West was the popular, socially conservative mayor of Spokane, Wash. In 2005 he was outed by the city's newspaper, The Spokesman-Review. It told a sordid story of a man with two lives: In public, he had sponsored anti-gay legislation; in private, he allegedly trolled for young men online. The paper's initial reporting also alleged child sexual abuse in the '70s. The paper's stories sparked city and federal investigations and a Dec. 2005, recall election in which West was voted out of office. On Feb. 16, 2006, the FBI closed its 10-month investigation, finding no evidence to charge West with the abuse of office. Five months later, on July 22, he died of cancer. In this interview, West recounts his "brutal outing" at the hands of The Spokesman-Review, denies the charges against him and accuses the newspaper of violating his privacy. He also talks, guardedly, about his sexuality. This is an edited transcript drawn from two interviews conducted Nov. 18, 2005, and Feb. 12, 2006.
... Some people seem to be most upset about what they see as a discrepancy between your public and private life. Explain to us why, in your opinion, ... there's not a conflict.
What I do as a public official, in my public role as the mayor or as a state senator or a state representative, it's totally separate from what I do as a private citizen, private individual. ... If I go out and have a beer or if I go out to a party or something or go to a movie, that has nothing to do with the policy of whether or not we should build this street or build that street or anything else.
You have said ... that you were voting, when you were in the state Legislature, the way your constituency wanted. When it comes to issues relating to homosexuality, gay rights and anti-discrimination, how do you feel that most of Spokane comes down?
Frankly I don't know how most of Spokane comes down. But first of all, I wasn't this champion of any kind of a movement one way or the other when it comes to gay rights. I think they only identified maybe five votes over a 20-year career and tried to make that out as a pattern. That's a pretty thin pattern, if it is a pattern at all.
What my legislative background was around was health care, budget issues, financing state government, creating solutions to problems. Had nothing to do with social agenda. I'm pro-life; I believe in that. I'm pro-family; I believe in that. But I never wore those issues on my sleeve; I never hid them. People knew where I stood on those issues, and they returned me time and time again to the Legislature. …
When and how did you first become aware of the newspaper's investigation?
Actually, I had some of my former Boy Scouts call me many months before the newspaper contacted me and tell me that they had been contacted in reference to an assistant Scout master [David Hahn] we had in the troop and whether I had been part of any activity that that person had been engaged in. When they contacted me I said, "Whatever the newspaper asks, you just tell them the truth, because I have nothing to fear there. There's nothing to hide. There's nothing I've ever done there that would cause me any concern." ...
“The worst thing you can say about somebody is that they're a … sexual predator. Even though they're false … how do you refute that, and how do you prove a negative?”
When I actually went in for the interview, it was a bit of an ambush, but they don't think so. ... They interviewed me. It was very much like a police interrogation room, a number of people sitting around with recorders and everything. I spent a couple of hours answering their questions.
Were you surprised?
A little bit, but I guess not really. First of all, you've got to understand the two reporters that did this story, one has basically been against me my entire political career, and the other has a reputation of basically muckraking, making allegations against people and bringing people down in the community. So I guess I wasn't that surprised.
What about the specifics? Pulling out a binder of transcripts of your conversations -- did that take you [by surprise]?
No. I'm a pretty matter-of-fact guy. I mean, it wasn't a case of surprise. It's like, oh, OK, fine.
When you left, they evidently were concerned about you. They called the police chief. Tell me about that.
I learned about that because I came back to City Hall and met with the deputy mayor. We were sitting in the office here, and then the police chief showed up. He said, "The editor called and wanted me to come by and make sure you were OK, because he was afraid you might do something." I laid out to both of them what had occurred and what the circumstances were and what the allegations were and what the truth was.
Did you have any idea at the time how big this story was going to become?
Yeah, I didn't think about it at all, and it didn't matter, frankly. I knew that I hadn't done anything wrong. I guess I didn't realize how personal the editor would take it and how much it's become a point of honor for him. To basically literally go on dozens of TV shows around the nation defending his actions of using a sting operation, that I guess surprised me, that it would be such a venomous attack and a continual attack for six months.
Fairly recently, at least as far as the city was concerned. I'd visited them at home, using my personal computer. You know, it's kind of a fantasy. The Internet's kind of interesting. Do you recall the game Dungeons & Dragons that kids all got sucked into and became fantasy characters? Well, it was kind of that curiosity. Then you get sucked in, and then you just converse with people, and it's role-playing almost. It was in my mind, in many ways.
So it wasn't real?
It really wasn't, but it allowed you to say things that you might not say otherwise because of that fantasy element, because of that anonymity element, because of that private element of it all.
Editor's Note: Moto-Brock is Gay.com screen name created by The Spokesman-Review's "forensic computer expert" to chat with West online. Moto-Brock had several chats with West, including several in which they discuss Moto-Brock applying for an internship in the mayor's office. For more on the decision to "create" Moto-Brock and his chats with West, Read FRONTLINE's interviews with Spokesman-Review editor Steve Smith and reporter Bill Morlin.
I wasn't looking for anything. He contacted me. I didn't contact him. You go into a chat room, and there's a number of people in the chat room. There are different exchanges that occur. My recollection is that over a period of time this person would say, "Hi, how are you doing today?," or "Hello" kind of thing. I basically ignored him for a couple of weeks at least.
I finally responded to him. We engaged in a conversation, exchanged information. [He] sounded like an interesting person. He didn't know if he wanted to go off and be a lawyer or go off and be a doctor. You know kids -- when they're getting ready to go away to college, they don't know exactly what they want to go into. ... Talked a little bit about football or sports, different activities -- just, you know, conversation.
And then the talk about sex?
On his profile, he said that he was interested in action, sex, [that] kind of thing. So after a couple of chats, it did devolve into discussions about sex.
Did you initiate those conversations about sex?
... In his profile he said he was interested in talking about that. So I guess it was a question of who did initiate it. ... We talked about it. Some of that was he was saying: "Well, I'm closeted. I'm not sure that I like guys, but I think I do. Girls find me attractive." So some of that was just questioning, just to draw him out to see, to help him figure out what he was doing. ...
In your mind, who was seducing whom?
I don't think either one of us was seducing the other. I think there was no seduction going on. Numerous times in the conversation, he says: "I want to meet you for lunch. I want to meet you for dinner. I want to get together. I want to meet you. I want to meet you." And I'm like, "No, no, no, no, no." ... Then finally after I think two or three months, it's like OK, maybe we can go to the golf driving range and hit some golf balls. Hardly a sexual activity.
And yet in the media, you've been portrayed as a predator in this situation. Do you have any idea why people perceive you this way?
I think that's because that's the preconceived notion The Spokesman-Review went into the story with. They were convinced that I had abused young children years ago. In their mind, this was the main story. And, in fact, I didn't. Then when the evidence started to come out that indicated that I didn't, they dropped the story altogether. ...
You're 54; he's 18, or said he was 18. Some might think it's inappropriate for a 54-year-old man and an 18-year-old to become so intimate. What's your reaction to that?
I have no reaction to that.
You don't think it's inappropriate?
I have no reaction.
... Who brought the internship [in the mayor's office] up?
He did. … In the course of discussion he said, "Oh, I want to be a lawyer, or I want to be a doctor." He's tossing these professions out there. His father supposedly works for a car dealership. I said: "Well, have you thought about going to work with your father and seeing what it's like to work there? Have you thought about getting an internship with a lawyer's office or with a doctor's office or something else?," that kind of thing.
And he immediately comes back and says, "Well, can I intern for you?" And I'm like, no, because I don't want him to know who I am. I'm a closeted bisexual or whatever person, so I don't want him to know who I am. I don't want him to know that I'm the mayor, so it's like, "No, you can't, and I don't want to meet you, but I'll talk to you."
And then, if you'll read the e-mails, the subsequent e-mails, every time an internship is mentioned for the next two months, it's "Can I have an internship with you?" ...
In the course of my career, ... I've had hundreds of interns. I've solicited lots of interns, and the sole purpose for that was mentorship. The internships we're talking about [are] one week long. It's basically a job shadow for a week; it's not really even an internship. You come in, you answer the phone, you go to a few meetings, and then you're out of here. It's just to get a flavor of what's happening in the real world. ...
And of those hundreds of interns in all that time, the last 25 years, The Spokesman-Review, no other news outlet, nobody, none of the investigators can find a single one of them that will say that they were offered anything in exchange for anything. In fact, the ones that have [been] contacted have said that it was a great experience for them. ...
It seems that the first mention of the internship is missing. What do you make of that?
Yeah, because it didn't fit the preconceived notion they wanted to make of the story. Yeah, it's pretty telling, I think. They didn't admit that it was missing for the first five weeks the story was out there. They only came back later and laid on an editor's note and said, when they realized that they didn't have it, that there was no offer of an internship, and there was no, "Hey, would you like to be an intern with me, and maybe we'll get to know each other better?" kind of stuff.
There was none of that in any of their transcripts, and when they realized it, they finally had to lay an editor's note over it saying, "Due to technical difficulty, we weren't able to record it, but our forensic expert tells us that it actually happened." Yet nobody can ask their forensic expert what happened, and basically it's his word against mine. Why are we taking his word when the other transcripts are also wrong?
But you did offer Moto-Brock gifts. ...
He said his birthday was coming up. I said, "What do you want, this? What do you want, that?" ... I had no intention of sending him a gift. It was just banter. ...
Can you see why some people might see this as an attempt to curry favor with this young man?
People can think what they want, and I can't help that. People can have preconceived notions, and they can have ideas that it has to fit this, and they can try to cram the square peg into the round hole when in fact it doesn't fit. But they can take this and shape it any way. They can connect the dots that, frankly, aren't connectable. I can understand that. But it's not based on reality or in truth.
Ryan Oelrich: This is an incident in which a young man came forward after the stories broke and claims that you put him onto the Human Rights Commission and told him that it was because you wanted a relationship with him; you couldn't figure out any other way to meet him.
He's mistaken. Ryan's a nice guy. I put him on the Human Rights Commission at the recommendation of a mutual friend, because he heads up this gay youth group, and he has a perspective on discrimination in the community. He was a college student at this time, senior in college at the time. ...
If you'll read the interview by his friend, our mutual friend, who nominated or suggested him to me, he says in that interview it was only after the stories came out that they started to connect the dots and figured this out. ...
So I don't know how he's feeling now; I haven't had any conversation with him in six months. But he was appointed to the Human Rights Commission for all the right reasons. … And frankly, he ought to still be on the commission because of the background and experience he brings to the table.
Did you not tell him that you had done it for that reason?
I did not tell him that at all, ever. You know, Ryan and I chatted online. We had chatted before I knew who he was online; we chatted after I knew who he was online. He didn't know that the person he was chatting with online was me until like, 10 months after I appointed him to the commission. Never went to any commission meetings, never contacted him as a commissioner, no. ...
You don't feel it was wrong, what you did?
There was no connection. There wasn't anything there. There wasn't anything meant to be. There was no like, "Hey, if you do this, I'll do this," or "If I do this, you should do that." There was never any of that. There was never any mention of it.
In fact, all during that time Ryan didn't know that I was one and the same, because on the Internet, I was an anonymous person, totally. ...
The paper is suing to make the contents of your computer public. In your opinion, is it a fair fight? Why are they eager to have these contents of your hard drive released?
They think there's something there. ... It's a point of pride for them now, a point of honor for them. They've run out so many of these leads that have come to nothing that they've got to have something here, so they'd like to go there, and the sensationalism of it all.
It's a city computer. Don't the contents of a city computer belong to the public?
I made a mistake by visiting Web sites. And the only Web site I visited, frankly, was a gay dating site. I did that only when I was traveling out of the city, when I didn't have access to my own personal computer. I was told when I traveled I could use the computer to access my personal e-mail and basically use it as a tool for incidental use. ...
When you go to one of these profile pages to see who you're chatting with, to get some information about who you're chatting with, all the information off of that, all the photographic information off that is automatically downloaded into your computer somehow. ...
What the judge said in the court case was, basically, those people have a right to privacy. So you can know when the mayor went online, you can know where the mayor went online, but we're not going to give you the photographs of whose pictures were on those Web sites, who [are] these individuals. I think that's the right ruling. Most of those people don't even know I looked at their profile because I never engaged in a chat with them, because they weren't of interest to me at all. So I think the judge's ruling was right in that.
People do have a right to privacy, regardless of what the newspaper thinks. The newspaper seems to think that they can go invade anybody's privacy and do anything they want to people. That's wrong. In America, a fundamental right is a right to privacy.
Tell about the FBI's visit to your house. When did this happen? What did they take? Were you expecting them?
I actually expected them a couple months before they arrived. I was sitting at my desk here early in the morning, about 7:00 one morning; my cell phone rings. FBI agent says that they're at my house; would I come and let them in? Said, yeah, sure, got nothing to hide. I went down there and let them into my house.
They seized my personal computers, my home computers, and did a copy of those computers or whatever. Then they returned them to me. But this was like, three or four months after the original allegations, so I had actually expected them to come along much earlier.
I didn't have anything to hide, because I still don't think that I violated any laws. I don't think they'll come to that conclusion. I don't know that I violated any laws. Going to a dating chat line, if that's illegal, we're in big trouble in this country. I don't think it is.
What some people say is that it may not be illegal, but it violates the mom test: Would I want my 18-, 19-, 20-year-old child to be solicited or approached online by somebody much older than them?
I didn't solicit this person online. We chatted; we talked. Frankly, this person was on a chatting dating site. This person came there, theoretically, looking for somebody to talk to about dating. This wasn't a person standing in a public park. This wasn't a person in a mall. ...
The allegations of sexual abuse in the past -- ... what was your reaction to the allegations that you molested --
Editor's Note: The Spokesman-Review's initial story on West featured two men, Robert Galliher and Michael Grant, who accused West of sexually abusing them when they were boys.
They're absolutely false, and there's no way I could have done what this person says that I did. He claims that when I was a deputy sheriff that I picked him up at a bowling alley in my police car and took him someplace and raped him. The time frame that he says this happened, I hadn't been a deputy sheriff for over two years. I left the department long before he alleges this experience happened. It's a blatant lie.
It's based, frankly, on an allegation that his brothers made against another deputy [David Hahn] who I did happen to work with. This person is suing the county government, basically alleging that that other deputy also abused him. In his lawsuit with the county, even though I was a deputy with this other person at one time, he doesn't name me in the lawsuit. …
Instead, he chose to smear me in the newspaper and to make false allegations about me in the newspaper. He claimed that I had gone out to the jail and that I had gone into the jail and physically threatened him. But when the local news media went to the jail to look at the logs as to who had visited, my name doesn't appear there, because I had never been there. The newspaper just easily dismisses that and says, well, the logs could have been altered, which would mean there's a conspiracy to protect me, or that maybe they let him in without requiring him to sign in, which is impossible. ...
It didn't happen. It just flat didn't happen. The time frames don't fit, and his allegation of me going out and threatening him doesn't fit. ... But The Spokesman-Review printed it in their lead sentence as if this was the absolute gospel truth. What they were depending on to back this up was a police report that supposedly was missing and couldn't be found. ... When they finally produced that police report, my name was nowhere near it, so that was a dead end for them.
And what was The Spokesman-Review's response? Well, we're going to sue the county for not releasing this earlier. I wonder if it had been released earlier if they would have made the same allegation against me. ...
So you are telling me you've never met Robert Galliher.
I never met Robert Galliher. ... When the allegation in the report was made in 1980 against this other deputy, no mention was made of me. It would have been the perfect time to do it. It would have enhanced their case against the county, frankly, if I'd actually done it. It's just bogus; it's absolutely bogus. ...
He says he's afraid of you; that's why he doesn't want to put you in his lawsuit.
Yeah, well, let me see. He's so afraid that he wouldn't make a false allegation on the front page of the newspaper? The standard of proof is a little different in a lawsuit. You can say whatever you want, particularly when you won't allow any other media to interview you, when you won't speak to anybody but a single reporter at The Spokesman-Review. That's very questionable.
[Tell me about your background.] Where did you grow up? ...
I was actually born in Salem, Ore., but my parents were both born in Spokane. We moved back here after my father had traveled up and down the West Coast, working for a department store chain. ...
Would you describe it as a close family?
Well, we all lived together. (Laughs.) It was a typical 1950s, '60s nuclear family -- mom and dad, two sisters and a brother growing up in a working-class neighborhood. ...
What were your aspirations as a child?
I don't know. To grow up, I guess. Actually, in high school decided I was going to become an architect and took a lot of drawing classes and a lot of math classes. But when my parents moved in between my junior and senior year, they wanted me to go to college close to them, and the place they wanted me to go didn't have a school of architecture. So I went to college and didn't do much with it. Ended up getting drafted and going off into the Army. ...
You've said online ... that you did not begin to think about anything but being straight until long after this point. But you've also said that back in college you never would have been gay, because "being gay was like death." Those were the words you used. I'm just curious what you meant. ...
Well, you just think of what things were like in the late '60s and early '70s and just the whole transition then of where America was. I don't know that it was ever that sexual anyway, but it just wasn't --
Wasn't talked about?
Not really. There wasn't, obviously, a matter of discussion. You think of growing up in those days, and if you wanted to demean somebody in grade school or junior high, if you wanted to demean somebody on the playground, you might call them a queer or something like that and say, "Well, I don't want to be one of those," kind of thing, even though you didn't even know what it meant. It was just like whatever, any kind of an epithet.
Going away to college, I knew in my fraternity house there was one guy who everybody said, "That guy is." And it was like, oh, OK -- well, he seems to be a nice enough guy; he's a friendly enough guy. But it's like, you know, whatever.
How did people treat him?
Actually quite decently. I think he had trouble coping with himself, because I think sometimes he was suicidal or potentially suicidal. ...
You got married.
I did later in life. I basically engaged so deeply into my career, first in law enforcement and then in politics, that I was so busy that I didn't have time for anybody else. Occasionally dated, and actually, some of my early dating relationships, we would break up because of either my politics or because of the need to go to a lot of public events. The people that I was most comfortable with really wanted to have a private family life, out of the limelight. ...
I just didn't get close to anybody, frankly, in any way for quite a number of years. But then I did get married. I was introduced by a co-worker to this nice woman, and we hit it off very well. ...
And the issue of homosexuality or bisexuality never came up in your marriage?
Not at all, not at all. ... I didn't get married until I was 40. Ginger was 30 when we got married. Because I was single for so long, I think a lot of people say: "Well, what's an old single guy? Why is this guy in his 30s or 40s and he's not married? He must be gay." So there were all these rumors out there. In fact, I think that's probably what later caused me to say, "Well, I wonder." I ended up looking online, and then you kind of get sucked into the whole thing.
You mean the rumors themselves caused you to have curiosity about this lifestyle?
Well, it's like people are saying, "Well, he's gay, he's gay, he's gay" kind of thing. And then I'm married. ... Unfortunately, during the marriage, I wanted to have children, have a family, the traditional nuclear '50s family. I was accused of being too much like Leave It To Beaver.
Ginger really was focused on her career, but she got pregnant, and then we had a miscarriage. That was traumatic for both of us for a lot of different reasons, because she really wasn't interested in having children, but because she knew how much I wanted children, we got pregnant. And then when we lost the baby, it's like, just really a lot of stress, a lot of trauma to all that. After that, it's like, what am I doing here?
Where was your conservativism shaped?
Probably growing up. Probably just my life experience. ... I was very active in the Boy Scouts throughout my youth and then as an adult leader also. The principles of scouting -- the Scout Oath and Scout Law -- very, very character-developed kinds of principles. ... I studied a little bit of politics in college, not much. And then my military experience, and then my law enforcement experience.
While some would characterize me as a right-wing conservative, it's not true. I think people who have observed me, both as mayor ... but also even in the Legislature, in my later years in the Senate, from about 1989 on, when I was the health care chairman and then became the Ways and Means chairman, then the majority leader, that they saw while I was conservative and primarily not wanting to see radical, dramatic, liberal change, I think it would be hard to say that I was just party line, total.
You said that after your marriage fell apart, you were curious, and you started to explore.
That was a few years after that, though. It wasn't right away. It was just still going through the dating thing and like, "OK, why didn't that work? What's wrong with me?" kind of thing. Who knows?
When you did begin to explore it, you clearly had a sense that it was a part of your life that you needed to conceal, that you needed to keep quiet. Where did you get that sense? Why?
I never discussed with anybody my sexual relationships with women. Why would I discuss my sexual relationships with men?
I get the feeling that your desire to keep that part of your life quiet was a little stronger.
I never discussed any sexual relationships I've had with anybody. Why would I? That wouldn't be an identifying factor of me. ... That was an element, but it wasn't the theme. It wasn't who I was, so why would I proclaim it? Why would I talk about it? Just didn't. ...
Do you think Spokane would have elected you if you were openly gay?
As mayor? I don't know. I have no idea. ...
From what we can see, there are not a lot of leaders in the community who are openly gay or bisexual.
Well, again, Spokane's kind of -- and I think, frankly, a lot of America is kind of a "live and let live." ... I don't want to know about your sexual exploits, whether they're heterosexual or homosexual. I don't want you to be in my face. I'm not going to be in your face; please don't be in my face. I'll leave you alone if you leave me alone. I think that is truly the way a lot of people feel in this country. I just don't want to know about it, because it's none of my business. That's your private life. ...
These people who focus on one thing and then get in your face and get very over the top about it are offensive to I think a lot more than me, because they're constantly rejected in the ballot box or anyplace else. I don't think it does their cause any good, frankly, but they see it -- it's such a passion for them, and they're so driven by it that I think, in fact, it actually hurts the cause they're trying to help. ...
What are you going to be doing [to prepare for the recall]?
Doing my job as mayor, being in the community, going to all the events that I would have gone to otherwise, which I have been doing all summer long. We've got some radio spots; we've got some yard signs out. Basically, the radio spots -- pretty targeted in that, laying out the case that ... Judge [Richard B.] Sanders at the State Supreme Court said there's absolutely no evidence here that the mayor misused his office, so we're using that in the radio spot.
Then we're talking about the positives: the fact that I went to the voters and got a bond issue passed -- 62 percent of voters passed that bond issue. Just two weeks ago we went to the voters and asked them to increase their property taxes to provide city service; 60 percent of the voters went along with that. So they believe in the credibility that I brought to the city. ...
The people who oppose you claim almost across the board that this is not about your sexuality. Do you believe them?
I have no idea. You know, 47 percent of the people didn't want me to be mayor in the first place, and many of the people that are running the recall campaign are the same people who ran against me two years ago. While they say that's not the case, I think they're playing that card very effectively. ...
But what people will vote on is any number of things. I may have made somebody mad 20 years ago in the Legislature by voting one way or another on any piece of legislation. Or as mayor, we may have dug up somebody's street that they didn't want dug up, so they're mad about that. There's a whole range of things that people will vote on. ...
The question comes down to, are you going to believe these false allegations and throw me out and lose the most effective mayor you've ever had, or are you going to realize that you've had an effective mayor and we can do good things, and this other stuff is nonsense?
How has the gay community reacted to this?
I have no conduit to the gay community, so I have no idea.
Most gay leaders have spoken out against you, and I'm curious about your reaction.
I have no idea who the gay leaders in this community are. They've never come to me to ask for anything; they've never come to me to present themselves, to advocate for anything. They've talked on the periphery, through the media, they maybe thought they were talking to me, but they've never. Anybody is welcome to walk in this door of this office and meet with me. They haven't done that, and so I don't know what they think. ...
Didn't sponsor it; I was a co-signer. Somebody else sponsored it.
I'm talking about the one about banning gay people from working in [schools].
... I signed on as a co-sponsor at the request of a fellow legislator. The legislation had said that open homosexuals couldn't be in professions that dealt with children. Some still hold strongly to that belief. I think that you have to judge people on their actions more than anything else.
Do you regret it?
I regret co-sponsoring it, but I probably would have voted for it if it ever got to the floor, again, thinking at the time, thinking of the way things were going, and that's also a time in the height of the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic, and there was a lot of hysteria and a lot of fear and a lot of misunderstandings about what was going on there. But I never took a lead in it. I wasn't a champion of it, and it never went anywhere. ...
But when you sign something, theoretically you stand behind that, correct?
Well, you'd think that, but people are caught all the time signing stuff that they wish they hadn't. ...
Editor's Note: During his time in the State Legislature, West co-sponsored a bill that would have banned homosexuals from teaching and other positions. He also opposed other gay rights measures and voted for the Defense of Marriage Act. For more on his legislative record, read these impressions of West or FRONTLINE's interview with Seattle Times writer David Postman, who covered West's legislative career.
It does seem that you consistently took a position in the Legislature --
Five bills in 20 years.
In all of them, though, you signed --
Five bills. No, no, no, no. I didn't sign them. I don't know that I signed any of those other bills that they mentioned. They didn't say I signed them; ... I voted for them. Didn't sponsor them, wasn't an advocate for them. It was not me pushing that agenda.
Why did you vote for them?
Why did I vote for them? You're talking about specific pieces of legislation that I can't recall, and if I didn't have them before me I couldn't tell you exactly why I voted for them. But I'm guessing on whole that I voted for them because they advanced the agenda that I didn't agree with, that my constituents knew I didn't agree with. ...
Certainly if I had sponsored that and if that was my agenda, I would have sponsored it every single year and worked hard to -- I was the majority leader. I could have sponsored anything and gotten it through the Legislature, just about. So I would have sponsored that if that's really what I was about. ...
If [the bill banning gay teachers] were brought to the floor today and you could vote on it?
Probably not, probably not. ... Frankly, the climate today is different and the understanding today is different than what it was back in the '70s or back in the early '80s. There used to be schools of thought that gay people were just automatically predators. Well, that's not true, and we've learned that over time.
Did you believe that once?
I don't know if I did or not. ... The trauma of having somebody who you knew, who you trusted, be accused and then commit suicide when they're confronted with that all may have colored my thinking. I don't know.
Early in my legislative career, I sponsored very aggressive legislation against child pornographers. I sponsored legislation requiring background checks of state employees working with children, those kinds of things, to protect kids. ...
You've changed quite a lot, it seems, over the years.
I'm smarter. I've grown up. I've had more life experiences. I was very brash, early. ... Getting to that understanding of life, maybe it just comes with maturity over time.
Has your illness changed you?
I was diagnosed with colon cancer, stage IV, in April of 2003. Scary at first. You go through all that, you know, whatever. But decided to fight it very aggressively and found doctors that were willing to do that.
It gave me a greater sense, I think, of a higher power, of God. I became a very praying individual. I had many people come around me and give me a support network. ...
I think I had mellowed before the disease, before the cancer. [Tour de France champion and cancer survivor] Lance Armstrong's book was very helpful, by the way, just the whole concept of you can live through this; you can accomplish great things post-cancer. There is no reason to lay on the floor and just feel sorry for yourself.
But I'm humbled by the fact I'm still here, frankly, because one doctor originally said the worst case scenario is four months, and that was over two years ago. Fifty percent of the people are supposed to be dead at 18 months, and here we are, almost 30 months. I see people who have had breast cancer or other types of cancer who just were terribly debilitated because of the chemotherapy treatments or radiation, whatever. I haven't had any of that experience. I lost my hair, but so what? If it comes back, fine; if it doesn't, I guess I'll be fine. And I'm just doing my job.
When I ran for office, for mayor, in 2003, my opponents were running an underground campaign and actually took out a couple ads saying: "He won't live through his term. In fact, he won't live long enough to take office." I proved them wrong, and we're doing just fine. And even though I'm currently taking chemotherapy, I come to work every day. I'm doing my job, and we're making the city work.
You made a comment that I thought was very interesting, that The Spokesman has given you something to live for.
... I had plenty to live for. This is a dream job, being the mayor of a large city -- you know, Spokane is -- and seeing this moving forward is a beautiful job. I have to pinch myself. It's like, "Am I really get[ting] to do this?," because it's so much fun. I really have something to live for.
But the fact that I'm engaged in this Greek tragedy of epic proportions with this newspaper that has unlimited resources and is willing to spend every dime of them to bring me down, that puts an element of fight into it, or an element of, "Oh yeah, I'll show you." ...
This has become a bit of a two-man fight between you and Spokesman-Review editor Steve Smith.
I asked God to soften his heart and make him realize his mistake, but it's not my job to punish him. Vengeance is the Lord's, and it's up to him to decide on both of our parts when this is over.
I forgive him. I wish he weren't doing what he's doing. I think he's wrong. I think his pride has gotten way too far ahead of him. ...
What do you think is fueling him?
His pride; he can't be wrong. He jumped to a wrong conclusion, and the evidence doesn't support his conclusion, but they can shade it to the point where they believe that it does. It's like the evidence of the Galliher allegations: Every point of evidence does not support their conclusion. They went out and did this sting operation on me with this fictitional [sic] computer character. They said the only reason they did that was to prove that I was online as the mayor. I was online, but never as the mayor. ...
In fact, they tried to get a real live person to entrap me and failed at that. So they gave up on him and hired this computer expert. They were widely criticized in journalistic circles for doing that. They may have opened new ground for newspapers across the country -- certainly for The National Enquirer or The Star -- but they were widely criticized for that. So they went on this extensive campaign to defend themselves, and basically the only way he can prove he's right is by running me out of office or killing me off. It's all about his pride, all of it. ...
[He] let his pride get in the way of ... good journalism. If nothing else, their journalism in this has been just sloppy, if not malicious.
One area you seem to be avoiding is linking this battle ... to the issue of sexuality. I'm curious, because in the past I think you have seen it that way. You've said that this is happening because you're gay or you're bisexual. You've said it was an "outing."
... It was a brutal outing. It was incredibly brutal. I mean, the worst thing you can say about somebody is that they're a child abuser and sexual predator. Even though they're false, what do you do? How do you refute that, and how do you prove a negative? It's the old "When did you stop beating your wife?" kind of thing. How do you answer that question? It was incredibly brutal.
While they say it's not about sexuality, every story they've run is about sexuality. ...
I've never been comfortable in my life talking about sex, sexual issues. ... It doesn't define my life. I think more than anything that was a concern of mine is about not wanting to be bisexual or gay or whatever, because once you do that, then that is forever after the adjective that defines you. ...
I think in the larger landscape of the culture wars that have gone on in this country, you've become a symbol.
Well, I didn't sign up for this war. ... I'm all about simple things like health care and education and street building and building a community. That other stuff is somebody else's fight and somebody else's business, and I don't want to be part of it. ...
Are you optimistic [about the recall election]?
I said early on that I would abide by the voters' decision. As an elected official for 25 years, I've lost elections and I've won elections. I've always respected the voters, and I do here as well. And if they say, in spite of all the good that you've done, we can't forgive you for this other [thing], that's fine. That's their choice, their will. I've done the best that I can. If they say you've done a great job, we want to keep you, your private life's your private life, we don't like any of that stuff over there, but we like you doing what you're doing, that we're going to keep you, that's fine, too. I'll continue to be here in Spokane; I'll continue to be active in one way or another around making this community a better community.
You have said elsewhere that there's a reason you're drawn to youth. Tell us about what it is that appeals to you, why you are drawn to people so much younger than yourself.
Well, again, it's not a sexual thing; it's a mentoring thing. ... Maybe it's because of the organizations I worked with as a young adult and an older adult. It is so refreshing to see people that have their whole future before them and to see them make changes in their lives or take advantages of things in their lives and actually be able to make a difference in their life. My mentors from high school were older people. ...
Many of the people that have interned for me or worked for me in the Legislature are now either legislators themselves or local government officials, key lobbyists, key members of the staff of either the Legislature or the executive branch. I'm very proud of these folks. …
It's tragic that in this entrapment sense, this situation, that it happened on a gay dating Web site, and so it got all mixed up there. But the intent was still the same. ... It's a legacy. People talk about, well, what's your legacy? I think my legacy is the people that I've helped mentor over the years that have taken that and gone well beyond where I could have gone. Now I know why teachers feel so good about what it is they do. ...
Some of the things you did in the last two years were really risky. You met people and told them you were the mayor. You met them at Gay.com and identified yourself. There were a lot of people out there who knew that you were doing this and that were talking to you on Gay.com. Why would you take such a risk? What was motivating you?
I have no idea.
I'm not going to psychoanalyze myself here. I love the line from The Tonight Show when Jay Leno asked Hugh Grant [following his arrest for soliciting a prostitute], "What the hell were you thinking?," and he said, "I wasn't thinking." I wasn't thinking.
Do you regret it?
I heard your question. I'm not going to answer it.
Is any part of you relieved?
No, not at all. It gives me no relief at all. In fact, it makes things more difficult for me.
Editor's Note: The remainder of this transcript is from an interview conducted on Feb. 12, 2006, after the recall election in which Spokane citizens voted to oust West from office.
Why did you start going to Lonnie [Mitchell]'s church [Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME)]?
Because he invited me. When I was invited to the prayer breakfast last year, after The Spokesman-Review broke the story, went to the prayer breakfast, happened to sit at Lonnie's table, and he invited me to come to church that Sunday, said that I might find it interesting, and been going ever since.
Did you feel particularly receptive to starting to go to church at that point?
I needed to go to church, so it was good to have that invitation. When I got there, they were incredibly welcoming -- a lot of hugs, a lot of good comments, welcoming comments. I felt very comfortable there. ...
The church itself and Lonnie in particular really don't condone -- they think of any homosexual activity as being a sin. It's interesting that at a time in your life where you were struggling with this, you chose to go to a church that is opposed to it. Why?
Because they invited me to. Because they welcomed me into their family. Because it fulfilled a need that I needed.
What about what they were preaching? Did you feel like they were telling you you had sinned?
I don't think they were telling me that I had sinned, but there's part of me that feels like I have.
You have some distance now from all this, a little bit of distance. Do you understand it any better?
I'm not sure.
I'm talking now about your own mistakes, mistakes you've admitted to making.
Well, the only mistake that I really admitted to making is visiting Internet sites that I shouldn't have. ... This was self-destructive for what I was doing in my public life. It was something that would be damaging if it were known. So for that it was a problem.
Did you know at the time it would be damaging?
I'm sure I did. But then I wondered, a lot of people flirt with danger, you know. Maybe that's part of the self-destruction: How close can I get to the edge without falling over? So you get into that behavior.
It can be addictive behavior, I imagine.
Someone once said that the Internet is a wonderful thing because it will bring the world into your living room. What it's really done has brought people into their living room, so they don't engage; they don't go out in the community. ... Revolutionary days, you went to the tavern to debate politics; now you can go online and read blogs or any number of things. So in a way, while it's opened up the world and created this vast new universe, it's also created a sense of isolation, because you can go in the privacy of your own home anyplace you want to. So there's the good and there's the bad of it. ...
Some people say that it's freeing because it allows you to be who you really are. Do you feel like you were who you really are?
No, because a lot of it was fantasy. A lot of it was make-believe. You're in a world that's not a real world, so you can be anybody you want to be, not necessarily who you are, but anything. ...
I think people have interpreted what happened with you as you had your public face, which was your fake face, and you had your private face, which was in these chats, which was your real face.
I would say probably the opposite. But that's my perspective; they're entitled to their perspective.
But frankly, what people saw were accusations of things that I never did, accusations of child abuse, accusations of using my position for power. If I recall correctly, The Spokesman-Review, the first sentence of the first article was, "For decades Jim West has used his position of power to entice young boys to do things." There's absolutely no truth to that at all. But that's the image that was implanted and then repeated over and over and over and over and over for months, basically, to drive a thought into people's minds.
... You have said that you had been living a double life, that you were closeted, that you had experienced these feelings on and off at times in your life that you felt you had to repress or not act on, or if you did act on them, to completely shut them down. Is there any truth to that?
I said that I've had sexual relations with men. It's been in the recent past, not the distant past and not throughout my life. Yeah, I felt that those obviously had to be hidden, not disclosed. A lot of those activities were experimental.
Why? Probably because of the generation that I'm in, that that wouldn't be an accepted practice. It's interesting, because there are several in the gay community that suggest that I have this self-loathing for myself. I don't at all. I can't understand that, why they would say that, other than perhaps that's their problem, not mine; perhaps that's how they feel, and they imagine that's how somebody ought to feel. But I don't. ...
Did you yourself have negative associations with it?
I think at one time I probably did. Now I don't know. It's more "live and let live." I know that that will offend some in the Christian community, but I remember many years ago somebody saying, you love the sinner and hate the sin. You don't cast them off; you don't scorn them; you don't ridicule them. I think that's where I'm at.
You mean politically that's where you're at?
I mean emotionally. Emotionally, politically, whatever. I mean live and let live, you know. What business is it of mine? What business is it of yours?
You haven't always felt that way.
No, I guess not. But I guess with age you kind of mellow out a little bit. You see things; you learn things; you grow.
[Going back to the] '70s and '80s, ... it sounds like you were concerned with issues of public morality, not just homosexual issues, but pornography and predatory behavior toward children. You said something very provocative in our last interview, which was that after [sheriff's deputy David] Hahn's suicide, you were somewhat traumatized and that at that time, there was an assumption about gay people being predators. I'd like you to talk about that.
I don't know, but I wonder about some of the legislation I sponsored in reaction to somebody who was a model deputy who committed suicide based on some allegations and just what that did to jar me as far as, here was this perfect person, and then this is the behavior that he engaged in. So I did sponsor legislation to say that background checks for people working with children [should be mandatory]. I still think that that's an important thing. ...
When this happened, did you worry about Ginger's reaction?
I worried about what it might do to her, yeah.
Because I still care for her. Because we're still good friends. She's a good person, and she doesn't deserve any harm that might come now. I worried about all my friends and how they're hurt by this whole thing and how they supported me over the years or how they helped me over the years and how disappointed they would be or how they might be personally hurt. People who stood up for me were ridiculed by their friends. Ginger was harassed by the Seattle news, Seattle press and Seattle TV stations, harassing her. She had nothing to do with this. They had no call to do that. And I felt badly for her.
You said you called her to tell her about it and to assure her that this had not been an issue in the marriage. Can you tell me about that call?
I called a number of people the day the story broke, the day the story was going to break, and she was just one of the ones it was important to talk to. I wanted to assure her that there wasn't anything going on when we were married; that this was no part of that. ...
You said there were others who were ridiculed for standing up for you. Can you tell me about that?
The local radio station, anybody who gave me a campaign contribution to stave off the recall was ridiculed on air. Their families were ridiculed. The listeners were encouraged to call them and to basically harass them. As a result of that, I stopped asking for campaign contributions, because I didn't want to put my friends through that kind of thing. They didn't deserve that. People who stood up and said good things or defended me were either accused of whatever, or ridiculed, mocked. Again, these are good people; these are good, well-meaning, honest people, people who know me and have known me for a long, long, long time. They're just hurt by it all. It wasn't fair.
Ginger said you never asked her to make a public statement, even though it probably would have helped you for her to do so.
I never asked anybody to. Wouldn't do that to them. No. It was something I had to do myself.
Do you feel disappointed, abandoned by any of your former colleagues, friends?
No, no. I'm sure there are people who couldn't talk to me or wouldn't talk to me, but I couldn't tell you who they were. They certainly never called me or wrote me and said, "I can no longer trust you," or this or that. There may be one or two. But if they did, it's like, how could I blame you? ... If what was printed in the newspaper and said on the radio was true, I'd abandon me. I'd say, how could I be near this person? But I knew that it wasn't, and the majority of my friends did, too. ...
I didn't look for it; I didn't solicit it. I didn't not become a conservative. Still a conservative. I think for some that's offensive. For some of them that's offensive. They never supported me at all in my political career. I can't expect that they would turn on a dime and begin to support me, and I haven't frankly gone out and championed gay rights or gay anything, so for many of them, I would be a bad example. I hold no ill will to them. I never had any expectation, and so, you know, big deal.
Gay or not gay, does this having happened to you give you any connection to gay people who do feel like their gayness has become more of an issue than it should be?
I don't know. I've always felt that some people make their gayness more of an issue than it should be and that they go out of their way to do that. And again, it's live and let live. Don't bother somebody else, and somebody else shouldn't bother you. ...
Your attraction to men, you say it wasn't an issue during your marriage. Had it been an issue at all before your marriage?
No. And maybe, I don't know -- again, it was more of a curiosity. After the marriage, it's kind of like, well, what's wrong with me? Why did this fail? Is there something wrong with me? What's going on here? And so, yeah.
Nobody seems willing to accept that.
I don't care. I really don't. None of their business. I could care less. It's between me and my conscience and God, and I really could care less what other people think about that. ...
A couple of questions about David Hahn. … You spent a lot of time with him; you were around him a lot. It seems that something was going on with him and some boys. Did you have any idea?
The incidents that have been reported happened after I left the sheriff's department. It happened toward the end of Dave's participation in the Scout troop. And no, I had no idea at all. I mean, just pure as the driven snow. This guy was [an] Army captain, wounded in Vietnam, war hero, Purple Heart. Ranked very high on the test to become a deputy sheriff. Was a golden boy in the department. Everybody looked up to him, thought he was the guy coming on.
I e-mailed and talked to a couple of people who worked with us in those days and asked them the same question: Did you ever have a clue? Did you ever know? They're like totally stunned, had no idea. Weren't even any rumors. It was, to the best of my knowledge, just a big surprise to me. If I'd known any of that was going on, or if I even suspected any of that was going on, I sure as hell wouldn't have had him work with me in the Scout troop. There's no way in hell. Just wouldn't happen.
Do you understand why so many people are suspicious, because you were so closely associated with him?
Look, this is incredible. Dave had his work life and his private life and his Scout life, OK? I knew him at work, and I knew him in scouting. I had no idea what he did the rest of the time. It wasn't any of my business. And he was perfectly appropriate at work, and he was perfectly appropriate, the best I could tell, in the position he had with the Scout troop. And had no idea. ...
What's the good of it? Why waste the energy? Why waste the emotional -- let that drain on you? People say I used to be angry, and maybe I was. ... I learned that if you carry anger in your heart -- and maybe getting cancer helped this, too -- but you carry anger in your heart, it just destroys you; it doesn't hurt anybody else. So why do it? It's like, not a big deal.
What's not a big deal?
Everything that's happened, it's not a big deal. I mean, not enough to be angry. Maybe enough to want to change things and maybe enough to want to do some things, but not enough to be angry about.
Wait a second. Your reputation has been sullied. Your career has been interrupted, if not terminated, in the town you love, for reasons you feel are largely erroneous. And you're saying that's not a big deal?
Well, it's not a big enough deal to be angry about, I mean, because again, it only hurts yourself; it doesn't hurt anybody else. It doesn't change things, and it doesn't allow you to have a clear enough head to deal with things. There are some people I'm incredibly disappointed in, some people I'd like to see leave this town. But I'm not angry, and I hold no ill will. In fact, I've asked God's forgiveness for them. ...
About the issue of the voters making this decision: This is anecdotal, but many people do feel the reason that they voted against you was not the allegations, but what you yourself admitted to doing. It was the inappropriateness of a man your age courting someone 19, 20 years old. Can you understand where they're coming from?
... Actually, in some not focus groups, but similar to focus groups, we got a message, particularly from women voters, because of the allegations of child molestation. How do you answer that charge? How do you answer that charge? And frankly, I can disprove it, but I have to get into a court of law for it to be accepted as disproof.
So you don't believe that --
No, I think it was part of it, but there were many issues. Look, there are people who voted against me because of their whole attitude about gays, whether I'm gay or not. There are people who voted against me because they got this daily pounding, daily pounding. The radio commentator, radio talk show host said, "We'll do anything we can to get this guy out of office." The newspaper dredging up stories, the same story over and over and over with a different slant -- that's a pretty massive campaign. If they had to declare those as campaign contributions, they'd be probably a $300,000 or $400,000 contribution between the radio station and the TV and the newspaper.
And of course the local TV stations, because they couldn't interview any of the newspaper sources, they basically followed the newspaper stories, so it just amplified it. You know, just here we go. It's this rush to judgment. It's why they burned women at the stake in Salem, Mass., in the 1600s. It's human nature, in a way. ...
SUPPORT PROVIDED BY
NEXT ON FRONTLINEGunned Down: The Power of the NRAEncore PresentationAugust 4th