One gets the sense that Michael Huffington is still, all these years later, trying to set the record straight:
He is not homosexual, as journalist David Brock so famously reported in the January 1999 issue of Esquire. He is bisexual. "I love women," he says. "And I love men."
The former Republican congressman, who represented Santa Barbara from 1992 to 1994, says he did not squander $30 million of his family's fortune in his failed Senate bid against Democrat Dianne Feinstein in 1994. "That was my money. I'd earned my first million dollars by the time I was 29." And contrary to what Brock wrote, he says, he was not happy that he lost the tightly fought race. "I was devastated."
But most important, he claims, he never, ever told Brock he might be a Democrat.
"That's just ridiculous," he says. "I have always been a Republican. And I always will be."
For the first time, Huffington is stepping into the national spotlight on behalf of a gay cause. Incensed that President Bush has thrown his weight behind a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, Huffington is helping to fund and promote a campaign against it. After a speech at last weekend's annual convention of Log Cabin Republicans -- the nation's most prominent organization of gay Republicans -- he chatted Saturday for 40 minutes about his decision to come forward, his disappointment in Bush and the peace he has now that he is out of the closet.
The matter is particularly painful for the lanky 56-year-old Huffington, a former Texas banker and oilman who has a long history with the Bush family, having worked for the president's father when George H.W. Bush was a congressman. He also goes way back with presidential advisor Karl Rove, whom many Log Cabin members vilified during the three-day convention here as the person responsible for pushing the president to embrace the proposed constitutional amendment.
"I had not planned to get involved with this political issue because I am the old generation," says Huffington, who has donated $200,000 to the Log Cabin campaign, whose centerpiece is a 30-second TV spot featuring footage of Vice President Dick Cheney calmly stating that the federal government should not regulate relationships.
"I'm the generation that said marriage is for a man and woman," Huffington says. "But all that changed dramatically this year. I feel very strongly, and I want to speak out publicly as much as necessary to defeat this amendment, which is mean-spirited, will do nothing to save traditional marriage and will lock the hands of people in future generations from joining together in matrimonial bliss."
Huffington, who lives in Los Angeles, was famously married to the Brentwood author and syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington from 1986 to 1997. His critics often suggested she was the brains behind his political career. At one point last summer, during the gubernatorial recall, the tantalizing prospect of both Huffingtons running was briefly dangled before the electorate. Michael took out papers but never filed them. Arianna ran but threw in the towel before election day. The recall, in fact, sparked one of two public spats the Huffingtons have engaged in when Michael implied that Arianna was guilty of bad parenting for running against the wishes of their two daughters.
(The other spat turned on whether Arianna knew her husband's sexual history when they married. He claims he told her he was bisexual and she responded that she accepted it as long as he remained faithful to her. "When I told her, she said, 'Dahling, I'm Greek. We invented it!' Now she denies that," he says.)
In an e-mail from Philadelphia, where she is on tour for her new book, "Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America," Arianna Huffington wrote, "For the sake of our children, I have made it a point since the end of our marriage -- going on seven years now -- not to comment in public about Michael. I wish he would do the same. I cannot imagine how he thinks making these kinds of comments can be good for our children."
For his part, Brock said Monday from Washington that Huffington had specifically asked him to write the Esquire story. Although the magazine's editors did not respect Huffington's request that the word "gay" not appear in the headline, said Brock, he "didn't dispute the accuracy with me or with Esquire five years ago. I can't speak to his feelings about the particulars five years later. Beyond that, I wish him well."
Since he came out in 1998, Huffington, who lives on the Westside, has kept a relatively low-profile life. He dabbled in movie producing. He created the Archangel Michael foundation, with a $6-million endowment, which last year made grants to Crossroads School, the UCLA medical school and Stanford University. He said he is also working with Washington, D.C., attorney Alan Gerson as a congressional liaison on a $15-trillion lawsuit against alleged Al Qaeda financiers (including members of the Saudi royal family) filed in 2002 on behalf of relatives of 9/11 victims.
This year, Huffington has made something of a splash in business circles for a dispute he is having with Bombardier Inc., a Canadian aircraft manufacturer. Several years ago, Huffington ordered a $38-million Global Express business jet from Bombardier. When the manufacturer delivered a jet that had been hit by lightning during a test flight, Huffington refused to accept it, despite the company's assurances that any damage had been repaired. Huffington, who is a shareholder, has asked the company to create a "customer code of ethics and satisfaction." According to news reports, the issue will be raised at the company's annual meeting on June 1 in Montreal. Meanwhile, he still does not have a jet.
What Huffington seems to want to talk about most, as he sits on a hotel patio here dressed casually in a beige shirt and khaki pants, is his spiritual journey. He was raised Presbyterian, then became Episcopalian at 38. Finally, after visiting Istanbul in 1996, he converted to the Greek Orthodox Church. "I found a sense of peace in the church," he says. He visits Greece frequently -- that was his primary reason for wanting to purchase a jet -- and donates money to the restoration of monasteries there. He also devotes time and money to his adopted church, St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Los Angeles. He says he lives simply, is celibate and sees his daughters, Christina, 14, and Isabella, 12, almost every day. "I have no [business] cards. No secretary. No drivers." (On this point, he can't resist a dig at his ex: "Arianna has all that. Compliments of child support.")
His children and ex-wife long ago accepted his decision to come out, he says. When the subject of gay marriage came up at Isabella's summer camp last year, "none of the kids had a problem with it.
"It's my generation that has a problem with it. Twenty years from now, 10 years from now, this won't be an issue."