POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 29, 2010:
Tempest in the Teapot
Where have you gone, libertarians? Body politics' version of home schoolers, the "not quite ready for the Prime Time Republican party" Tea Partiers, still hoping to make election impact
Redundant Redundancies Redux. “The fundamental problem is the Republican Party wants to run the Tea Parties,” Gerhart said. “But sometimes they’re more interested in supporting their own special interests.”
Tea Party groups across the nation continue to make their voices heard with recent winners like Delaware's Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell surprising many with her successful campaign.
But with some local Tea Party groups' candidates missing the mark in July's primary elections, these vocal organizations are re-grouping for November's election. And, their work could be counter productive to home base, its own formative Republican Party.
"We fought all last session and we identified those who voted against us," said Al Gerhart, co-founder of the state's Sooner Tea Party. "Between now and election time, we're working on getting those people out."
To do that, groups like the Sooner Tea Party, one of the largest Tea Party organizations in the state, have created their own political action committees, enabling them to raise money to back their favored candidates.
With these funds, Tea Party activists are traveling the state to talk with voters about candidates and state questions that will be printed on the November ballot. With dozens of Tea Party groups across the state, Gerhart's Tea Party has partnered with others to rally voters to make choices for smaller government, less government spending and more state's rights.
The various Tea Party groups in Oklahoma have been uniting to prepare for the upcoming election, but divisions affecting these groups lie elsewhere, Gerhart said. Tea Party activists typically stand behind conservative candidates, but some Republicans in office do not meet Tea Party groups' standards.
"The fundamental problem is the Republican Party wants to run the Tea Parties," Gerhart said. "But sometimes they're more interested in supporting their own special interests."
Todd Goodman said he agrees there is an obvious divide in the state's Republican Party. The chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party said the outcome of July's gubernatorial primaries far surpassed what anyone predicted when state Senator and Tea Party favorite Randy Brogdon secured almost 40 percent of the vote in the Republican primary. Now, these voters are hesitant to support the Republican choice U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin in November's race for governor, he said.
The Sooner Tea Party has not endorsed Fallin for the upcoming election, and the group is just one in a list of Tea Party organizations unhappy with the choices in the gubernatorial race, Gerhart said.
"With Brogdon, you got out and supported him or you weren't a Tea Partier," he said. "But Fallin is still the lesser of two evils."
Goodman said the unpopularity of the TARP bill among Tea Party groups could work to swing some Tea Party votes with Fallin's history of voting for the bill.
"The Democratic Party has a responsibility and an opportunity to reach these disenfranchised voters and really show them we represent their best interests," he said.
"It's going to be a tough year for Democrats because nationally we are the incumbent and it is a tough economic time. But here in Oklahoma, we must reach these Tea Partiers, whose sentiment we understand, and show them the legislature here has failed and that legislature has been Republican."
Tea Party voters who watched as Brogdon lost the primaries might have been unhappy with the outcome at first, but Sally Bell said this outlook changed once Brogdon endorsed Fallin. Bell, the chair of the Tulsa County Republican Party, is now working to connect with these groups to inform them about the issues in the upcoming election and to explain the state questions to voters.
With Oklahoma being a conservative state, "if you're able to educate the grassroots, we'll win," Bell said. "Even if they don't affiliate with a political party, they'll connect with our philosophy."
Although those involved with the Tea Party movement typically endorse conservative candidates, these individuals will not simply check the box next to the GOP choice, said Ronda Vuillemont-Smith, president of the local Tea Party group the Tulsa 912 Project
"We're not just for you because you're Republican," Vuillemont-Smith said. "It's about what you stand for."
The Tulsa 912 Project does not endorse candidates, but individuals within the organization are very vocal and work to support their choices. One choice for the majority of these individuals is the Democratic candidate for state treasurer Stephen Covert. Vuillemont-Smith said Tea Party activists were upset with state Rep. Ken Miller, the Republican candidate, for misleading the public with commercials before the primaries. These commercials stated that Miller never voted for a tax increase, although his record says otherwise, she said.
"Whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, we're holding your feet to the fire," Vuillemont-Smith said.
Bell said she has not seen a divide in the Republican Party in the state, but she does sense wariness over what is to come.
"I think a lot is riding on the 2010 election," she said. "This is one of the most critical elections we have had in a long time. If the candidates don't do what they've promised, it will devastate the Republican Party."
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