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County Hall Corner: Facing Friends and Fanatics at the Fair

My wife Debbie and I went to the Lycoming County Fair on Thursday, July 13th. We arrived at 4:00 p.m., just as the gates were opening, and got the best parking spot imaginable. Of course, there was not much going on that early, but we didn’t mind. The weather was perfect as we walked around the track, and it did not seem such a long walk as we were entertained by the trainers preparing their horses.

Our purpose was not just to take in the sights and sounds of this iconic fair but to host the Lycoming County Republican Party booth. It consisted of two tables colorfully decorated with a bright red cover with election materials for a number of local as well as state offices, highlighted with little flags in decorative holders scattered about the tables. On the wall behind the tables were over a dozen signs for those running for those offices, even including school directors for the various school districts.

Debbie and I have been doing this for the past few years and have found the experience quite compelling. A person or a couple could wander all over the fair and not really engage anyone outside of a vendor or recognizing a friend. The political tables (yes, the Democratic Party also had one opposite the pavilion from the Republican Party) are a place where people who are unknown to one another can stop and talk.

Those four hours on that Thursday were quite entertaining and enlightening. We had friends that recognized us and came over to say hello. We had various public officials stop by as well, such as Lycoming County Treasurer Cindy Newcomer and also Pennsylvania Senator Gene Yaw and his District Director Matt Wise. They were all encouraging, and we were pleased with their company.

But what we enjoyed the most were the random folks who came by, each one with their own unique story. There was one man who looked like he was of retirement age and had a tee shirt with a particularly provocative message on the front. When I asked what his point was in wearing it, he felt compelled to explain to us all the problems with the government since the time of the Caesars. There was another elderly man who wore an Air Force hat, which I quickly acknowledged as I also served in that branch of service. What was very unusual was that the hat was from Shemya Air Force Base, Alaska. I was intrigued because when I was in the USAF back in the 1980s, Shemya was considered the worst assignment possible. Screw up, and you would get shipped out to Shemya. It was a two-mile by four-mile island with weather that had two seasons, winter and the fourth of July. It has closed as an active Air Force Station for thirty years now, and I was very curious why he was wearing a hat acknowledging his service there. He proceeded to tell me a thousand reasons why he hated the place. He never did get around to explaining why he was wearing the hat.

But despite these somewhat eccentric folks, we met some wonderful people who gave us a little glimpse of the concerns of the average person engaged in politics. Most of the people who came by simply wanted to thank us for being there. When we asked what they were most concerned about, a surprising number said they were very afraid for the future. Those who had a particular concern mentioned election integrity more than anything else, which, if true, is quite surprising as, historically, economic and security issues are the primary concerns of the average voter.

Probably the highlight of our stint that evening was the four teenage girls who reluctantly came up to our table. Debbie noticed them looking at our booth as they walked by and greeted them, which then developed into a short chat. None of them were old enough to vote, yet they all seemed to understand its importance. In those few minutes, Debbie encouraged them to get involved in local politics. I could see that those young people knew they needed to become more engaged, as this would impact their future. It seemed like the wheels were moving in their heads if only a little.

That very brief encounter gave me hope. Yes, there is a lot of anguish and disgruntlement among those with a conservative bent to their politics. Yet, those freedoms that we cherish are not unique to our age but desired by every generation in one way or another.

And it has been this way since the very founding of our nation. When Benjamin Franklin was leaving the Congressional Convention in 1787, he was asked by a lady, “Sir, do we have a Republic?” He answered simply, “Yes, Ma’am, if you can keep it.”