LEWISTON – It isn’t easy being a Republican when most everyone else on campus leans left.
But Bates College senior Melissa Simones and sophomore Nathaniel Walton have persevered.
Both have been cited as being among the nation’s top conservative activists, the Maine College Republicans announced Wednesday.
Republicans Walton and Simones made the “Club 100” program, a campus activist rewards program of the Young America’s Foundation. In the program students receive points for involvement in Republican activities. Those who tally 100 points in a school year make the club. Simones and Walton were the only two from Maine, and two of about 30 nationwide who made the list this year.
“It’s rewarding to be recognized by a group like the Young America’s Foundation,” Walton said. The foundation helps Bates Republicans with funding and by bringing big-name speakers to campus like Ken Starr and David Horowitz.
Simones said she had a goal of getting into “Club 100” before she graduated. She achieved that goal. Bates seniors graduate May 28.
While fellow students may disagree, Simones described herself as “pretty moderate.” Bates students are so far left, “It makes me look like I’m right-winged,” she said with a laugh. “It’s a challenge. When you talk in class on issues, a lot of times others are coming from a more liberal perspective.”
Students often question what she says, especially in political science classes, Simones said. “Sometimes it’s intimidating.” Statements have to be backed up with facts.
Walton agreed. “It’s challenging because a majority on campus oppose your beliefs,” he said. “At the same time, it’s a good thing. It helps you understand what you believe in because you’re forced to defend your beliefs on a daily basis.”
While Simones consistently pushes conservative points of view, “I’m not one to egg people on. I may play the devil’s advocate. I offer different facts for people.”
For instance if students are staging an anti-Iraq war demonstration, and the Bates College Republicans find out about it, their strategy would be to offer a counter, pro-war demonstration, Simones said.
On the Iraq War, which polls show a majority of Americans oppose, Simones handles that topic by hosting pro-war events.
In the last two years she and other Republicans brought in Iraq war veterans to speak. The soldiers offered comments and slide shows of their time in Iraq, including schools that troops built, and Saddam Hussein monuments coming down.
“Sometimes the news doesn’t focus on the accomplishments that have happened,” she said.
Walton said he defends the war as something that will bring democracy to Iraq.
One perk for getting in the foundation’s “Club 100” is that last weekend members attended a retreat in California, toured the Ronald Reagan ranch. Simones said she was surprised to discover Reagan’s ranch was a small, one-bedroom home.
Reagan is her favorite president, she said. “I do like Bush. I support Bush,” but Reagan had a smoother, more effective way of getting his message out than Bush, she said.
After graduation Simones, 22, plans to spend the next year or two interning in Washington for Maine Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.
Simones and Walton are both active in college Republican groups. She graduated from Leavitt Area High School, and is the daughter of Linda and Jim Simones of Greene, who own Simones Hot Dog Stand in Lewiston.
Walton, 22, is from Marblehead, Mass. He was recently elected to his second term as chair of the Maine College Republicans. He’s credited with successfully leading the group to become the national standard for promoting conservative messages on college campuses.