Margaret Hoover doesn’t buy the liberal media hype that Vice President Mike Pence is an anti-gay, apocalyptic bigot. Hoover is far more qualified to make that assessment than random Internet trolls who easily dismiss the former Indiana governor as a hateful homophobe. After all, she knows Pence and has worked with him on gay rights issues.
A Republican activist and a great-granddaughter of Herbert Hoover, America’s 31st President, Hoover is president of American Unity Fund (AUF), a non-profit organization for conservatives advancing LGBTQ rights. AUF was instrumental in helping pass gay marriage in states like New York and were visible proponents for the 2015 Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriage. AUF also hosted an event with Caitlyn Jenner, a high-profile transgender activist, at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
“I don’t subscribe to this idea that Mike Pence is Darth Vader in the White House for the LGBT community,” Hoover said in an interview with Bold. “I think we can work with Mike Pence.”
While governor of Indiana, Pence came under fire for signing SB 101, a bill meant to protect religious freedom that many said went too far by allowing discrimination against LGBT people.
“He signed a really bad law and we rewrote it with him, along with the [Indiana House] speaker and president of the Senate,” Hoover said. “We worked really closely with him. I don’t think anybody would say he’s not a savvy and pragmatic politician. He wouldn’t be re-elected if he wasn’t. Even though he’s personally very religious and not regularly exposed to openly LGBT people, ultimately there has to be a solution that balances religious freedoms with LGBT protections.”
Photo by Michael Vadon
After the landmark Supreme Court ruling protecting gay marriage, Hoover and her team focused on broadening LGBT protections, including a pending bipartisan bill endorsed by dozens of religious groups that seeks to balance both religious protections with LGBT rights.
“Since marriage is now legal, what we’re trying to do with AUF is to secure LGBT rights in 29 states where you can be fired for being LGBT, kicked out of your home, denied housing, financial assistance or loans, jury duty,” she said. “That’s the end game, through legislation. We’d like Congress to act.”
Beyond LGBTQ rights, Hoover has been a wide-ranging advocate for interpreting conservative principles in a modern context, including in her 2011 book, “American Individualism: How A New Generation of Conservatives Can Save the Republican Party.” The book tackles issues that made it difficult for young people to connect with the GOP, including the Iraq War, which was launched during the Republican George W. Bush administration. Millennial pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson found that dissatisfaction among young people with the Iraq War was a major factor that drove young people against the GOP in 2006 midterm elections and then solidified Barack Obama’s election in 2008.
“Some of my best friends didn’t talk with me for four years,” Hoover said. “We went through a chilling just because those [Iraq War] years were so insane.”
Though originally from Pittsburgh, Hoover considers herself from Denver, Colorado, where she felt an affinity for the Big Skies individualism of the West, ingraining in her a libertarian and conservative ethos.
“At my heart, I’m a Western conservative,” she said. “The one that believes that the best government is the government that governs the least. Now living in a big city, where government is everywhere, that’s sort of moderated somewhat of a more extreme position. But I think the core, consistent thread of my political philosophy is that individuals can make the best decisions for themselves.”
After college at Bryn Mawr, where she was the only self-identified Republican until her senior year, Hoover said she was troubled by the lack of ideological diversity, a problem plaguing college campuses today. Hoover said she couldn’t wait to get out of college, more interested in real-world problems than an academic bubble.
“I consider New York home now, more than a decade later, and it takes a decade to be able to call yourself from New York,” she said. “When I first got here, I was a wide eyed, starry-eyed kid in a candy shop. Within a decade, I was married and committed to raising children here.”
In Manhattan, Hoover landed a regular spot on Fox News as a cultural panelist sparring on The O’Reilly Factor. She moved on from Fox to join CNN as a contributor. Recently, she wrote about Bill O’Reilly’s sexual harassment scandal that ushered in the of The Factor.
“O’Reilly never sexually harassed me, but there were unforgettable moments elsewhere at Fox,” Hoover said. “Weirdly, O’Reilly was really my sanctuary at Fox News. I also made a point of never being alone with him. I also made a point of making sure I would never feel vulnerable around him. Early in my career, I had been sexually harassed [at a law firm overseas in Taipei, Taiwan]. There should be basic workplace education for women, what’s appropriate and what’s not. I learned from that experience to be very careful about workplace situations with men who are more interested in me than in what my junior credentials merit.”
Hoover said a lifelong passion of hers is to educate the public and exonerate her great-grandfather’s memory, a goal she fights for on the board of overseers at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank housed on the campus of Stanford University. She said she regularly encountered anti-Herbert Hoover bias as a schoolgirl.
“The textbooks were equally vitriolic in the 90s, though now from time to time textbooks will explain his humanitarian accomplishments,” Hoover said. “The explicit teaching was that he did nothing about [The Great Depression] and that many, many people suffered because of him. I learned to fight things I disagreed with academically then. I did reports and work to educate my peers and my teachers as early as 7th grade, 8th grade, 9th grade and high school.”
Will Hoover enter the family business and run for office? Hoover, a mother of two young children, said one thing she admires about U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif.), who served was that she didn’t seek office until her fifth and youngest child was in high school.
“I truly don’t know if I’ll ever run,” Hoover said. “But I also have a lot to do first. I don’t know, I think the good time to think about it is in 15 years. I don’t believe in a plan. Plans are for God’s laughter. I know that I have an inclination toward service and democracy. I really do believe in life in there’s serving, earning and learning. On a loop, lots of ways to execute.”
“I think some people seek glory before they have contributed anything to their surroundings,” she said. “Public service really is public service. You’re’ offering your skills to the public. And that should be done after you’ve achieved something else worthwhile. Because then you’re really helping. You can serve a higher and better purpose with a skillet honed and developed through life and experiences, and then you’re better positioned to serve. Go do something. Go build something. Go make something. And be involved. Parachuting in, sadly, the unfortunate reality is, especially in our national politics.”
If she could talk to her younger self, Hoover said she’d offer this advice: relax.
“The thing that surprised me most in my life was the amount of energy spent agonizing about where I would get to, where I wanted to be,” Hoover said. “I have a long way to go, but my path hasn’t disappointed me, and I don’t know if the anxiety propelled me. I don’t think it’s gotten in my way, but I do think it’s easy when you’re a young person to worry that you’ll get to where you want to go. Even if it’s not a pointedly articulated point, you always get there, is what I’ve found. So I wouldn’t have worried as much.”
Photo by Michael Vadon
Carrie Sheffield is the founder of Bold. She is passionate about storytelling to empower and connect others. A founding POLITICO reporter, Carrie contributed on political economy at Forbes and wrote editorials for The Washington Times. After earning a master’s in public policy from Harvard University, she managed credit risk at Goldman Sachs and researched for Edward Conard, Bain Capital founding partner and American Enterprise Institute scholar. She earned a B.A. in communications at Brigham Young University and completed a Fulbright fellowship in Berlin.