Sometime around the beginning of my freshman year, I, along with 40,000 of my closest friends, received an e-mail from Sara Mikolajczak, the ex-chair of College Republicans.
It encouraged me to come see David Horowitz speak at the Wisconsin Union as a part of Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, to learn about radical Muslims and how they “murder women, Christians, Jews, and homosexuals simply because they are women, Christians, Jews, or homosexuals.” It had big red letters, too.
The e-mail sparked my interest, and my Jewish roommate, a fan of Horowitz, talked me into going. Those there remember what a spectacle it was.
Arab-American students lined up at the microphone and started reaming into Horowitz for being a racist, moderates and liberals criticized him for doing more harm than good, and no real question seemed to be asked or answered.
Horowitz’s responses could be best explained as a series of chuckles and sentences along the lines of “The left… blah, blah, blah” and “Liberals… blah, blah, blah.” At one point Horowitz even told a guy who was reading something off his website that he can’t read.
It was, needless to say, a pretty absurd introduction to my career in campus politics. And it showed what Mikolajczak failed to realize in her reign as queen of College Republicans: Social issues, especially certain things related to race and gender, are too damn divisive on this campus to be the focus of a conservative group.
Mikolajczak had her beliefs. And without consulting anyone else in her organization she would give these beliefs to the campus newspapers, effectively causing students to mistakenly believe all members of College Republicans, and even the Republican Party in general, were as crazy as Sara.
Perhaps the most infamous moment was in November 2007 when she told former Herald reporter Ken Harris that Hillary Clinton would be a bad choice for president because women are not well respected in Iraq. I don’t need to say anything beyond that.
And then there were the moments where she would act as if the entire city of Madison was out to crucify the Republican Party.
In fall 2008, the group brought Robert Spencer to speak on campus. Spencer is a member of the David Horowitz Freedom Center and a stanch supporter of Horowitz’s beliefs. Given the push back from campus following the Horowitz speech, it seemed ridiculous to many, myself included, that College Republicans would support a similar event. But again a campuswide e-mail was sent out, and the queen got some negative responses.
“I’ve been getting e-mails comparing me to Hitler, e-mails commenting on the CRs in general, e-mails saying the entire Republican Party is racist, sexist, homophobic,” Mikolajczak told me when I was campus editor. “You know, the usual stuff I get from people on campus.”
Yes, Sara, it’s the usual stuff you get. But there are plenty of reasonable Republicans on campus who voted for McCain, have problems with the stimulus and maybe even hate Obama and like George Bush. But these people, for the most part, do not promote “Islamo-Fascism awareness” and don’t tow a near-militant line on social issues. Guess what? They don’t get compared to Hitler.
These are the people to whom you did a great disservice, Sara. You call yourselves the UW-Madison College Republicans, throw an elephant, a ‘W,’ and some red, white and blue on your logo and then totally ignore the moderate conservative viewpoint, which I can guarantee is more prominent at UW-Madison than the far right.
But now Mikolajczak is gone, graduated, off helping the troops from what I hear. In her defense, she led the group through a difficult time for the Republican Party, and she did cool down after the 2008 election. But regardless, some of the damage she did will take years for her group to get over.
Crystal Lee has taken over as chair of College Republicans. She visited the Herald Editorial Board last week to introduce herself and outline what she wanted to do with the group.
I was pleasantly surprised. While it was clear there were certain disagreements Lee and members of the board had, she did not get fiery or make snide remarks — she kept her cool.
Lee understands she represents her organization as a whole and cannot speak on behalf of the group just by running her mouth when she is asked a question. When asked about the recent lawsuit filed by Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow against UW, she did not comment since she had not discussed it thoroughly with her group. I have a feeling Mikolajczak would not have been so reserved, and would go off on a rant that would sound like a Glenn Grothman press release.
So I have faith Lee and the new leadership of College Republicans will add to the campus discourse by focusing on fiscal and student issues and staying away from the toxic, pointless dribble that found its way onto campus and into the papers during my first two years at UW.
I have to admit something, though — part of me will miss Sara. Her antics were always good for a hardy laugh around the newsroom. But this campus is a better place without her.
Kevin Bargnes ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in journalism.