The Tangled Roots of Doug Wead

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."

Gay leaders-even gay Republicans-say they're scared of him.

Prominent gay Republicans claim that homosexuality has replaced the menace of communism as the shibboleth of right wingers. And some leaders of the religious right have acknowledged that the issue of homosexuality galvanizes their movement like no other topic-even abortion.

Marvin Liebman was a founder of Young Americans for Freedom back in the early Sixties, and served as one of the central strategists of the Goldwater movement that took over the Republican party decades ago. Today he is an openly gay Republican and says that even Barry Goldwater would be "way too liberal" for the GOP of the Nineties.

The religious fundamentalism that led to Reverend Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority in the Seventies and the presidential candidacy of televangelist Pat Robertson in the Eighties is far from dead, says University of Chicago theologian Martin Marty, a longtime student of religion and politics. "What we're seeing in Doug Wead and people like him is a reshaping of strategy," says Marty. Falwell and Robertson were a wedge aiming for the White House, the Supreme Court — right to the top. Now they've learned to settle for a portion of the pie. People who aren't household names call signals and beam them out into tens of thousands of local organizations. State Republican parties get taken over. It's brush-fire style, but the same big-time thunder is there."

Rich Tafel, leader of a national gay Republican organization, says that the current GOP infighting over homosexuality has moved the party further to the right. "Today, I think, a Wead would not have been fired [from the Bush White House]," says Tafel.

Amway already is on the right side of the GOP spectrum. A social and business network of millions of people worldwide, it long has been identified with fundamental Christianity. Both of its founders, Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel, are members of Bush's "Team 100," the 249 rich people who have given at least $100,000 each to the GOP cause.

Despite the prominent role of Amway in his life, budding Arizona politician Doug Wead has played down his Amway connections. Why? "To mention Amway would offend other businesses," Wead explains. He acknowledges that any movement that zealously recruits people, like Amway, can be offensive. And the last thing Doug Wead wants is to appear offensive.

As for his evangelical Christianity, Wead tells New Times, "Religion matters to me personally, but I don't think it should be a litmus test for people running for office." He complains that the press should be asking him about his tax-initiative drive, It's Time, not his religion.

But Wead has mixed his religion with politics for years. And it's been a blessing.

Like a real-life Zelig-the Woody Allen movie character who kept turning up next to famous persons at famous events-Doug Wead has found himself in the most remarkable situations with a huge assortment of notable or notorious people.

Thanks to Amway and his religious fundamentalism, Wead may be one of the all-time great networkers.

On a November day in 1979, Doug Wead was on the Thailand-Cambodia border, walking amid starving refugees. The next day, he was at Ronald Reagan's house in California — thanks, he says, to Amway and evangelical connections — having dinner with Pat Boone and sympathetically squeezing Nancy Reagan's hand. A few days later, Wead witnessed his friend Jim Bakker, the now-imprisoned televangelist, give presidential candidate Reagan the spiritual litmus test. (Bakker asked Reagan: "Who is Jesus?" Reagan's Zenlike response: "He is who He says He is.")

In 1980 Doug Wead attended a high-level Carter campaign strategy session involving evangelical leaders. The same year, he was introducing GOP candidate Ronald Reagan to a frantically cheering Amway convention.

On one November day in 1984, GOP congressman Jack Kemp (whom Wead met on the Amway lecture circuit) and the son of Cambodia's Prince Sihanouk visited Wead's home in Springfield, Missouri, on separate missions.

People keep popping into and out of Doug Wead's life. Or is it the other way around? The name "Wead" grows wild in indexes of books about other people.

In the early Eighties, according to a book on Jim Bakker's empire, Wead heard born-again actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr. fret on a Florida golf course about rumors that Bakker was having a homosexual affair with a young man named David. A short time later, Wead, a longtime off-and-on associate of Bakker's, was standing in the televangelist's steamy massage room, telling Bakker and David that the rumors were flying. He gave Bakker some advice on how to handle the rumors.

On April Fool's Day in 1986, the beleaguered Jim and Tammy Bakker celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary at a dinner party carried live on their PTL television network. Doug Wead, who was one of the speakers, delivered a lengthy joke about TV evangelists in hell. "Jim and Tammy Bakker," he cracked to the crowd, "are raising money to build a water slide and air-condition the place."

Wead has written books with presidents Reagan and Bush and ex-Interior secretary James Watt and a string of biographies of Amway people — for sale to other Amway people-in which the reader discovers Christ, Amway and wealth.

Yes, Wead has been in the black holes of Calcutta and both wings of the White House. Though he never came close to earning a college degree, in 1990 Wead won an honorary degree from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He told the ORU graduating class: God didn't put you here to watch television! He put you here to be on television!"

During the 1988 presidential campaign, Doug Wead helped prepare his boss, George Bush, by acting out the part of televangelist Pat Robertson in a months-long series of exhaustively researched and well-financed mock presidential debates.

One of Doug Wead's other memorable performances occurred last Thanksgiving weekend at an Amway seminar in Miami, Florida. That Saturday night, Wead explained to the thousands in attendance about the It's Time tax-initiative drive on the other side of the continent, in Arizona.

The real performance occurred the next morning, in front of a large crowd of Amway Christians.

Amway distributor David Selph of Augusta, Georgia, recalls it vividly: "Doug Wead is fantastic! Are you a Christian? Listen, he delivered the Sermon on the Mount-from memory! The whole thing! It was almost like Jesus was up there!"

A few days later, David Selph sent a check for $30 to the It's Time campaign.

That same month, Wead spoke about It's Time at another Amway rally, this one in Nashville, Tennessee. "He's a fabulous speaker," says distributor Louise Longanecker of Gardner, Kansas. "He tugs at everybody's patriotism, motivates people to have an awareness. He creates a spirit of patriotism. He talks about family values, community awareness and responsibility and free enterprise." Wead told the Amwayers in Nashville about the It's Time tax-initiative drive in Arizona. "He talked about some of the things he was hoping to bring about, and he asked for help," she recalls. A few days later, Louise Longanecker and her plumber husband, Curt, sent a check for $30 to It's Time.

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Ward Harkavy
Contact: Ward Harkavy