The Tangled Roots of Doug Wead

Preacher, peddler, Beltway meddler

ARE YOU REALLY HAPPY with your current politicians? Perhaps Doug Wead can inspire you.

Arizona's newest big-time politician, Wead often tries to display a disarming sense of humor. He doesn't jab you in the ribs; he's kinder and gentler.

At his May 12 campaign kickoff rally for the state's newest congressional seat, he peered out over the crowd of 800 people at Pioneer Park in Mesa, spotted familiar pols like county supervisor Tom Freestone, whom he had recently scared out of the congressional race, and gently wisecracked over the microphone, All the big shots are back there!"

Then he introduced two men sitting at the front of the crowd: Arizona Republican party finance chairman John T. Godzich and Phoenix First Assembly of God minister Tommy Barnett.

Doug Wead didn't refer to those two as "big shots," nor did he launch into any lengthy praise of them. That's because the 46-year-old Republican, a self-educated man running for his first political office after less than 18 months' residence in Arizona, has finely tuned political instincts. He knows when not to speak up. For almost two decades, Doug Wead has parlayed evangelical Christianity and a vast, multilevel marketing network of hundreds of thousands of Amway distributors into a fine living, a great business, astounding political connections and a seat near the center of the action. A person with little formal education, Wead earned a spin doctorate during the several years he served George Bush as a campaign aide and senior White House staffer. Like other Amway products, Doug Wead has not been available to the average consumer through traditional channels. Now he's attempting to go public.

As he does so, Wead sends out different messages at the same time. He knows how to clue in Amwayers that he's one of them. If you're not an Amwayer or evangelical Christian, you probably wouldn't understand the clues. But you might be intrigued by all these smiling, enthusiastic people who seem to be Wead followers.

Unless you were an Amwayer, you wouldn't know that Lennon Ledbetter, a tall young man in a dark suit who served as the emcee of Wead's campaign kickoff rally, was one of Wead's Amway business associates in Arizona. Or that Wead campaign aide Billy Childers, who introduced Ledbetter, is the son of a prominent Amway friend of Wead's who lives in North Carolina.

More important, you wouldn't know that John Godzich, who runs an Amwaylike organization in France and also builds American-style houses there, is someone Doug Wead met years ago through Amway, and that Godzich, himself a newcomer to Arizona, is a major source of money for Doug Wead's political ventures-much to the ire of some Arizona Republicans. You wouldn't know that Godzich is the older brother of Pastor Leo Godzich, the leader of the drive against Phoenix's proposed gay-rights ordinance and associate pastor at one of America's largest churches, Phoenix First Assembly of God, whose pastor is Tommy Barnett. This business of clues has been used by Doug Wead before. During the 1980 presidential campaign, he wrote a quickie book entitled Reagan in Pursuit of the Presidency. Timed for publication just before the GOP National Convention, it was a campaign-trail journal capped by a Reagan campaign speech before a wildly cheering crowd in Charlotte, North Carolina. Doug Wead himself introduced Reagan to the crowd. There were countless standing ovations. At one point during Reagan's speech, the assembled masses erupted into "God Bless America." Must have been quite a speech, right? Not necessarily. If you were an Amwayer reading the book, however, you knew exactly what was going on. Reagan was at an Amway rally, where practically everybody gets standing ovations.

The book contained other clues: It was dedicated to Dexter Yager, a legendary Amway kingpin in North Carolina and Doug Wead's Amway godfather. It showcased pictures of Yager and other Amway distributors with Ronald and Nancy Reagan. While other Amway people were mentioned in the book, the word "Amway" itself never appeared.

Author Doug Wead likewise doesn't mention that he is an Assemblies of God preacher. Religion and politics often swirl around Wead. When he was an aide to George Bush, Wead provided what the nation's most prominent lobbyists for religious conservatives termed unprecedented" access to a president. Later Wead became a central figure in a 1990 dispute between the president and religious conservatives over the invitation of homosexual activists to the White House for the signing of bills against hate crimes and discrimination.

Wead let it be known to a congregation of religious conservatives that Bush wasn't served well" by the White House invitations to openly gay activists. Wead's opposition to gays at the White House made him a hero-even a martyr-to the religious right. By most accounts, it also caused friction within the White House staff that resulted in Wead's ouster.

As far as national gay-rights leaders are concerned, Wead's a demagogue. However, his style is anything but shrill and strident. Though he says he's against gay-rights laws, he strongly denies being homophobic.

"I think that when any individual is demeaned and ridiculed and is certainly the victim of a crime of hate, that all of society is cheapened by that, that we're all hurt by that," Wead says. And I'll defend any human being, heterosexual or homosexual, with every ounce of strength I've got against hatred or discrimination."

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