Weak Tea: Backing Only Incumbents?
When you think about the grassroots tea party movement as a whole, one of the things that has defined it is the elevation of political outsiders. Think of Senator Rand Paul, who was a Kentucky ophthalmologist before launching his first ever bid for elective office.
At the local level, the First Coast Tea Party has been one of the more impressively organized and well funded operations among the loose national patchwork of tea party groups that have popped up over the last two years. Holding several very successful rallies and being frequently featured in the local media, they’ve managed to earn a voice in both local and national issues, something that is very difficult to accomplish. So when it came time for the group to announce their endorsements in the mayoral and city council races, the media and public understandably paid attention.
The group rolled out their official endorsements in dramatic fashion at the end of February. They had invited candidates to participate in a speed rating event and had conducted a straw poll of members. After making candidates jump through all of these hoops, the FCTP’s board met and decided to issue a blanket endorsement to any incumbent who voted against raising property taxes last fall.
They punted the ball.
The local Tea Party did not bother to consider candidates in races with an open seat, nor did they give any consideration to candidates who are actually running to unseat those who voted in favor of the infamous tax hike.
Talking to the Observer on the condition of anonymity, one irate council candidate said: “They wasted our time and, in my eyes, have lost all credibility.”
Maybe not all credibility, but this was quite a blow to the group’s ability to eff ectively participate in shaping local policy. They have, unfortunately, made it much harder to take them seriously.
It’s easy to see why some candidates are upset. During the process of vetting, the Tea Party requested that everyone running for offi ce fill out a 13 page survey which included all sorts of totally irrelevant questions about federal funding for NASA, the founding fathers, Cap and Trade legislation and a National ID card. What was the point of all this vetting if so little thought went into their eventual endorsements?
In fact, when it was quickly brought to the attention of the Tea Party leaders that Councilman Ray Holt had voted in favor of last year’s budget which included a property tax hike, after having voted against the hike itself, the group publicly retracted their endorsement of Holt’s re-election. Retracting an endorsement because of “new” information is one thing, but Holt’s voting record was public and well known.
Worse than botching the Holt endorsement is the fact that only incumbents were supported.
“I think the First Coast Tea Party and its leaders are highly principled and want to do what’s right,” said Group 5 council candidate Robin Lumb. “They don’t think politically - which is a good thing - and a lot of this is new to them. Maybe they’ll do things differently next time.”
Had the Tea Party actually gone through the process of endorsing in the races for an open seat, Lumb would clearly have deserved the group’s support.
“I was disappointed when [they] chose only to endorse incumbent City Council members. Conservative voters have come to trust the First Coast Tea Party and were looking for their guidance in all the City Council races,” Lumb concluded. “ The Tea Party lost an opportunity that could have re-shaped City Council and that’s unfortunate.”