica Vanden Berg, but it is unclear when the switch was made.

Penaroza's name pops up multiple times in a detailed 2012 posting on the Chris Butler Cult.

Penaroza's name also pops up in a 2012 Daily Kos column on Chris Butler Cult electoral activities. 

Penaroza's LinkedIn page lists him as "Sales Manger Puna Noni Inc, 2009-December, 2014" and "Owner, Tag Aloha, Co."

The website for Puna Noni was registered by Noni Connection, Inc, which has long been identified as a Chris Butler-connected company.

Tag Aloha registered with DCCA using a Kailua, Oahu street address used by numerous cult-connected individuals and organizations.   

Penaroza joins identified cult associate Anya F. Anthony, appointed last year as Gabbard's Office Manager.

So, I am going to be doing my homework, and finding out whatever I can about the influences on her political values and activities that might derive from her being a follower of a guru.

The fact that her membership in this group has been well-known to her constituents in Hawaii is proof enough that she deserves every consideration and is entirely legitimate as an office holder.

If you are interested, the material I have so far uncovered can be found here, here, here, here, and here.  

One thing is certain: this election cycle will be very interesting.