A Tale of Two Tea Parties
As you may know, I am a non-party captured candidate (independent) to serve in a seat in the state legislature. Tonight the "Tea Party" in my county is having a forum. I will not be attending. I'd like to take a bit here to explain why, and in so doing contrast two local tea party groups as an example of the way all such groups are breaking.
The two groups are "Conservative Arkansas" and "The Benton County Tea Party". I might add the "Washington County Tea Party" in with Conservative Arkansas because both groups have many members in both counties and often operate as partners in their endeavors. The reason some of the most active members of the WCTP are from Benton county will become clear as you read on.
Let's begin with the Benton County Tea Party. It started well enough. I should say that because I helped start it. In fact, the predecessor of the current chairman once told a room of 400 people "if it were not for Mark Moore there would be no Benton County Tea Party." He's right. But while I organized that first convention (with the help of a few others such as Dorothy Hesse and Jack and Jan Lea) and wrote the constitution which the 150 people in that room adopted, I made no effort to try and control the group or insert my own friends in the leadership.
Tea Parties have gone one of two ways since they were formed a few short years ago. Some have become watch dogs and others have become lap dogs. The lap dogs may yap noisily at the Democrat party, but are not taken seriously by most folks because they are perched in the lap of the Republican party. People see them as an extension of the Republican party rather than a true independent citizens group. The watch dogs are the ones that not only stand up against the Democrat party when they want to grow and centralize government, take away freedom, and raise debt and/or taxes, but also have the gumption to stand up against Republicans who do the exact same thing.
The lap dogs are welcome in Republican committees and a fuss is made over them. GOP politicians rub shoulders with them because they know they will not be asked too many hard questions. This seems to be what the lap dogs want out of their participation in the political process. They had lunch with so-and-so.
The watch dogs are loathed within the party. There is usually a deliberate effort to marginalize those who attempt to participate in the Republican party- usually behind their back but if the reform forces make too much progress the opposition becomes open. The party takes a dim view of those who don't stick with the party's politicians, be they right or wrong, whether they kept their promises or broke them. Watch dogs don't play that.
The attitude that the Republican party holds to each group is completely reversed amongst the general population. When they can distinguish the difference, the mass of the citizenry have more respect for the independent grassroots groups who really are grassroots groups rather than groups who claim to be but in fact have been captured by a particular political party.
The watch dogs are more than willing to take sides in GOP primaries. Conservative Arkansas and the Washington County Tea Party were instrumental in helping guys like Jon Woods, Bart Hester, and Jim Dotson defeat more liberal or party-oriented opponents in their state legislative primary races. Conservative Arkansas was willing to endorse, even in party primaries. The lap dogs have forums, but they don't take sides in primaries, or if they do its for the establishment candidates. This makes them useless as a force to change the party while at the same time destroying their credibility outside of it.
The point at which I knew the rest of the "leadership" of BCTP was more interested in protecting GOP politicians than holding them accountable to their claims is a long story, but much of it is described in the comment section of this article. I resigned in disgust and moved on.
At any rate, Conservative Arkansas endorsed me in a fair process. I had to put my views on record in writing. Apparently that endorsement raised some eyebrows, because you had a conservative grassroots group which endorsed an Independent over a Republican. Suddenly, the BCTP is going to hold a "forum" at which "the membership" (I believe it is down to about 15 in the room rather than the 150 we had in the room when I left) would endorse. Each candidate was to be given three minutes to make their case, and three minutes to answer questions (which basically means one question if the candidate chooses to because they can always filibuster). Why so little time? Well they had to give the other candidates time too didn't they? Not really. Other than my race, they only invited candidates from two other races, neither of which are in Benton County!
I would be happy to participate in a fair and open debate with my opponent. The people deserve to know where we stand. Of course, I am the one who has written thousands of articles describing my views on various issues over the years and left them in public view here on this blog. I doubt there is any non-incumbent in the state who has given the public a better idea of where they stand than I have. That three minutes is not for the purpose of finding out anything new about me. I believe that format is a farce to provide cover to a pre-determined decision that they need to get the Republican in this race a "grassroots" endorsement of their own.
This was confirmed when I went to an event in Bella Vista Tuesday. My opponent was there with two very nice people who announced themselves as members of the "Benton County Tea Party." Well, if they are going around with her at events and announcing themselves as BCTP even before the meeting where they are supposed to "decide" what to do then that's a pretty good sign isn't it? There was also an officer of the BCTP there. He is a nice guy, but I happen to know he has been around to some of these other groups trying to drum up support for my opponent.
He said to me flat out "the Benton County Republican Committee has embraced the Tea Party and we are working together." Well, there you go. Why pretend that its an independent grassroots group then? Would I go before a Benton County Republican Committee forum hoping to get their endorsement over a Republican? The problem here is truth in labeling. I am not good at pretending. I am not going to lend a degree of legitimacy to this "forum" that it does not deserve by pretending this is an independent grassroots group when it has by design become a party auxiliary group.
Look, I am not hating, I am just telling it like it is. If people think the answer to our nation's problems is the GOP as it is then becoming their lap dog is a perfectly legitimate thing to do, even the honorable thing. I just don't happen to agree with that assessment. The question here then becomes whether such groups should hold themselves out people able to give a fair assessment of non-gop candidates.