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San Francisco's Anti-GOP Pogrom By: Justin Jouvenal
San Mateo County Times | Friday, September 10, 2004

Fireman John Darminin has charged into burning buildings, but said his hottest assignment was serving in union leadership as a Republican.

The Redwood City resident and former director of the San Francisco Firefighters Union Local 798 said the union ordered him to remove a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker from his car in 2000 and to take down his Web site that was critical of liberal San Francisco politicians.

And those were just some of the many attacks on his conservative political beliefs that have left him bitter.

"I thought I was back in the Soviet Union," Darminin said.

The Bay Area prides itself on its openness and acceptance, but many local Republicans said they have been met with intense hostility for their political beliefs. They said they've endured everything from rude remarks to threats and physical violence.

Some said the McCarthy-era paranoia about Communists aptly describes how they often feel.

"There's a lot of teachers out there that are closet Republicans because they are so afraid if they say anything in their workplace, they will be retaliated against," said Karen King, the chair of the County's Republican Party. "That's the ugliness that I would like to get rid of. At the end of the day, I'd like to think the opposition believes in free speech as well."

Jennifer Kerns, a spokeswoman for Republican Assembly candidate Steve Poizner's campaign, said trying to register voters as Republicans in San Mateo County can be a depressing -- or even dangerous -- activity.

"One person had hot coffee thrown on him. Others have had registration forms torn up or kicked off tables. They've also been called racial slurs," Kerns said of voter-registration workers.

Harold Hoogasian, a Republican who owns a chain of flower stores in San Francisco, recalled the chilly reception he got when he ran for the city's Board of Supervisors in the early '90s. The office is non-partisan.

He said he appeared before San Francisco's Democratic Central Committee to try to get their endorsement, but he was interrupted midway through his presentation by a committee member.

"Mr. Hoogasian, are you a Republican?" he remembers being asked. When Hoogasian answered yes, the committee member replied: "We don't need to hear any more from you."

Hoogasian believes the negative atmosphere toward Republicans in San Francisco and San Mateo counties has caused many voters, who would identify themselves as conservatives, to register as independents. In San Mateo County, 20 percent of voters are so registered.

Darminin believes Republicans would face more abuse if they were more vocal about their politics.

"There would be a lot more incidents if the Republicans wore their party on their sleeve," Darminin said. "But once we leave that volunteer environment of the Republican headquarters, you don't want to talk about being Republican."

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