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A pink purge?

A pink purge?


As a young Republican, Eric Johnson, 35, helped get Mark Foley elected to the Florida state senate. Now he's the openly gay chief of staff for Democratic U.S. representative Robert Wexler of Florida and a star of the Sundance Channel's docu-series The Hill. And he's got a lot to say about the Foley scandal and gays in Congress.

You were a Republican? I was a die-hard Republican before I really knew what that meant. I put up signs for Ronald Reagan when he ran in 1984 and later started a Teen Republican club in my school.

What was your involvement with Mark Foley? I was his assistant campaign manager in 1992, when he was running for state senate. Mark was great, a lot of fun but a hard worker. He was gregarious too--loved meeting people.

Were you aware of his sexual identity? Everybody knew Mark was gay. He never went out of his way to hide it. I hadn't heard about him with pages, though. It wouldn't have been news to me if Mark was promiscuous, but I didn't know that it extended to younger men.

When did you come out as a Democrat? In 1994, right before the "conservative revolution." I switched to the Democrats when everyone else was switching the other way. I had gone to Bush the elder's inauguration and saw people like Pat Robertson and [Pat] Buchanan giving speeches, and I just felt so alienated.

Is there a "velvet mafia" in the GOP, as some people suggest? I don't know if it extends to elected officials, but there's definitely a cabal of gay Republican staffers. There are more of them than gay Democratic staffers. These are people who detest being defined by their sexuality, who feel taxes and national security are more important than basic civil rights. They live fairly gay lives, but they don't see gay issues as being relevant to them. It's sort of a mass denial.

Are we looking at a gay witch hunt in the GOP? I don't know if there's going to be a big purge--there aren't many politicians as careless as Mark was--but there's little doubt the glass ceiling is going to be lowered significantly for gays in the GOP.

How do you feel about closeted politicians? It's wrong, and I think the media has got to stop being complicit. The press knew about Mark Foley's sexuality [when he voted against same-sex marriage]. It doesn't matter if they're good on gay issues or not--it's relevant to the story. When they write a story about Representative Wexler's position on prayer in school, they always mention that he happens to be Jewish.

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