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AD-70: Don Wagner's Holocaust-Denying Donors and Extremist Supporters

11:00 AM ET, 09/23/2010
Don Wagner is the Republican candidate for the 70th Assembly District seat currently held by the termed-out Chuck DeVore in central Orange County. AD-70 went to Barack Obama in 2008 by a 51-47 margin, a sign that this district has become quite purple in recent years.

But Don Wagner comes from a different tradition - the older, far-right tradition in central Orange County that produced people like DeVore, going all the way back to at least the 1950s and 1960s when the region's politics were dominated by the John Birch Society.

Sure, his website is crafted to make him look like an unobjectionable Republican. But his list of donors and supporters suggests he's much further to the right - with donations from Holocaust deniers and support from other right-wing extremists.

More below.
First, the Holocaust-denying donor. When I was growing up in Tustin, located in AD-70, there was a controversial history teacher at Foothill High School named Steven Frogue. He had a reputation for not just being right-wing, but even racist. I attended the other high school in our district, Tustin High, but friends of mine who went to Foothill told me about this guy and his crazy right-wing statements he would make in the classroom, including denying the Holocaust and repeating racist stereotypes about Asian and Latino students.

About this time, those statements started getting noticed. In 1994, a group of parents went to the district and succeeded in getting Frogue reassigned to supervising detention instead of teaching history. The LA Times reported on Frogue in a 1996 article:

Frogue has been accused of denying the Holocaust, according to a former board member and several former students who say his comments about Jews and those who died at the hands of the Nazis cross over a line of ethics, propriety and recorded fact.

Frogue went further in his capacity as a board member of the South Orange County Community College District. As the LA Times reported, Frogue denounced a class being taught at Irvine Valley College on the Holocaust by someone with ties to the Anti-Defamation League. Here's what Frogue had to say about the ADL:

Frogue's high school students voice a similar complaint, saying his lectures are often angry diatribes against the ADL, revisionist views of this or that chapter of history or passionate speeches about who actually pulled the trigger on President Kennedy....

"I believe Lee Harvey Oswald worked for the ADL," Frogue said in a half-whisper during a recent interview on the Foothill High campus.

Asked to repeat his assertion, Frogue said, "That's right. . . . I believe the ADL was behind it."

Frogue also had links to the Institute for Historical Review, a leading Holocaust-denial organization. He served on the SOCCCD board of trustees until he finally resigned in the year 2000. One of his fellow boardmembers was Don Wagner, who later became board president.

Wagner likes to claim he's distanced himself from the likes of Frogue. So why did Wagner accept a donation from Frogue back in May?

Perhaps it's because Wagner himself is backed by a group of right-wing extremists. One of his key organizational supporters is the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Ralph Reed's new movement to elect right-wing extremists. FFC touted Wagner's win in the June primary as one of their most important nationwide successes this year:

FFC spent weeks blanketing conservative voters in the 70th district with targeted voter guides on issues ranging from balancing the state budget to life and protecting marriage. The outcome was recently decided in another nip-and-tuck race. Don won the race against his less conservative opponents by a mere 860 votes.

Wagner and his defenders might argue that one's donors and supporters don't necessarily reflect on the candidate himself. While that's hard to believe, we can look at Wagner's own positions and find evidence he too is a right-wing extremist.

As the OC Weekly reported, Wagner revoked the SOCCCD schools' membership in the American Library Association after calling them "liberal busybodies." Wagner's board considered ending involvement in study abroad programs in Spain in 2005 when the Spanish government announced it was withdrawing troops from Iraq. And the SOCCCD board has been frequently accused of ignoring the boundary between church and state.

On his website, Wagner outs himself as a card-carrying member of the religious right:

The family is the bedrock of our civilization. It is critical to our state that we protect the family from threats to re-define it, make it obsolete, or undermine its importance to society. I will defend the God-given right of parents to teach their children their values, to defend marriage, and to defend the right to express our faith in the public square. I believe that life is precious and will fight to defend life from conception to natural death.

In other words, he is against marriage equality, against a woman's right to choose, and for prayer in school.

As I explained last month, Orange County is becoming bluer, partly as a rejection of the kind of extremism that Don Wagner represents.

While Wagner is taking money from Holocaust deniers and carrying out Ralph Reed's agenda, Orange County residents in my hometown assembly district are focused on jobs, preserving good schools, and improving their quality of life. That's not something Don Wagner can or will offer.

But Melissa Fox can. She's a good Democrat who understands the needs of the district, particularly on education. She deserves the support of progressives across California, who can help turn Orange County blue. Click here to donate via ActBlue to her campaign. It's a winnable seat, especially as Orange County moves away from extremists like Wagner and toward good, sensible leaders like Melissa Fox.

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Calitics is the leading progressive community blog for California politics. Started in 2005, the blog has been cited in the major media outlets including the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Sacramento Bee. Calitics has become known throughout political circles for its sharp left-leaning commentary and as the thermometer of California's progressives.
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