By Anna Lothson
Being a Republican in the liberal bastion of Oak Park isn't easy for those who are looking to vote red this election season.
Be it the harassment one Republican family felt after sharing their views via a large, handmade yard sign, the small crowd at an informal event held at Bar Louie Aug. 30 to watch the final night of the Republican National Convention, or the lack of funding Republican groups in Cook County can scrape together from its state and national affiliates — it's not easy.
Oak Park Township Republican Committeewoman Linda Tibensky has taken on the challenge and said the first obstacle is simply finding Republicans in Oak Park.
"We are putting together a group of Republicans in Oak Park," she said about the group's efforts from now until Election Day. "They are very small in numbers so we are trying to find out where they are. …We're trying to at least build spirit and commitment."
She said the biggest hurdle though is garnering funding for the activities to help recruit more active Republicans. Because Cook County has historically tilted heavily toward Democratic candidates, the state and national Republican Party apparatus won't fork out any money for the Oak Park group.
"The only money we have is the money we raise," Tibensky said.
The other challenge is the hostility local Republicans have felt. She said political sign damage has become a common situation. She finds that increasingly puzzling.
"I don't understand," she said," Why in our neighborhood? We're such a small group. I can't believe anyone would feel threatened by us."
Tibensky said each of those signs costs money and volunteers' time so she would like to see the behavior stop. She's heard from some who are afraid to put up signs for fear of retaliation.
"We live in a two-party system where two parties should be able to meet and discuss and share beliefs," she said.
In past elections she used to send out hundreds of invitations to events through a physical mailing list. The cost of that, however, was overwhelming and Tibensky now relies on an email list of about 50 people, which she hopes to expand.
Recruiting Republican election judges is another immediate challenge. Policy is to have both parties represented as election judges at polling places, but in Cook County that's not easy to achieve. The local party's goal is to have one Republican judge at each precinct in Oak Park Township this November.
Jim Bowman, an Oak Park resident and active Republican, said the most important thing is to remind people to get out and vote. This also means making sure Republicans are registered and know how and where to vote.
"That's not a new idea" he said, "but I think at this date I'd love to convert people left and right."
Traditional efforts like knocking on doors, making phone calls and holding informational events are all ways Bowman thinks the local GOP can make a difference.
He too is disappointed in the negative behavior of stealing and vandalizing political signs. Personally he'd like to see Oak Park Democrats speak out against the crimes and remind Oak Parkers that's not the way to do business.
"This is the first time I've been involved in an election of this kind," Bowman said. "I've dealt with many village and school board elections and none of which did I feel like the underdog as much as this."
Tibensky said there are plans in the works to have more fundraisers in the upcoming months. But all challenges aside, she and the rest of the Oak Park Township Republicans will be carrying on full speed through Nov. 6.
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