The first Tea Party I attended months ago was a somewhat chaotic affair, it was held outdoors under threatening weather and there was no real organization, just enthusiasm.
The Tea party I saw yesterday was still enthusiastic but it was light years improved with regards to organization. When I first got there, a young lady with an orange flag stopped me and asked me if I had special needs parking. I said no and she told me where to go park. I was waved into my parking space by a volunteer wearing a neon green t-shirt with the word "Staff" in big bold letters and "fwbteaparty" underneath. The cars parked ran the gamut from Mercedes to ancient Pick-up trucks
Unlike the last Tea Party, this was held inside the Fairgrounds building. The entrance was decorated with both professionally and hand-made signs, all geared towards the concept of limited government and against the present course our country is on. As I entered was asked for a 2 dollar entrance fee to help offset costs and then was asked if I was a veteran. I said yes and they gave me a gold badge to wear to identify me as a former member of the military. Booths were there, most were for candidates running for various political offices (Including Henry Kelly who is running as an independent for FL District 1 House and is Vice Chairman/Legislative Team leader of the FWB Tea Party). Other candidates were there with booths (Not as many as we had at the Republican Caucus last week) as well a T-shirt sales. John Krause was there running as a Republican for the District 1 House seat, as well as Craig Barker, Mayor of Destin running for the State District 4 representative. Numerous people were walking around with the "Staff" t-shirts and everyone was polite.
I met with Chris Saccomanno (He is the Tea party Leader and we have been exchanging Phone calls and Emails but this was our first face-to-face meeting) and he was very polite (note: he was wearing gold badge) and our combined conversations have revealed that we had much more in common politically than not. People were vying for his time, so I said my goodbye and said good luck!
It was reported by the NW Florida Daily News that the number of attendees was 200. There were people like me that came for the first half, but had other duties and had to leave (I had to play "Mr. Dad" that day for my son)..I am also confident that others showed up after the NW Florida Daily News posted their article (it was posted online almost 45 minutes before the event was over). So I would say the number of folks there was around 300 and I may be undercounting. And remember, this was being held on a "College Football" Saturday.
Entering the auditorium, there was a stage, with sound system and a video projector for films and slides on a screen and a digital camcorder to record the speakers. (FWB has their own Website and YouTube page) Rows of chairs were aligned neatly around the stage.
Henry Kelly started things off with a the pledge of allegiance and national anthem and then had a rundown of the day's schedule and emphasized that they had reserved time for members of to come forward and speak. There were to be talks about the census, cap and trade (both sides of the issue represented) and a talk from the supervisor of elections.
I had to go after the first hour and half (Dad duties), but from what I saw impressed me in terms of organization, tone and presentation. There was no anger, there was no extremism, there was only very polite people who had taken time from their day off to express their concern for the path that our country is taking us.
Now I quote from an article on Tea Parties written in the Washington Post by David Corn:
"A recent poll found that only 25 percent of Americans have a positive opinion of the Republican Party (compared to 42 percent for the Democrats). Hanging out with "Nazi"-shouters who wave racist and hateful signs is not likely to boost the popular appeal of congressional Republicans. Boehner and company are not merely playing to the base; they're saddling up with the worst elements of the right. It won't be a pretty ride."
Here is a link to the Article and here is a link to David Corn's Bio. This man is far left and yet he is considered a main stream commentator in the Washington Post. His article is a pure hit piece on a movement that scares the left. That should be a call to Republicans to listen to these people. It hasn't been the Republicans generating headlines, it has been Tea Parties and Town Halls. The left knows where the threat is and are preemptively trying to short circuit it.
What I saw today was a group of everyday folks who are worried at the direction our country is on and determined to change that course. They know spending has gotten out of control, they see our President apologizing for imagined sins and they see a administration that is in the process of abandoning the war on terror and, in effect, going back to a 9/10 mentality. (There were many veterans there, but we in the panhandle are home to many retired veterans so I wouldn't attribute this makeup to other tea parties in the country).
I am a committed Republican. I believe that only through the Republican party can we generate an opposition that can slow down the Obama administration in 2010 and kick it out in 2012. However, I understand the frustration of the Tea Party crowd. When they speak of Republicans, they are speaking of the entrenched elite that have consistently "played" the game of compromise politics with the compromise always being in the Democrat's favor.
For Example, Eric Holder was confirmed as Attorney General with wide Republican support. Yet here is a man who engineered the Marc Rich pardon, was a partner in a law firm that was in the forefront of defending terrorists who have sought to do our country harm and now has decided to grant the architects of the 9/11 attacks the same freedoms and rights that they sought to destroy and bring them in our country for trial. Not one Republican should have supported his nomination, yet here is a list of those Republicans that did:
While there are some true conservatives in the list, for the most part it's like "Casablanca"...you know..."Round up the usual suspects".
What I would say to the FWB Tea Party members: Take time to sit with the members of the Okaloosa Republican Party leadership. You will find people just as frustrated as you with our "establishment" GOP. Look at my blog and you will see someone who decided to become active in Republican Party politics in order to, in a very small way, help it renew its roots with the American people and turn itself into the party of limited government and an unapologetic strong foreign policy. Go to websites like "RedState" and you will find Republicans who feel as you do.
I cannot speak for other Republicans, but only for myself. However, what I see in the Tea Party movement is a way for the Republicans to regain their soul and passion for their country. Republicans should not try to take over Tea Parties, but nor should they object to Tea Party members joining our ranks. What we need to do is find common ground in races that we can have major impact on.
In Florida, there is one obvious race that many reform minded Republicans can join forces with the Tea Party. It is the Senate Race between Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist.
One of the reasons I went from passive voter to active Republican was because of a bipartisan TARP program, followed by a totally wasteful stimulus package that has, by all accounts, been useless and whose only achievement has been to triple our deficit and will eventually trigger inflation and burden us with debt for generations to come. ( Here is a link to my take on the current spending.)
This was a bright line for me and Charlie Crist crossed it when he embraced Obama/Pelosi economic plan. That was not the actions of a true Republican. So I went out, looked over the list of candidates that could defeat Crist and came up with Marco Rubio. I'm sure there are issues that I would disagree with Mr. Rubio, but he is closest to my core political beliefs and is the only real threat to keep Crist from winning the Republican nomination. It was a practical decision on my part.
For Tea Party members here is a way you can help stop Obama. First, you have to vote for Rubio in the Primary and the only way to do that is to register as Republican. If Rubio fails in the Primary, you are looking at either Charlie Crist as Senator (an Arlen Specter clone) or worse yet, a Democrat who will vote the Democratic party line. There are no Independent threats to Crist (or the Democrat nominee) in the general election. The only way for you to stop Crist is in the Primary. So I urge you to spread the word to fellow Tea Party members statewide who are not registered Republicans to register as one in order to vote for Rubio and stop Crist. 2010 favors the Republicans and I am confident Rubio, if nominated, will win.
In Okaloosa, I am well aware that Mr. Kelly is running for Congress. Registering Republican will not prevent you from voting for Mr. Kelly in the General Election. Principles are the core of politics, but tactics are crucial in implementing those core principles. One Senator is worth 10 house seats and it is in the Senate where a minority can more easily stop a majority. Odds are Democrats will lose seats but not control in the house in 2010. Increasing the Republican conservative numbers in the Senate are key.
Conservative Republicans across the country are making their feelings known. For example, Senator Bennett of Utah, one of the most pliable of the Republicans, is facing open revolt from the Republican Right in his state and may not survive the primary. I have no doubt Tea Party Members are a key part of that conservative ground swell in Utah.
So here is where I suggest it is in our best interests to join forces. You would not be making a pact with the devil, but with friends. Republican hands are open to you. To Okaloosa Republicans, I urge you to listen and attend Tea Parties. Let's have a booth at the next one held by the FWB Tea party and start talking. All I ask is both sides listen to the other. Both of us might be pleasantly surprised.