By Sam Killay

It appears to be an unquestioned maxim of our local politics that Claremont needs to attract new residents and new businesses to bring new capital into our local economy. To that end, one hears a lot from our local officials about this being a welcoming community.

A thought. If we’re such a welcoming community as we hear all the time, why do our elected leaders work so anxiously to cultivate that image? If we’re actually so welcoming, shouldn’t it be self-evident?

It’s fair to ask how welcoming we really are when one picks up the newspaper to read about things like the Sullivan County GOP fundraising around a self-avowed bigot. Robert Spencer describes himself as “the good kind of islamophobe,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. Is that like being a nice Klansman? No such thing. So we’re clear on this, the guy defines HIMSELF as a purveyor of hate speech.

And SCGOP is fundraising on that? This wasn’t a case of some random intellectual slipping through the cracks of a dull Tuesday night lecture series. This Spencer event was a big deal, with tickets up to $100 a head. That’s really bad optics. It looks a lot like hate speech being made a pillar of the SCGOP platform. After all, SCGOP was expecting people to be excited enough to hear this anti-Muslim speaker that they’d shell out real money to hear his ideas.

Any wonder there’s a question of how welcoming we are? It’s not just about the one event. Several prominent members of the local GOP seem to have difficulty functioning in civil society. One of our GOP city councilors frequently posts nasty homophobic and islamophobic comments on Facebook. A GOP state rep goes around local social media attacking (with grammar that would be appalling in a 3rd grader) anyone who disagrees with his crabbed opinions on politics and religion. Sadly, yet another GOP state rep tried to normalize Spencer’s bigotry by dismissing as “alarmist” the opposition that swiftly formed when people learned that Claremont had been pegged as a haven for this hate speech event. This representative tried to smooth things over by explaining that this is Robert Spencer, not the infamous white supremacist Richard Spencer. Is that meant to be an improvement? It’s just one bigot traded for another.

That’s no exaggeration on my part. Again, Spencer describes himself as an islamophobe. Why would you defend that if you don’t want to end up tarred with the same brush?

This isn’t a Democrat/Republican thing. This is about basic decency. I’m pointing fingers squarely at the folks at SCGOP. In the broader community, I know lots of good people around here who are conservatives but would never agree with the behaviors and attitudes these elected officials have displayed. Problem is, these officials are the public face not just of their party locally, but of our entire city and region. In the cases previously mentioned, these politicians (mis)represent not just themselves, but all of us. When they go around espousing bigoted backwards ideas, they affect everyone. It’s a bad look for Claremont. We don’t need any more of that.

If decency doesn’t motivate you, then think of economics. We’re all in the same boat here: a rising tide could lift everyone. But that’s unlikely when the message being broadcast by the current SCGOP is clear: If you come to live here, you can expect to be demonized and harassed by local civic leadership for being different, for failing to conform. It’s definitely not in keeping with the welcoming image everybody says we want to project, in order to be considered an attractive destination by the outside world.

Sam Killay has lived in Claremont seven years. He is a frequent contributor to the Opinion page and also writes a weekly hiking column, The View from the Mountain.

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