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Rival political parties coexist at Washington County Fair

GOP, Dem booths separated by self-defense booth at annual event

PMG PHOTO: RYAN LACKEY - The Washington County Fair has an ironic booth lineup this year. Democrats on the left, republicans on the right, and a martial arts gym in between to keep the two parties in check.The large cows and the penned-in chickens weren't the ones who felt caught in the middle at the Washington County Fair last Friday. It was Marie Gilson, whose booth was sandwiched between the Republican Party on the right and the Democrats on the left. What made the spot especially ironic for Gilson, whose booth promoted martial arts studio Krav Maga Global NorthWest, is that she's a registered independent.

Krav maga is a system developed for the Israel Defense Forces that employs punches, kicks and other self-defense techniques.

“They haven't had to use our boxing gloves yet,” said Gilson. “We're actually having a blast. It's been so much fun hearing the comments from Democrats who say they can't vote for Hillary (Clinton), or Republicans who say, 'We're doomed.'”

Over at the Republican booth, volunteer Tracy Honl said the humor of the situation struck her as soon as the booths went up before the fair officially opened Thursday, July 28.

“It's definitely ironic for me,” she said. "I get a little kick out of it. A couple people walking by have pointed it out and laughed.”PMG PHOTO: RYAN LACKEY - Democrat Sorah Dubitsky hugs a Republican during the Washington County Fair on Friday.

The volunteers were out working for more than just laughs, though. Honl, a dedicated Republican who attended the Republican National Convention last week as a delegate for Donald Trump, said the real goal is outreach, trying to mobilize voters.

“It's time to balance out the power!” Honl said. “And it's good to get out here, smile, meet the neighbors.”

Apparently those neighbors didn't include her Democratic counterparts two doors down. Honl said the two parties' booths and volunteers really don't interact much at the fair, and don't cooperate on voting awareness.

But Sorah Dubitsky, a volunteer at the Democratic booth, figured she'd change that.

“I should go give them a hug,” Dubitsky said when asked about the parties' lack of interaction. “Democrats give hugs.”

Dubitsky promptly walked over and hugged a momentarily surprised Republican volunteer.

“There's no contention between us, the two parties,” said Democratic staffer Kathy Wnorowski. “Did they put the (martial arts) booth between us in case there's a fistfight?” she joked.

Indeed, even in the midst of a particularly vitriolic Presidential campaign, both sides noted that the conversations and responses from fairgoers had been almost entirely positive. Wnorowski said she couldn't recall a single negative comment, and Honl said there'd only been one or two.

“There's been some passionate people,” Honl said, “and we've gotten some comments on Trump. But everyone's been friendly.”

“We're not a contentious party,” said the democratic Dubitsky. “We're the party of inclusion.”

According to Gilson and her independent viewpoint, though, the parties still have a long way to go. The emotional, polarizing political atmosphere, she said, is turning many people off from being politically active at all.

“I've probably heard 35 to 40 percent of people saying they don't even want to vote,” said Gilson. “I believe we have a duty to vote, and I can remember when we worked together. If the public gets riled up, we can bring the parties back together again — bring the best of their values for the good of the American people.”

Gilson even slipped a few workout jokes into her plea for cooperation.

“Haven't we had enough bashing?” said Gilson, standing in her martial arts booth. “In krav maga, we teach people how to fight fair and only in self-defense. I think both parties should remember that.”