This is the third in a weekly series of articles, written by John Javna, that will appear on BlogPAC.org, recognizing unsung heroes of the progressive movement — ordinary people who are working tirelessly to make America a better place. If you have suggestions about people who deserve more recognition for their work as progressive activists, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BLOGPAC NETROOTS HERO #3: LANE HUDSON
Ever wish you could single-handedly deliver a knockout blow to the right-wing, like a political Rocky?
For most of us, it’s just a fantasy... but every once in a while, it actually happens. It did to Lane Hudson. Armed with only a computer and a nugget of information, he was able to turn the 2006 elections upside down... and give the Democrats the weapon they needed to take Congress.
His reward? Well unfortunately, as you may have heard, "No good deed goes unpunished."
Here’s the story:
A brief interlude: We need to support our own in the netroots. We have to ensure that the next hero knows we'll have their back if what happened to Lane happens to them. Lane was the first BlogPac Hero to receive a monetary reward. When Lane was blacklisted, BlogPac stepped in to make help him keep his apartment, pay for groceries and, in general, sustain him until he could find another job. To help defray BlogPac's expense and to ensure we can continue to do this for future heroes, please consider donating here.
Lane had been hooked on politics since he was 12, when his mother first explained the difference between Republicans and Democrats: "Republicans are for the rich, the Democrats are for everybody else." ("Well," the young South Carolinian responded, "I guess I’m a Democrat then.") In 1995, at age 18, he became a White House intern. And for nearly 7 years after that, he worked for Senator Fritz Hollings.
In 2004, he left DC to try his hand at a few other jobs, but realized that "I was born for politics." By the summer of 2006, he was back in Washington, checking Want Ads for jobs in the upcoming Congressional campaigns. One caught his eye:
"I saw in an email on Craig’s List that the Democrats were looking for a finance director in Florida’s 15th Congressional District," he says. "Tim Mahoney was challenging Rep. Mark Foley. But I’d never heard of Foley. So I called a friend and asked ‘What kind of district is this — a safe Republican district?’ because I didn’t want to work in a losing campaign. He said, ‘Yeah it’s safe.’ then added... ’You know Foley’s gay, don’t you? When I was a page he used to hit on me all the time’"
Lane called a friend in the news business, and asked what HE knew about Foley. Same story: "He’s gay, and hits on pages all the time. It’s really inappropriate." Then Lane checked out Foley’s web site and was surprised to recognize his photo. Foley, it turns out, had tried to pick HIM up while he was a White House page. "I had never known his last name or that he was in Congress," Hudson says. "He was just a guy who introduced himself as Mark." Foley was apparently a sexual predator—despite the fact that he chaired the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, which was responsible for creating legislation targeting sexual predators!
"I thought, wow, there’s a huge story here. This stuff has been going on for at least 11 years. He hit on me in 1995, and he’s still doing it." But Lane had no proof. "I asked around as casually as I could, to see if anyone had any evidence," he recalls, and someone quietly passed him some emails that Foley had sent to a 16-year-old congressional page from Louisiana. "I felt like I was this big investigative reporter. I realized the story had political implications, but I was mostly interested in exposing Foley’s bad behavior."
Hudson called an LA Times reporter, and they met secretly. "I didn’t want to be associated with any kind of scandal, because that would make it hard to find a job in Washington," he explains. The reporter agreed to push the story, but Lane figured it might be a good idea to have a backup plan — just in case. "I didn’t know much about blogs at the time," he says. "But I knew that the blogosphere was where a lot of issues were debated. So I started a blog(stopsexpredators.blogspot.com) with the idea that maybe I would have to use it to get the story out." After a few months, he stopped waiting for the LA Times. (good thing — It turned out that Times editors had killed the article) and posted the Foley emails himself. He made them public on Sunday, September 24. Four days later, ABC picked the story up and put it on their web site. "They didn’t run it on the news that night," Hudson says. "I realized later that they just put it out to fish—to see what other evidence they could come up with." Sure enough, former pages came to them with more damning material. A day later, Foley resigned.
"By this time I was working for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest gay rights group in the country," Lane recalls, "and I was traveling for HRC when I heard Foley had resigned from Congress. ...It was shocking...My heart really started beating. I was like, holy shit, what have I gotten myself into? This is more than I bargained for."
No one knew who was behind the blog at this point, and Hudson was grateful for the anonymity. One reason: he immediately started getting veiled threats in his in-box. "The Foley scandal quickly reached all the way to the Speaker of the House," he says, "and the higher it got, the more my desire to stay anonymous grew. I mean, this was starting to threaten the foundation of the nation’s power. It was scary." Another reason: "The anonymity of the blog is why it worked. If people had known it was me behind the attack, they would have dismissed it as a Democratic smear job. In this case, the facts are all they had, so that was the focus."
The result: Hudson’s handiwork helped turn the tide in the Democrats’ favor. By mid-October, Republican consultants were moaning that "The Foley matter is drowning out every other campaign message" (Reuters) and "It’s sucking all the air out of the room" (CNN). The Gallup Poll found that "The Foley scandal has wrought extraordinary damage to the Republican Party and appears to have had a particularly negative impact on them."
And how about the impact on Hudson’s life? Well, his anonymity only lasted for two months. In late October, he was tricked into revealing himself to a right-wing blogger. Unfortunately, the guy also discovered that Hudson had used HRC computers to access his anti-Foley blog, So HRC fired Lane for "misusing their resources." By the time election day arrived, our progressive hero was jobless and broke. And that didn’t change with victory—in fact, things got worse "At least a dozen members of Congress said, ‘You’re great, we couldn’t have taken the House without you’ — and it’s really humbling to have people say that." Hudson muses. "But at the same time, here I am applying for jobs, sending out resumes, networking extensively—and now I don’t even get INTERVIEWS. I would personally be better off if I’d never done this."
That doesn’t mean he regrets his choices—in fact he says he’d do it all again in a heartbeat. "Hell yeah, it was worth it. Even if I feel a little angry about the situation sometimes, I have faith in my party and I know that with our new power, we’re going to make a difference in lots of people’s lives. The personal difficulty I’m having is worth it, if I helped make that possible."
Still, it’s outrageous that Hudson is being shunned by the people he helped put into power. If we don’t support the activists who are willing to risk their livelihoods and personal safety to advance our cause and make America a better place, who will? The Right knows how to reward and appreciate its heroes. Why don’t we?
At the end of every interview, we ask for a few practical pointers for activists. Here are Lane's offerings
Q: You were very successful getting your message out into the media. What was the key?
LH: "Be selective about who you talk to. I only spoke with organizations I knew all about, and with people I was comfortable talking to. That was the only way I could be sure they’d represent my point of view accurately. I never would have gone on O’Reilly, for example, because he would have just tried to nail me rather than letting me speak. That would have undermined my message.
Q: Tips for beginners?
LH: "Well, it sounds simple, but it’s critically important: when you talk to the press, be careful what you say—even if you think things are off the record and in "background." And remember that it’s okay to make things off the record—even in the middle of an interview. Just wait to make sure they agree that something’s off the record before you plunge
Q: What’s something important you learned from your experience?
LH: "Don’t be intimidated by politicians. They need to be treated like people, not celebrities. If we’re oohing and ahhing around them then we can’t discuss policies effectively. Remember that they’ve been given the opportunity to serve the public—that’s their job. And if you want to influence them, you need to be able to think clearly when you’re around them. If you’re going ‘Ohmigod, it’s Hillary!!!’ then you’re not urging her to take a stronger stand on Iraq. This goes for any level of office. They deserve respect, but then, so does everyone."
One more reminder...
We need to support our own in the netroots. We have to ensure that the next hero knows we'll have their back if what happened to Lane happens to them. Lane was the first BlogPac Hero to receive a monetary reward. When Lane was blacklisted, BlogPac stepped in to make help him keep his apartment, pay for groceries and, in general, sustain him until he could find another job. To help defray BlogPac's expense and to ensure we can continue to do this for future heroes, please consider donating here.