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Confessions of a young conservative

BY ANDREW GROSSMAN

Published September 24, 2006

Morgan Wilkins will not make out with you if you recruit 10 volunteers for Republican campaign efforts.

Wilkins - a field organizer dispatched to Michigan to rally college students - created a group on Facebook.com promising to make out with anyone who brought her 10 volunteers.

Wilkins, a student at the University of Louisville, said the group was a joke.

The College Republican National Committee wasn't amused. The organization fired her on Friday.

The creation of the Facebook group was the final straw for the CRNC. The national committee put Wilkins on probation on Sept. 12 when she told The Michigan Daily that she wanted to plan recruiting events where participants would shoot BB guns at cardboard cutouts of Democratic leaders like John Kerry and try to catch someone posing as an illegal immigrant.

The suggestions prompted an outcry from both Republicans and Democrats, including the University chapters of the College Republicans and College Democrats. Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman and Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean also condemned Wilkins's ideas.

Wilkins's superiors banned her from working on the University campus when she held up a sign at a Sept. 17 rally on the Diag for Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) that said "Debbie kills babies" - a reference to Stabenow's support for abortion rights.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Wilkins said her experiences have strengthened her anti-abortion stance. She got pregnant at age 15. Wilkins said she could have ended the pregnancy for $500.

"The first thing that came to mind: If I get $500, no one has to know," Wilkins said. "I go to high school, I go to college, I get into a sorority. I'm a normal girl. I've always wanted to be a lawyer; I've always wanted to work in D.C."

But she chose to have the child.

"My son has got a personality, he likes certain things, he doesn't like certain things, he thinks certain things are funny," she said. "Just because things are hard you don't kill a kid, a human being with likes and dislikes."

Wilkins said deciding against having an abortion probably helped cement her conservatism.

"Had I had that abortion, I would have probably been forced to be a liberal in order to live with myself," she said. "I would have had to surround myself with a group of people that told me that was OK."

That's only part of the roller coaster of events that led her to Michigan.

As a child, Wilkins lived a comfortable life in Lexington, Ky.

"I went from the perfect Christian home, leader of my Bible study in middle school - we never missed church," she said "Everybody kind of looked up to us as the perfect conservative Christian home."

Her life got complicated when Wilkins was 14 and her parents divorced. She and her mother moved in with her mother's boyfriend in Louisville, Ky. Forced to go to high school in a new town and still reeling from her parents' split, Wilkins was adrift. She found a boyfriend who had spent time in juvenile detention and abused drugs. She stole cocaine from her mother and began using it herself.

At 15, Wilkins moved into an apartment with her boyfriend. At first, because of her age, she could only find a job bagging groceries. She later worked in a pizza parlor, then as a hostess in a restaurant. Later that year, Wilkins did her first stint in drug rehabilitation.

After having the baby, Wilkins was working 40 hours a week, going to school and taking care of her son. She maintained a grade point average of 4.0 throughout high school, she said.

Wilkins said she stayed off cocaine during the pregnancy and immediately afterward, but relapsed when her boyfriend went to prison on a drug charge.

"After he got sent to prison, I just went back," she said. "I don't know what caused it. I'm just sitting there one day; I haven't talked to my drug buddies in years."

Not knowing how to contact her former friends, Wilkins opened the phone book.

"I just open it up and I find the first person I think that might have it," she said.

That person did have cocaine, and Wilkins was soon addicted again. She held onto her son, but her grandparents, whom she said both have felonies on their records relates to protesting abortion clinics, helped care for him.

Throughout her addiction, Wilkins clung to the Christian conservatism she was raised with.

"Most druggie people are liberals, so I'd always be stuck in a room with a bunch of liberals," she said. "No matter what state I was in in my life, I knew the conservative policies were the correct ones."

Soon, she began to lose her grip on life. Strung out and out of cash, Wilkins turned to her family. She went back to rehab but was back on drugs soon after she got out.

After prodding from family friends, Wilkins started going to church and rediscovered the Christianity of her youth. Around age 18, her life slowly began to change again.

Wilkins broke up with her boyfriend and went to community college, where she wrote for the newspaper and joined the College Republicans. She took care of her son.

This summer, Wilkins was hired by the CRNC to travel to Michigan as a field representative and recruit student volunteers for Republican campaigns. She said she recruited 450 new College Republicans around the state. Her 3-year-old son is staying with her grandparents in Kentucky.

But Wilkins clashed with the University's chapter of the College Republicans. Rob Scott, the group's chair, sought to distance his group from Wilkins after she proposed "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day" and the Democratic target practice, which she called "Fun with Guns."

Wilkins never carried through with the plans, but the University's chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, a group further to the right than the College Republicans, has adopted "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day."

When Scott found out that Wilkins was at the Democratic rally with her "Debbie kills babies" sign, he called her and asked her to leave. Later, he called the CRNC.

"I asked them to make it clear to her why her role on our campus had to change," Scott said. "And to make it clear that there were certain types of events that she wasn't going to be able to attend either unofficially or officially."

The CRNC responded by telling Wilkins to stay away from the University. Wilkins thought the University's College Republicans had caved to pressure from those who decried her ideas.

"The U of M College Republicans are a bunch of appeasers," she said. "They have this na've outlook on the world that we can work together with the Democrats and la la la things will happen. But working together with the Democrats doesn't mean hiding in some closet and not offending anybody. That's not what we do."

Scott disagreed, saying Wilkins's confrontational style has no place at the University.

"Our public statements about it are pretty clear. Those events undermined the goals of our group," he said. "Those events were not appropriate for our campus."

The CRNC did not return calls for comment yesterday.

Wilkins said she plans to return to Kentucky after November's midterm elections to run for statewide chair of the College Republicans.

Wilkins is confident that despite the publicity she has generated, she will be able to find a job on the campaign trail in Michigan this fall.

She said the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, a group working to ban some forms of affirmative action in the state, had offered her a job. MCRI campaign manager Doug Tietz denied making an offer. Wilkins said she has had other interviews with campaigns in Michigan but refused to name them.

Wilkins said her tumultuous past should make her more attractive to employers, not less.

"I want to have a life in politics, and people have said you can't with your record," she said. "If anything, it shows that I can overcome stuff, that I can put my money where my mouth is on a lot of things because I've been to hell and back. I'm not just saying this stuff because it was piped into me from my parents."


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