Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Fred Karger, an openly gay Republican, who has over 35 years of experience in politics and governmental affairs. He has been a consultant on numerous campaigns and an LGBTQ activist in recent years, founding Californians Against Hate to fight the passage of Proposition 8 in California and then launching a major investigation into the donors for the Yes on 8 campaign including the Mormon Church. His complaint against the church ended in 13 findings of guilt against members of the Latter Day Saints, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, for illegal campaign activities. He has fiiled a similar complaint against the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), accusing the group of money laundering and other campaign irregularities as the group worked to repeal Maine’s marriage equality law. The investigation is still ongoing.
Mr. Karger announced at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans last year that he was considering a run for President of the United States. He would be the first openly gay candidate to run for the office.
I’m not trying to be a smart aleck, but my readers are going to wonder . . . how can you be gay and a Republican?
It’s a good question. I have been fighting within the Republican Party for change pretty much my entire lifetime. One of the reasons that I’m considering running [for President] is that I think I can effect change much more successfully if I have a higher profile. And the fact that pretty much all the gay bashing, all the bad laws and everything, have generated from Republicans, having an openly gay Republican be the first candidate for President, if I run, sends a message to other Republicans that they need to be conscious of this. They need to be more sensitive and I think it will help in the debate. It will force the front runners, like Mit Romney and Sarah Palin to deal with this issue, and those who are very opposed to LGBTQ civil rights like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee will be forced into discussion of this issue. I’ve put those people on notice that if they want to start bashing gay people they have to go through me. I’ve already done two Washington Post pieces very aggressively against Mike Huckabee when he compared gay marriage to incest, polygamy and drug abuse. I let him have it. It’s effective often to work for change from within.
Every LGBTQ person who is a Democrat can see what happens, where there is not much action in the Congress, where we have a Democrat majority in both houses and a Democratic President, and we barely eked out the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal. That was great, but it was only because of the lame duck [session]. In the previous two years all we got through, though, was the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes [bill]. So sometimes the Democrats are more responsive, but if I can effect change within the Republican Party I will have accomplished a huge deal. The fact that 8 Republicans in the United States Senate stood up and opposed the leadership for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal and 15 Republicans in the House . . . there’s hope. Just like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it was very bipartisan, so it takes both parties. I want to fight and make change from within.
You’re running as an Independent Republican. What does that mean? What is an Independent Republican?
Well, it’s my own term. I am an Independent. I support both Democrats and Republicans. I’m more socially progressive and I’m much more of a centrist, mainstream individual. In New Hampshire, for instance, 42% of all registered voters are registered independents. You can do that in that state, so I’m of course appealing to them and their sensibilities. In Iowa it’s 37% that are registered independent. In those two states particularly they are unhappy with the Republican Party and have left, and some with the Democratic Party too. So I’m not sure in Washington State . . . it’s a much more progressive state anyway so I’m guessing the numbers aren’t quite as high. But we’ve seen this in the national polls. There is a lot of unhappiness with the two political parties. Younger people particularly, which is my target audience of 18-29 year-olds, are much more independent.
What made you decide to look into running for President? You haven’t decided for sure whether you’re doing it yet – is that correct?
Yes, for me it’s a three step process. Once you do declare you have to live under certain rules and they’re pretty complex. So it’s a big consideration. I’ve been probably the most aggressive possible candidate by making commercials and travelling to Iowa five times. I haven’t announced that I’m running but I’m leaning very strongly in that direction.
Could you talk about some of the political campaigns that you’ve worked on? I’ve read that you were an advisor on several different campaigns?
I started out as a young man handing out campaign brochures. I worked through college on various political campaigns, and when I started there wasn’t really a procession of campaign consultants. They would have a neighbor run it for them or a spouse or something. Then it became a fairly big industry with big money being spent on campaigns. I was very fortunate and soon after I moved to California I became a campaign director with a man named Bill Roberts who worked on many big Presidential and Senate campaigns. Well he hired me for his new company call The Dolphin Group for a 3 month special project. And I stayed there for 27 years until I retired. It really changed my life and helped save it. I was pretty lost, didn’t know what I wanted to do like a lot of young people. Anyway it was just my passion and I spent almost three decades working on a lot of political campaigns and a lot of corporate efforts. We did a whole array of activities, but my true passion was political campaigns. And I worked on dozens and dozens from city council to mayor to Congress. We did several governors races and Senate. I always wanted to run for office but never could.
As I’ve read your LGBT record of activism and what you stand for, I’ve personally really started to like you. Could you talk a little about your platform?
Well thank you! My first priority, and I said this when I announced in New Orleans my intention to look into running, is that I want to be a very strong, if not the strongest, advocate for LGBTQ full equality. And coupled with that, HIV/AIDS, in pursuit of a cure and a vaccine and to bring that back to the forefront and make sure more funding is there. I’ve branched out into many other issues. My priorities include education reform, and I’ve been meeting with experts across the country including teachers and private sector individuals, to come up with solutions for that. Immigration is an issue—living in southern California it’s a big issue, securing our borders and a pathway to citizenship for those who are in this country illegally and their children. I’m also, of course, very concerned about the economy and jobs – I’m calling it Jobs First. We need to save the jobs in this country and I’m working on a platform of ideas to do that. One thing I’ve said I want to do from day one is that I don’t want to just list my positions. I want to come up with ideas and solutions. That’s what I did as a political consultant. You get a candidate with certain positions, but you need to communicate what a candidate will do when he or she is elected. I have been working on that, among a number of other things, but I want to make sure that it’s solid and well thought out. I will be giving ideas for solutions to these problems. Those are the issues that I’m very interested in.
What is your stance on President Obama’s economic and health care reforms?
Well I said before health care passed, I would rather it would be left to the states with federal inducement and incentives. There are only a couple of states that have done anything without prodding. But now that the law has passed I think it should stay and I even think the Massachusetts experiment that Mit Romney did, even though I don’t agree with him on a lot of issues, I think he took the right approach in Massachusetts. I think that’s actually the best solution. But we need changes in this system. The prices are astronomical and the insurance companies are making out like bandits. We need to come up with solutions for that crisis.
Why do think the Iowa Christian Alliance is so scared of letting you participate in the debate to be held in Iowa in March?
I’m not sure. This is a man [Steve Scheffler] who sent me a personal email last May threatening me. He’s the #2 ranking Republican in that state besides being the head of the Iowa Christian Alliance. Four years ago in an identical situation he would not allow Ron Paul who was then a serious candidate, a Libertarian/Republican running, in that debate then. He arbitrarily excluded me. He said I’m a single issue candidate and I’m not a legitimate candidate. Well I’ve known for a long time those are code words for homophobia. He said in the Wall Street Journal that anyone who has the slightest interest in running would be invited. Well that wasn’t truthful because he didn’t invite me. I don’t know if he’s afraid of what I might say. I think he doesn’t understand gay people. I sent him a letter last May after he threatened me, a very nice respectful letter, asking to meet with him to get acquainted. He didn’t know me when he sent this email to me, didn’t know my background and never met me. I get along with people and I pride myself on that. I’d very much like to sit down with him. I’ve never heard back, and I don’t know if he’s afraid of me, maybe that’s it. It’s interesting, as I’ve gone through this exercise, I’ve been through literally hundreds and hundreds of meetings, and in my career thousands of meetings there, and I was not out and everything was fine. Well I guess this is why I stayed in the closet so long! Now I go to meetings and people react, they’re very different. It creates a certain level of uncomfortableness in many meetings. Some are kind of sitting way back from me like they’re going to catch it and others give me a hug and everything in between. It’s very interesting. I’m an observer of people so to see the different reactions has been interesting. I would like to meet with people. And this effort, if I do it after the exploratory phase, will be very different. No openly gay person has done this with good Republican credentials. Of course, I’ve thought long and hard about this and I think I can effect change and make people change their minds. I think it can help in all of our civil rights.
Some Republicans out there may change their minds. I had this radio talk show host, I’ve been on five times now, very conservative, very anti-gay marriage, invite me on after this flap last May . . . . he’s even convinced being gay is a choice . . . and he said to me, “I don’t like gay people, but I like you. You’re welcome on my show any time.” He’s a wonderful guy, he’s actually a really nice guy, very funny and very bright. So those are the kind of changes, and people listen to his show every day.
Are you making plans to come to Washington State any time soon?
I have no plans yet but I certainly will. I’ve heard good things from there and I have friends there who have offered to help me. So yes I will be coming!