Middle Tennessee has a forum scheduled this evening for candidates for Tennessee’s Senate District 17. It is sponsored by the Wilson County Tea Party (WCTP), moderated by WLAC’s Steve Gill and will feature GOP candidates Mae Beavers and Gordon Borck. It will not feature GOP candidate Susan Lynn. WCTP is reporting this. Their emails and their website say “Rep. Susan Lynn has declined to participate.” Reading those words, one would be justified in concluding Rep. Lynn was extended a good faith invitation and refused it. One would also be justified in drawing the negative conclusions about Rep. Lynn such refusals usually generate.

However, it seems WCTP’s sparse explanation, while accurate, is incomplete. When Rep. Lynn was invited to the debate, she immediately agreed to participate. It was only after WCTP refused to seat a forum moderator other than Steve Gill that Susan withdrew from the event.

Steve has been critical of Rep. Lynn on his show. He has taken many GOP candidates to task, including Mae Beavers, if he is to be believed. Gill thinks he’d make a great moderator. Listening to this clip from his show, while some say his words argue for his impartiality, other words and a manner seen by many as demeaning and insulting are said to argue otherwise. Does this prove he cannot be impartial? No. Might reasonable people wonder if he could be? Yes. In cases like these, requests to seat a new moderator are routine. Given their history, Rep. Lynn asked for a different moderator. Not because tough questions might be asked. But because of who was asking the tough questions. WCTP refused.

Which brings us to WCTP. Why sponsor this debate in the first place? Was it to provide information to voters about candidates? Then all they have to do is find a date, a place and a moderator acceptable to everyone. Lynn’s request for a different moderator is not unusual or difficult to fulfill. But the WCTP declined to participate. Why did they decide having Steve Gill moderate was more valuable to voters than having Susan Lynn answer questions?

The decision is disappointing and, frankly, goes against all the Tea Parties stand for. It’s more the sort of thing we expect from special interest groups. Why refuse to act in the interest of the People? Why insist on a scenario so easily perceived as restricting access to good information?

WCTP’s refusal to accommodate Lynn’s reasonable request set up a Catch-22. If Rep. Lynn accepts the invitation as is, she puts herself in the hands of one who might treat her badly. If she refuses the invitation, it might be used against her politically. There’s no upside, yet she has to choose. She chose to refuse the invitation.

WCTP’s explanation of Lynn’s decision is terrible. Instead of full disclosure, they offer incomplete truth. They say, “Rep. Susan Lynn has declined to participate,” when it was just as easy to say, “Rep. Susan Lynn has declined to participate due to concerns over the impartiality of our moderator.” That would have been a complete and truthful answer. It would also mean having to explain why they chose not provide a moderator acceptable to all invited guests.

This is precisely the inside-the-beltway, smoke-filled-back-room, good-ol’-boy, politics as usual the Tea Parties formed to oppose. That we have a Tea Party using such tactics is disturbing. But the worst conclusion is, given the ease with which the problem could have been solved, how does an objective observer label this as anything but intentional.

In the end, this is not about Susan Lynn, Mae Beavers, Gordon Borck or even Steve Gill. It’s about the integrity of the Tea Party Movement. The entire country is talking about its future. Some say it’s bright. Others say it will all be over shortly. The answer will be found in the actions of the Tea Parties themselves. If they will not ensure they cannot hear the various siren songs sung across political seas, if they become the very thing they say they despise, then one of our best hopes to deliver our country from the evils it currently faces is lost.