Tea Time?




A movement may be brewing in our state.

If the 1994 elections were about the angry white man, the 1996 elections were about soccer moms, the 2000 elections about office park dads, the 2004 elections about security moms and the upcoming 2010 elections are supposed to be all about the Tea Party movement.

This movement emerged out of the Ron Paul presidential campaign into an era of economic anxiety with a new president proposing the most liberal agenda since the Great Society. Its growth was fueled by people like Fox News personality Glenn Beck and Washington conservative organizations like Freedom Works.

For much of last year the group has gathered around outdoor “Tea Parties,” collaborative Internet sites and e-mail lists. But with this year’s mid-term elections still several months away, there are a number of questions about this movement’s future. Does the “Live Free or Die” Libertarian mentality here mean that the group will have more or less impact? Is their passion sustainable? How do they transition from outside rallies into the political process?

The Tea Party isn’t a political party. In fact, the most active members deeply distrust politicians of both parties. Locally the movement provides a rallying cry for groups like the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance, local Glenn Beck 9/12 groups, the New Hampshire Republican Volunteer Coalition and even the long-standing Coalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers. That said, Republicans locally have tried to build bridges to these people and most Tea Party members are likely to vote Republican.

It is estimated that less than one half of one percent of N.H. residents are active with the movement and mainly live in the Seacoast and Lakes Region. Those active are highly organized, highly passionate, highly vocal and highly educated in politics. To put this in context, consider that a monthly meeting of the Rochester Republicans or Democrats might bring 20 people on a good night. The Rochester 9/12 groups have no problem bringing in 200 people.

What this movement is for or against is highly ambiguous, though rallies echo with references to the Constitution and the 10th Amendment protection of state’s rights. They oppose government spending, President Obama and are weary of government-sponsored agencies like the Census or the Federal Reserve. But it is hard to know what they like besides freedom. Organizers shy from specifics that might create disagreement. But without specific objectives, it will be hard to point to specific victories.

Tea Party organizers say they seek to “first reform the Republican Party and then America.” In the weakened Republican Party they see an opportunity and, in them, GOP leaders see much-needed passion.

One person to watch is Republican candidate for governor Jack Kimball. He came into politics from the Tea Party movement, founding a Seacoast-based group called the Granite State Patriots just last year. He’s serious about the issues but short on political flash. When he announced for governor, he spent more time explaining the Tea Party movement than why he would be the best person to be the state’s next governor. Currently his campaign is considered a long shot.

Kimball and a few who are running for state Senate touting Tea Party language are important if the movement is to have any sustainability. As the movement matures they need candidates to run and win so their influence is felt inside the Statehouse instead of just heard shouting from the Statehouse lawn. It remains to be seen if this tea party can evolve into a tea soirée. NH

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