Deborah Wesson Gibson, one of several women who accused Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct, announced last week that she plans to run for political office herself. Gibson’s announcement came just a few months after she told the Washington Post that she had dated Moore when she was a teenager and he was a district attorney in the 1980s. Gibson, who now lives in Delray Beach, Florida, and works as a sign language interpreter, will run with no party affiliation for the Florida House of Representatives in District 89, which coincidentally includes Mar-a-Lago.* Although Gibson is now registered as a Democrat, Florida law prevents her from running on the Democratic Party line because she was registered as a Republican until recently.
In November, Gibson became the fourth woman to speak out about Moore, saying the two began dating after he came to speak at her high school in Etowah County, Alabama, when he was 34 and she was 17.* The allegations about Moore’s past behavior helped sink his Senate campaign.
Slate spoke to Gibson about her decision to run, her experience being harassed by Moore’s supporters, and her choice to leave the Republican Party. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Slate: What made you decide to run for office?
Deborah Wesson Gibson: I came into an awareness based on the #MeToo movement, followed by Silence Breakers, that women have not really stepped into their power or their equality in a lot of arenas, inclusive of the workplace, as well as the political arena. So one of the reasons I decided to run is that we find our voices by using our voices. And another reason that I decided to run is my family has a strong history of political involvement. I have two uncles that held public office in my home state of Alabama. One was a sheriff until he passed. And one was Etowah County circuit clerk for probably 45 years or so. And my sister is running for the Alabama Supreme Court at this time. So the idea of getting involved is almost as though, after last fall, I saw a need where, if you can have a voice, and you sit out, how is your moral compass square? Are you complicit with what you don’t like if you don’t try to do anything about it?
How have people responded to your announcement?
It’s been tremendous so far. I’ve gotten a message of support and gratitude today from Brazil, [and from] Canada. I had the thanks of a nation, and many other countries as well—saying, “Thank you for standing up to evil in the world.” People said powerful things to me. And then I also had my fellow Republicans at that time—I was a registered Republican last fall—sending me death threats. “We’ll get you, we’ll get your family,” this kind of thing. Some of them were as near as an hour from here. You don’t know, are they real people? Are they bots? What are the involvements of foreign agents at this point?
You’re talking about harassment from Moore supporters, which increased after photos surfaced of you working as an interpreter for Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Oh, it was horrible. People said, “Oh, she’s a paid operative of the DNC.” They did not understand that sign language interpreters serve people of any political ilk.
So do you think the harassment pushed you to become more involved in politics?
No, I think it would have pushed me away from it. Because I got death threats. I got a pretty tough beating in the social media. And one of the reasons is I own and operate a company that’s fairly publicly findable. So, if you were to consider the original four women in the Washington Post story—though my story was [the] most brief and innocuous and really did not demonize Moore because I did not have that experience with him—I still think I probably took one of the hardest hits from the public vitriol because I do such a public job. It’s easy to find photos of me with Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton or the Republican mayor of Miami, whose swearing-in ceremony I interpreted.
So you’re saying your choice to run for office is—
Is in spite of the death threats and the vitriol.
And what about your experience with Roy Moore?
Well, I think that the experience with Roy Moore helped me decide to run. It made me realize—look, we have people like Trump who clearly aren’t qualified. People like Moore, again, clearly unqualified. So where are the bright, articulate, reasonable people, and how can I complain about it if I’m not willing to jump into the arena? How is that morally square for me?
The point being, if I have a voice and can be articulate and can resonate with others and I don’t do it, then am I really a person of my word? Am I really keeping my word to myself to say, “Hey, we should all be involved, we should all care,” and if I think that half of our government should have policymakers who are women, then I need to say, “Am I capable of doing the job?” And I believe that I am. And I’m starting at the state level because it is new for me.
Why do you think Moore made it as far as he did?
Culturally, at that time, I think patriarchy was pervasive there. And partly because it’s coupled with the extreme fundamentalist branding of Christianity. I’m a Christian, but I don’t want to be affiliated with the extreme fundamentalist brand of it. I don’t get it. So in that part of the country, he has a virtual cult following. And they think that the only way to be a Christian is to support him. It’s very fascinating to me. I think it has to do more with the power structure of patriarchy in the area than it has to do with anything sexual, really.
What do you mean?
I’m just saying that that part of the country has individuals who sort of don’t see them separately. I want to say Alabama is a beautiful place with diversity, some brilliant people, and many progressives. Even has some moderate Republicans who think clearly.
You mentioned you were, until recently, a registered Republican.
When did you switch party affiliation?
About 10 or 11 years ago, when it seemed to me that president George W. Bush seemed inadequate, just struggling. And I loved and respected Barack Obama, and I thought, “Wow, when did we get someone of that caliber to serve in public office?” A Harvard attorney. He’s judicious; he’s careful and intentional in his remarks and in his thoughtfulness, and he was extraordinary for our country. And I’ve just been busy building a company for 11 years doing 60- to 80-hour weeks, and I didn’t have time to go in and change the paperwork. But I can promise that the last five months really crystallized—you know when people start threatening your life, you don’t really align with them.
Has the response to your announcement translated into donations? Your crowdfunding page seems to be in an early stage of fundraising.
I’m not able to answer that. I’m new to politics, I don’t know how it will go. I’m sure there’s an impact with the fact that I am ineligible to run as a Democrat, so I won’t win a primary and get primary backing
That said, I think that I have some momentum, some name recognition, and time will tell what my next steps are along the way. I think it’s’ important that average citizens be willing to step into the arena, even if originally it’s a learning process. I don’t feel married to any specific outcome at this point.
What do you mean by that?
I may win, I may not win. It’s perfectly fine either way. My time, my talent, my resources, my heart for service will find an outlet, whether it is political or not.
Do you think that people will vote for you because you are a face of the #MeToo moment?
I believe that the #MeToo thing does not make a person vote one way or the other. Because 300 million people posted #MeToo in 85 languages. However, with regard to the Silence Breaker portion of fall 2017, that shows my courage in standing with another woman, believing her, listening to her, supporting her, and corroborating the pattern that [Moore] dated youngsters as a man in his early 30s with a position of specific power not only as an attorney but as an attorney whose specific office was physically located in the courthouse. That’s the building everybody knows you go to get something fixed that went wrong, so, that is itself, institutionally speaking, the wrong place for a man to work who’s decided to date children when he’s not one. So I think that there’s a name recognition; I got a little bit of notoriety in the fall, and that has played into partially my decision, I’m sure. It wouldn’t be transparent for me to say otherwise. But that said, there’s more to me: I intend to be substantive and issues-based, and while I already can speak fairly articulately on federal issues, I have homework to do on District 89.
Update, March 15, 2018: This post has been updated to clarify that Gibson is running with no party affiliation.
Correction, March 15, 2018: This post originally misstated that Gibson came forward about Moore in December. She first spoke out in November. It also misstated Moore’s age at the time he dated Gibson. He was 34, not 32.