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Interview: Presidential candidate Fred Karger

"As the first out gay candidate to run for president of the United States, it sends a very powerful message to young LGBT people around the country: 'You can do anything you want; feel good about yourself; you’re just fine; you can even run for president,'" says Fred Karger. Photo courtesy of the Fred Karger campaign

Since announcing his intention to run for president in 2012, longtime campaign consultant Fred Karger (BA speech communication ’72) has made a name for himself as the openly gay, Jewish, Republican candidate whose platform includes reforming education, lowering the voting age and bringing a spirit of cooperation back to Washington.


Q:  Does it dismay you at all that in 2011, sexual orientation is still such a big factor when it comes to something like running for president?

A: There’s a generation out there to whom it’s far less important, but as we’re seeing in polls, there are still a lot of people who are very concerned about it. I go into meetings and I can tell whether people are at ease or not—it was a lot easier when I was in the closet. I’ve been in thousands of meetings and I’ve never had anyone act uncomfortably around me or anything. Well, now I do sometimes. And I’m thinking, “Gee, what am I doing this for? Why am I out there?” I have to remind myself that I really want to do this to make it easier for younger people, so if I can help in that respect then I can take some more bruises.


Q:  What do you mean when you say you’re doing this to make it easier for young people?

A: As the first out gay candidate to run for president of the United States, it sends a very powerful message to young LGBT people around the country: “You can do anything you want; feel good about yourself; you’re just fine; you can even run for president.” I said on “The Rachel Maddow Show” that I’m doing this for younger people and I got a wonderful Facebook message that night from a gentleman who said, “Just know, Fred, that you’re not doing this just for younger people. I’m 82 years old, I’ve been in the closet most of my life, and you’re an inspiration to me. Thank you.” I hadn’t thought of that, that there are so many people struggling and who have struggled. I had a very difficult time for so many years — I’m OK now, I’m fine — but it’s not easy. The times are better, certainly, and attitudes are better, but for each person who has an easier time there are others having a much tougher time.


Q:  Do you think the novelty factor of being an openly gay Republican candidate has also helped you in some regards?

A: It makes for a good headline, I’ll tell you that. I understand that because of the novelty, it gets me the story in The Washington Post, it gets me a lot of the early coverage, but I’m just starting now to move beyond that. It’s an interesting story because of my personal situation and having been in the closet for so long, having been involved in a lot of high-level campaigns. But I want to talk about the issues, and that’s what my main goal is, is to talk about how I can help transform this country.

Q: In addition to working on the campaigns of Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, you worked for Ronald Reagan on his initial campaign and on his re-election campaign in ’84. What lessons can you take away from his campaigns or his presidency?

A: What he did was very unique. Here’s a very conservative Republican from California, but he went to Washington and the speaker of the House of Representatives was Tip O’Neill, a very liberal Democrat who had been there for many terms, and Reagan invited him to the White House right off the bat and they became friends. Miles apart philosophically, but they forged this alliance and they got a lot done based on friendship. When President Obama came into office, he didn’t invite the Republican leader of the Senate to the White House for a similar one-on-one meeting for 18 months. One of my first actions would be to invite all the leadership, Republican and Democrat, for one-on-one meetings. Have them over, watch football, have dinner. I want to bring back a cordial feeling and getting along in Washington. Obviously it’s a long shot to get in there, but I want to at least talk about that during the campaign and use whatever influence I have to help get things done in D.C. now.


Q:   One of your big platforms is education reform. What do you think needs to happen there?

A: I’ve met with so many experts that I’m a little discouraged, but I’m also encouraged by some of the new innovative ideas out there, like public charter schools. It basically goes around the school system—the school board and the union. And the unions, as I’ve learned, are a big part of the problem. The American Federation of Teachers and the National Teachers Association—those are the two big national teachers’ unions, and they’re the ones that protect teachers at all costs. They put teachers first, and we need to put students first and pick the best teachers that we can put into these schools. But what happens with these two big national unions is that, as unions do, they protect their members. And that’s a problem because bad teachers continue to teach. As I am told, that is one of the major problems, if not the major problem, with our school systems.


Q:  After graduating from DU you moved to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. How did that lead you to a career in politics?

A: [Politics] was always tugging at me, but I wanted to give the acting thing a try. I made a personal commitment to myself, and I figured if I didn’t make it big I would move on. And I was actually working regularly, I got a lot of work and I got a couple of [TV] pilots and one big commercial, then in 1976 there was a race for U.S. Senate and another good moderate Republican, a guy named Bob Finch, who had been lieutenant governor and the secretary of health, education and welfare, [was running]. I went and interviewed and got hired as an intern and worked on his Senate race and just loved it. I was the youth coordinator, and the manager of that campaign was Bill Roberts, a famous political consultant. He had run Reagan’s campaign for governor and a lot of big campaigns, and he offered me a job with [campaign consulting firm] the Dolphin Group. I was hired for a three-month special election, and I ended up staying 27 years.





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