By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla
Washington, May 18 (EFE).- It’s still seven months until Christmas but Santa Claus is busy in the far north. He’s an independent candidate with a long white beard who is vying with controversial ex-Gov. Sarah Palin to represent the citizens of Alaska in the US Congress.
Although he was born in 1975 as Tom O’Connor, this cleric officially changed his name to Santa Claus in 2004 as part of a personal project to help disadvantaged children.
Everything started one day when the man with the long beard and rosy cheeks was praying in the snow and thinking about how to help marginalized kids and someone shouted at him from a passing car, “Santa, I love you!”
Saying that he considered it a “good answer to the prayer,” he said he then went through the legal process to change his name, speaking with EFE on a videocall from a living room featuring a Christmas tree in the background.
He’s done everything he could think of to improve conditions for kids ranging from outfitting himself as Santa and distributing gifts on Christmas to traveling around the country to meet with local authorities and diving into politics.
In fact, for a number of years he’s been the mayor, curiously, of the Alaska town of North Pole, with its 2,200 residents, but which – despite its name – is far from the planet’s actual North Pole, which is located out in the middle of the frozen Arctic Ocean.
Now, however, Santa wants to take things to the next level and become a congressman for Alaska to replace Republican Don Young, who died at age 88 after holding his seat in the US House of Representatives for almost five decades.
But Santa is not intending to stay in Congress forever. If he wins the special election in August he will only keep his seat until November, when all members of the House of Representatives will be up for reelection in the mid-terms but in which he has ruled out running.
Santa said that he believes that anyone in public office should work for Alaska and its people instead of being distracted by fundraising and campaigning for the next elections.
Consequently, he said he is not accepting any campaign financing from political parties or organizations and has put up only $400 out of his own pocket to mount his campaign on the social networks.
Voter surveys show him far behind in the conservative state, but at least he has managed to become one of the most-recognized contenders along with Sarah Palin, Alaska’s former governor, the GOP vice presidential candidate in 2008 and, since then, a key member of the conservative so-called Tea Party.
Santa met Palin years ago, during her 2006-2009 stint as governor, and she discussed children’s rights with him.
He said that Palin was “very friendly” with him, although he also recalled that some people are calling her “Pinocchio” because of “things she’s said and done” that they consider to be lies.
Thus, this race can be characterized as one between Santa and Pinocchio, he said, chuckling.
To find out more about his ideology, the candidate is inviting voters to have a look at the program of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a member of the most progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
“I decided (to run) because I’m an independent, progressive Democratic socialist and I didn’t see anyone else running who had the same political philosophy that I do,” he said.
Santa backs public and universal healthcare, wants to improve Alaska’s broadband infrastructure and says that he’s aware of the “responsibility” Alaska has in ensuring US security, given its location near Russia.
He also opposes subsidies for oil and gas drilling and for mining, believing that the impact of these activities on the environment must be limited, and he has established himself as a defender of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a protected zone since 1960.
He said he is not for sudden or explosive change but rather for progressive change that benefits the health and wellbeing of children over the long term.