Josh Burton said he represents “a cross-cutting cleavage.”

The 29-year-old Greater Cincinnati man is the one African-American out of 10 nationwide who votes Republican.

And last year, a group of mostly white millennials and Generation Z elected Burton to lead them as chairman of the Ohio Young Republicans, a group that held its annual convention in Greater Akron this weekend.

“We are a big tent. It’s not about the color of our skin, our religions, whether we’re Appalachian or suburban,” Burton said. “It’s about ideas, and we have many.”

On Saturday, during a convention break at the Sheraton Suites in Cuyahoga Falls, Burton, Stephanie Zader, 30, of Mansfield, and Alex Pavloff, 29, of Akron, each sat down with a reporter to talk about themselves, their support for President Donald Trump, and their views, not all of which square with what is or has been traditional Republican positions.

Appeal of politics

Burton grew up in the Cincinnati suburb of Fairfield. His parents, both pastors, are conservative, he said, but not political conservatives.

“They vote for the best candidate,” he said.

In his teens, Burton began getting involved in politics.

In 2007, he got a meeting with then-Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.

“He was the first black Republican politician I met in my life,” Burton said. “I thought that was the coolest thing. He’d done so much as the mayor of Cincinnati. This was a pivotal moment for me.”

Being a Republican in a black family hasn’t necessarily been easy.

At holidays, relatives sometimes challenged him and, Burton said, he made the case that decades of voting for Democrats hadn’t improved unemployment in many black communities.

Under Trump, unemployment among African-Americans has declined.

According to Politifact, the unemployment rate among blacks was 6.9 percent in March. In December, it was 6.8 percent, which was a record low.

Burton said Trump gets a raw deal from the media, pointing to the recent cover of Time magazine showing a toddler from Honduras sobbing, looking up at the president. There is no headline, only a brief sentence: “Welcome to America.”

“The cover is a blatant smack in the face to the president … and [part of] the story wasn’t even true,” Burton said.

The cover story misstated what happened to the girl to make her cry.

“The girl was not carried away screaming by U.S. Border Patrol agents,” Time wrote in a correction Friday. “Her mother picked her up and the two were taken away together.”

Yet Trump, Burton said, has boosted statewide interest in the party.

“I’ve seen a larger influx of people becoming more active,” he said. “I was inspired by the president running … and I want to be part of that.”

Younger voices

Stephanie Zader on Saturday expected the Young Republican convention to approve a charter for a new Richland County chapter she founded.

So far, Zader — who works as a clerk for Mans­field City Council — has gathered about 20 members.

“I think it’s important to have young Republicans in a group to give voice, but also to be connected to the party,” Zader said.

Richland County’s fledgling Young Republicans now have a seat on the board of the county party.

What do the younger voices — members of Young Republicans groups nationwide must be between 18 and 40 years old — add to the county discussion?

“We tend to view the environmental issue with more importance,” she said.

One of the board members of her group, for example, works for a nonprofit organization that lobbies for clean air, she said.

“Environmentally, that’s not what you think of as conservative,” Zader said. “But it’s not a liberal issue. It’s a human issue … maybe it’s not the [Republicans’] No. 1 priority, but changes must be made. … We only have one Earth.”

Yet Young Republicans’ views on other issues match or align much more closely to the national leadership.

For Zader, that’s immigration.

She knows what it’s like to be taken as a child from her family.

Zader spent 13 years in Medina, Cuyahoga and Wayne counties in foster care after her mother had trouble with the law when Zader was 5 years old.

“I hate to hear about children ripped from parents,” she said when asked about families separated at the U.S. border.

Yet she stands by the policy Trump pursued and then last week reversed.

“While it’s unfortunate, we do have laws in place for a reason, and people need to follow them … immigrate the right way,” she said.

Most of the children involved will remember what happened, but like her, they have a choice.

“They can grow up and, as a citizen, they can run for office, go out and speak about what happened and how that shaped them,” Zader said, much like she has done herself. “Or they can sit around and complain and feel sorry for themselves.”

Democracy at risk

Alex Pavloff is a believer in the 2000 nonfiction book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.

In it, author and Harvard social scientist Robert D. Putnum argues that Americans are losing touch with civic associations and each other — in everything from declining church attendance and Elks club memberships to a drop in voting and dinner invitations — and that was threatening not only the fabric of the nation, but democracy.

So in 2015, after Pavloff discovered the Summit County Young Republicans had dwindled to about four members representing the tail end of Gen X, he decided to reinvigorate the group, his way to re-engage in civic life.

“We need to get out of the house, we need to meet, to talk, at a bar, at church, whereever,” he said Saturday, taking a break from hosting duties for the Young Republicans convention.

The following year, in 2016, Pavloff ran for Summit County Council and lost. He’s since worked behind the scenes as a political consultant.

At the same time, he’s grown the Summit County Young Republicans to about 50 chartered members, he said.

Summit at ‘crossroads’

Summit County, he said, is uniquely positioned in Ohio.

“It’s a crossroads where Appalachia meets the East Coast,” Pavloff said.

And Trump’s election — which showed southeast Ohio’s Appalachian region realigning from Democrats to Republicans — may hold promise for Republicans in Summit County to make new inroads with voters here.

“We’re the party of Trump,” Pavloff said. “I want his rallies. He’s a terrific way of energizing things.”

Yet in the next breath, Pavloff said he’s not with the president on everything — including separating parents and children at the border.

He also worries about what will happen to Ohio’s auto industry and farmers in the apparent trade disputes that are already causing price hikes.

But on other big issues — like gun rights and abortion — Pavloff stands with Trump.

How Ohio Republicans will fare in November’s election is not clear, he said.

Historically, the political party that holds the White House doesn’t do well across the nation at midterms. And this year, on top of that, Democrats themselves are energized as an opposition force.

But Republicans in Ohio have Mike DeWine on the ticket, the state attorney general running for governor, Pavloff said.

“He has very high name identification and he’s very well-liked,” Pavloff said.

That, plus the changing political tide among Appalachian voters, he said, may be enough to give the Republicans many Ohio wins.

Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or agarrett@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @agarrettABJ.