UPDATE: This story was edited on Apri 7, 2017 to reflect exact voter turnout numbers in South Anchorage
Iraq war veteran Albert Fogle’s foray into Alaska politics ended in narrow defeat, but he learned a lot about the nature of American politics of today along the way.
A candidate for a municipal assembly seat in the wealthier part of Anchorage, Fogle didn’t want to be known as the “gay conservative.” He didn’t try to hide the fact he was homosexual. He just avoided wearing his sexual identify on his sleeve.
It didn’t matter. He became the “Homocon,” that somewhat rare gay conservative that some believe a contradiction in terms. Fogle doesn’t buy the stereotype.
Over lunch in Anchorage earlier this week, he said, sexual preference shouldn’t determine one’s core public policy beliefs anymore than race, gender or ethnicity. Young and fit, Fogle comes across as a friendly and truly nice guy even though he was trained by the U.S. Army to kill people in foreign lands.
Back home in America, he said he ended up aligned with Republicans because he shares their views on public safety, reasonable taxes and limited government.
But this is 2017 where politics in America has become as much about the relatively few things on which Americans vehementloy disagree than the many things on which they generally agree.
Fogle might not have seen his relationship with another man (Fogle is married) as something of major public importance. Others, however, did, including nationally recognized gay columnist Dan Savage.
In that column, Savage took issue with Fogle, “a Republican,” citing “‘moral character’ among his qualifications to hold elected office….It’s an odd phrase for someone who may be in a same-sex marriage to use. Gay people can have fine moral characters, of course, but conservative Republicans frequently use buzz phrases like ‘moral character’ as anti-gay code. When a conservative candidate says he has a fine ‘moral character,’ he usually wants voters to hear, ‘I am straight and I oppose LGBT equality.'”
Fogle probably should have seen this coming because gays, at least, have been here before.
No room for neutrality
Only a couple of months ago, journalist Chadwick Moore very publicly announced in the New York Post that he was coming out as conservative. Moore was already out as gay. His decision to come out as conservative was driven by reaction to a profile he wrote of Milo Yiannopoulos for Out, a gay magazine.
Yiannopoulos is a media-elbrity arguably even more divisive than Alaska’s one and only pol-ebrity, former Gov. Sarah Palin. A former editor at Breitbat.com, he has attacked progressives, Muslims, feminists and academics who condemn what they consider hate speech. College campuses have regularly become the scene for confrontations between his supporters and opponents when he appears to lecture.
Things escalated to such extremes at a January event at the University of Washington that a Yiannopoulos critic ended up shot. Thirty-four-year-old Josh Dukes, a Seattle computer security engineer, is now billing himself as “the first protester shot under the Trump administration,” according to the Guardian.
Meanwhile, according to the Seattle Times, the woman who claims to have shot Dukes is saying she had to do so to defend her husband from attack. Dukes, who was seriously wounded in the shooting, is out of the hospital and doing interviews; police are still investigating.
Between the January shooting at UW and now, Yiannopoulos, who is also gay, managed to get sideways with Breitbart after a video surfaced suggesting Yiannopoulos thought it OK for men to have sex with teenage boys.
At a February press conference where Yiannopoulos announced he was resigning from Breitbart, USA Today reported, “Yiannopoulos said he strongly opposes the sexual abuse of children, that he regrets his ‘imprecise language.’ He tempered his apologies by attributing his comments to his own sexual abuse and ‘gallows humor,’ while also blaming selective editing for the reaction to his comments.”
Enter Moore, who said he tried to write a “neutral” profile of Yiannopoulos for Out.
It wasn’t taken that way.
“Trolls were calling me a Nazi, death threats rolled in and a joke photo that I posed for in a burka served as ‘proof’ that I am an Islamophobe,” he wrote. “Finally, on Christmas Eve, (my best friend) sent me a long text, calling me a monster, asking where my heart and soul went, and saying that all our other friends are laughing at me.
“I realized that, for the first time in my adult life, I was outside of the liberal bubble and looking in. What I saw was ugly, lock step, incurious and mean-spirited.
“And I began to realize that maybe my opinions just didn’t fit in with the liberal status quo, which seems to mean that you must absolutely hate Trump, his supporters and everything they believe. If you dare not to protest or boycott Trump, you are a traitor.
“If you dare to question liberal stances or make an effort toward understanding why conservatives think the way they do, you are a traitor.”
Moore sounds a little like Fogle, though Fogle did not travel a road as rough into the conservative camp. Nor is it that rough there now.
There was some blowback from the Savage column, Fogle said, but after being in Mosul, Iraq during the surge it didn’t seem that bad. Nobody was firing bullets at him.
None of his friends rejected him, he said. Most of the supporters Savage suggested abandon Fogle because he isn’t enough of a sexual-identity advocate stayed. Few he’s met in Anchorage seem too upset that he’s a gay man interested in more than the issue of sexual identity.
Going into the election, Fogle remained confident of victory, but he lost the race by 558 votes to Suzanne LaFrance, a Democrat supported by Mayor Ethan Berkowtiz. As often the case in Anchorage, voter turnout was a deciding factor. Only about 20 percent of registered voters went to the polls city wide, which is even less than normal for a municipal election.
But Casey Reynolds, a reporter at The Midnight Sun, points out that South Anchorage had the highest voter turnout of any district in the city. More than 25 percent of voters went to the polls there, according to the election summary report.
“(GOP Alaska chairman) Tuckerman Babock and Suzanne (Downing) are trying to distract you and your and your readers from what really happened,” Reynolds texted. “The data suggests progresives came out in big numbers in South Anchorage, not that GOPers didn’t.”
About 65 percent of registered voters turned out for the last general election vote in South Anchorage, but turnout for municpal elections is historically a fraction of that for general elections. This makes it hard to determine what exactly the data on the assembly vote suggests.
The one thing that is clear from the result is that Democrats got out more of their voters than Republicans did. And in elections with a small fraction of registered voters going to the polls, it’s all about getting your people into the voting booths. Fogle appears to have either lacked the organization to get enough people to the polls or failed at the task.
Did his sexual identity hurt him in the end in an odd, backward way in bringing out some “progressives” uncomfortable with a “homocon” for a representative? Who knows.
MustReadAlaska was reporting South Anchorage residents received “robocalls prior to election day warning them that Fogle, who is reportedly gay, would favor transgender bathrooms, and LaFrance did her own followup robocall calling herself the social conservative.”
More than that, though, it probably didn’t help that Fogle was public about voting for Trump. Trump was never exactly loved by Anchorage Republicans. Support was so lukewarm in the state’s largest city that Trump had trouble raising enough in-state money to fund an office there.
Alaska Democrats, meanwhile, like many Democrats across the country, loathe the new president for the vicious attacks he leveled at Democrat Hillary Clinton throughout the 2016 campaign.
But it wasn’t Trump’s viciousness that inspired Fogle, a man who hasn’t a bad word to say about anyone, to take a shot at public office. It was Trump’s argument that the country can today use some out-breeding of its political ruling class.
Fogle, who saw the extremes of opulence and poverty in Iraq, expressed a desire to ensure the vitality of America’s middle-class, an idea espoused by the new billionaire president though it is hard to tell if he truly means it.
Fogle clearly means it. He grew up in Pennsylvania, a part of the country where some Republican values of today were old Democrat values: the importance of hard work, the danger of big government, and the strength of a free market economy. He served time at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks.
His values appear to align with the old, Libertarian wing of the Republican Party. He doesn’t see anything wrong with that. Gays of all people, he said, should want government to stay the hell out of people’s personal lives.
Much of the gay community, however, has a different view. There is a belief a gay politician’s first responsibility is to proselytize on gay issues. This is not unique to gays. Other politicians have run into similar issues tied to race, ethnicity or disability.
The Atlantic ran a 2015 story on “The Partisan Paradox of Black Republicans.” Fogle ended up caught in a similar gay paradox with many Republicans uneasy about fully embracing him because of sexual identity and gays ready to alienate him for joining what they view as the enemy.
As popular blogger Joe My God put it in a headline, “Dan Savage Unmasks Undercover Homocon Candidate Endorsed By Anti-LGBT Politicians.”
And here you’d think someone like Savage would want to sneak a few (or more) undercover Homocons into the Republican Party.