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Gary Cole is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., where he was a philosophy major and "an indifferent quarter-miler."

Cole co-founded CoHo Productions with Bob Holden, a schoolteacher. Lori Hardwick, Sen. Gordon Smith's chief fundraiser, sat on the board of CoHo.

Cole wrote Body Hold, the story of an expatriate Brit caught in a Third World revolution and the first play CoHo produced. He later led the fundraising effort to build a permanent home for CoHo, which has produced 17 plays.

Besides Poona the Fuckdog, plays StageDirect ([link] ) has filmed include The Magnificent Welles, a critically acclaimed take on Orson Welles, and Haint, the story of a Tennessee town haunted by a ghost. The company has sold about 500 copies of Poona, which retails for $19.95.

StageDirect's films of Poona, Straight and Welles played on consecutive evenings at Cinema 21 in the summer of 2002.

Tony Chauveaux, a lawyer and director of the Texas Arts Commission, ultimately got the NEA grants job on Sept. 30, 2004. The NEA has an annual budget of $121 million.

The Chicago Reader published a briefer version of Cole's story on Sept. 28, 2004.

"Gary is a remarkably gifted individual who I believe would be a tremendous asset to your team," wrote Sen. Gordon Smith to NEA Chairman Dana Gioia on May 2, 2003.


Gary Cole found out the hard way that Republican politics and fringe theater don't mix.


njaquiss at wweek.com

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desire to return to the East Coast. "I'd had enough of Portland," says Amy Cole, who stayed at home with the couple's two children.

In March 2003, Cole decided to explore running for Oregon's 1st District congressional seat, held by three-term incumbent David Wu, a Democrat.

Cole figured he could draw on a decade of contacts, and if successful, retain his ties to Portland while getting his family back to Washington.

At the time, no Republican had announced plans to oppose Wu. (Goli Ameri is the current challenger.) And though Cole had never run for office, he was well-known to party insiders, having worked on Bush's and Gordon Smith's campaigns and other races.

The seat was clearly up for grabs. Oregon's 1st District is a swing district, nearly evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. Since 1974, when Republicans lost the seat after nearly a century, the GOP has searched in vain for a moderate challenger.

Wu had squeaked narrowly into office in 1998 and faced only token opposition in 2000 and 2002. "Wu had $1 million in the bank, but he seemed vulnerable," says Cole, whose pro-choice stance would negate one of Wu's biggest advantages.

In March 2003, Cole met with Dan Lavey, a close friend and leading Republican political strategist, and Lavey's wife, Lori Hardwick, who is U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith's chief fundraiser. The couple's association with Smith and ties to the president make them the go-to couple for Oregon Republican office-seekers.

Email exchanges among the three show that Lavey and Hardwick took Cole seriously.

"See Dan's message about getting together next Tuesday 3:00-5:00 in his office to brainstorm about initial political meetings in both DC and back here," Hardwick wrote Cole on March 12, 2003. "You'll see a proposal from me in a couple of days."

Cole was ready. "The message I took away from my conversations with you and Dan is that Wu can be beaten and that I would have a reasonable shot in taking him on," he wrote to Hardwick in a message the same day.

Cole was to fly to Washington in late March to meet with consultants there. A positive review could lead to backing from the national Republican Party.

Lavey passed along Cole's résumé, including a link to StageDirect's website, so the Washington consultants could familiarize themselves with him, Cole says.

But on March 18, when Cole went to Lavey's office, he got bad news: Lavey told Cole he could not expect support from the Republican establishment.

The problem, Cole says, was not Cole's inexperience, his advocacy of abortion rights or his lack of name recognition but, according to Lavey, two plays that StageDirect had filmed in Portland: One was called Straight. The other: Poona the Fuckdog.

Straight is a one-man play that pokes fun at the notion that homosexuals can be converted to heterosexuality. In a 2000 review of the play, the Los Angeles Times said the play "exacts sweet revenge" with "wit, style and a touch of naughtiness."

Poona, said the Chicago Tribune in a 1999 review, "is a wicked and funny adult parody of children's stories...that attacks materialism and political passivity, makes a plea for artistic freedom, satirizes contemporary conservative mores and worries about the encroachment of technology." One of the lead characters in Poona is a singing "fairy god penis."

Cole had neither written, acted in, nor directed the plays. His company had filmed them, however, which was enough for the Republican Party.

Today, Lavey downplays Cole's aborted congressional bid, saying it was simply idle speculation between friends. But it wasn't the last time Poona would end up taking a bit out of Cole's professional aspirations.

With Congress crossed off his list, Cole was still looking for a ticket out of Portland. "I talked to Lavey and [Gordon Smith's chief of staff] John Easton and said, 'What about a presidential appointment?'"

A government publication called The Plum Book lists about 7,000 positions the president fills at his discretion ("plum" refers to the color of the book's cover, not the choiceness of the jobs available).

The jobs range from the plummest--such as serving as ambassador to New Zealand, a prize Portlander Butch Swindells won for his fundraising success ...


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Originally published on WEDNESDAY, 10/20/2004

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