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The window of the Athens County Board of Elections office, 15 S. Court St. (FILE)

Conservatives face challenges when expressing their views in Athens

In Athens, a historically Democratic stronghold and one of only seven counties in Ohio that voted for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, conservatives often feel apprehensive about expressing their views.

Abe Alassaf, a longtime conservative political candidate and Ohio University graduate, said some conservatives around Athens fear “political retribution” if they express their views.

“I know people that run prominent businesses in Athens that privately support conservative ideals and Republican ideals, but they don't want any part of it,” Alassaf said. “A lot of their clientele are people from Athens who do not support those views. They don't want to have it hurt their business. You don't want to mix politics and business, especially when you're a minority among an opposite majority.”

Alassaf said he had personally experienced job discrimination based on his outspoken views. 

“I was actually denied working for a local brokerage in Athens because the broker considered me politically vociferous,” he said. “I didn't get hired, even though he'd said he thought that I would do pretty well, just because of my political outspokenness, which didn't align with his. You're very much discriminated against for being a conservative, and then the ones who are conservatives don't want to come out because they'll experience that, as well.” 

Alassaf said another reason conservatives don’t express their views is the Republican Party’s poor track record of winning elections in Athens — failures he blames on the Republican Party’s unwillingness to reach out to younger voters. 

“The party is very stuck in its ways,” Alassaf said. “It needs to appeal to the youth. We've failed miserably at that locally.”

No Republicans serve in elected positions in the City of Athens, and three Republicans hold offices at the county level: County Auditor Jill Thompson and two Common Pleas Court Judges, George McCarthy and Robert Stewart. 

Ryan Evans, the president of the OU College Republicans, said people tend to group all conservatives into a single ideology. 

"There are members of our organization who are pro-life and there are members who are pro-choice," Evans said. "There are members of our organization who are pro-legalization and those who are not. There's many, many, many issues out there, and we have multiple sides on these issues, and they're very complex. “

Former College Republicans President David Parkhill said he thinks conservatives on campus and around Athens keep quiet for fear of false labeling. 

“People are just afraid of being labeled a racist or a Nazi or a homophobe,” Parkhill said.  “All the typical social aspects of the party that a lot of young conservatives don't even necessarily buy into.”

Evans said the College Republicans have been talking with the OU College Democrats and the LGBT Center recently and encouraged students with conservative ideals to vocalize them. The two groups will meet with the LGBT Center for "Pizza and Politics," an event to discuss political issues, on Sept. 21 from 6-8 p.m. in Walter Hall.

“Don't be afraid to be yourself,” Evans said. “Don't be afraid to come out and talk about the issues that matter to you. You can try to be apolitical, in the middle or apathetic about it, but these issues are directly affecting you, and if you don't come out and say it, who will?”

@leckronebennett

bl646915@ohio.edu

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