By MAX FILBY
Flag City may not always be a friendly place for Democrats, but they haven’t felt unsafe in their own community, until now.
Volunteers working at the Democratic booth at the Hancock County Fair last week said they were insulted, called names, and in some cases harassed so much they felt threatened or physically intimidated.
“You’d see that at a (Donald) Trump rally,” said volunteer Doris Mapier. “This is exactly why we’re beginning to feel threatened for our safety.”
Mapier had a Hancock County sheriff’s deputy escort her to her car after her shift at the booth was over.
Deputies also more regularly patrolled the area where the Democratic booth was located, after volunteers reported some of the harassment, both Mapier and Hancock County Democratic Chairwoman Nancy Stephani said.
“They were fine with that,” Stephani said. “Sheriff’s deputies would much rather do that than later have to take a report on an assault.”
Both Mapier and Stephani suggested some of the behavior they saw is the result of what Trump has said and done on the campaign trail. The antagonists at the fair “made it clear” that they were Trump supporters, Mapier said.
“I think he’s tapping into the bullies,” Stephani said of Trump.
Stephani and Mapier are part of the political minority in Hancock County. No Democrats occupy an elected city office, and just one Democrat, Judge Reginald Routson, holds an elected position in county government.
While Stephani and Mapier said they always get some flak for being Democrats, they’ve received much more recently, primarily at the fair.
One man approached the Democratic booth when Mapier was working, pointed at a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton and said, “I’d like to burn that.” Visitors also vandalized the cutout, putting Donald Trump stickers on it throughout fair week.
Stephani and Mapier said some parents would not let their kids take an American flag or candy from the Democrats, as if those items were somehow “poisoned” by their political affiliation.
While walking past the Democratic booth, some fairgoers also covered their eyes so they did not have to look at them, volunteers said.
One volunteer, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke about a confrontation she had with a man who called Clinton “pond scum.”
The man yelled that Clinton was going to take away his Second Amendment rights. The volunteer said she attempted to diffuse the situation and said, “Thank you for your opinion.”
“He pointed at me and said, ‘That’s not my opinion, stupid. That’s the Constitution,'” the volunteer said.
Upon returning to her car in the fair parking lot, Mapier found it vandalized.
Mapier has an “Obamacare” bumper sticker on her car. When she approached the car, she realized somebody had written the word “idiot” over the sticker.
The hostility local Democrats have faced recently has extended beyond the fairgrounds.
Stephani reported that the party was looking for a place to lease for an election office and was turned down five times, a few because of politics and others because of rent prices. Stephani said Democrats didn’t have such a hard time finding an office to rent in 2012 or 2008.
Yard signs supporting Clinton have also come up missing. Stephani said she knows of at least eight people who have had their signs stolen in the past several weeks.
“I’m telling them that when they get stolen to make a police report,” Stephani said. “That’s people walking on your property and taking something that belongs to you.”
When Clinton signs are stolen, supporters can replace them by coming to the Hillary for America headquarters on North Main Street.
It’s the same thing Hancock County Republican Chairman Jim Baker is telling Trump supporters when their signs disappear — get new signs at GOP headquarters.
While some of Baker’s fellow Republicans have had signs stolen, he said they haven’t reported being harassed like Democrats were at the fair. Baker said he had not heard about how the Democrats were treated at the fair before Thursday.
“We don’t encourage any of this,” Baker said.
Baker said he encourages local Republicans to avoid “saying anything inflammatory” since they dominate local politics anyway. He said he considers Stephani a friend, he’s friends with several Democrats, and said his own mother is a Democrat.
“That’s not what democracy is all about,” Baker said of harassment. “It shouldn’t be done to anybody, and it shouldn’t be done to the Democrats.”