The tea party movement which sprang up overnight is still defining itself. That’s the natural flow of a movement that is bottom up- with many leaders of organizations, but not a single national top down leader. The movement, which has been described by some as “ants” because of the unified approach to issues despite no singular national communication chain, seems to be able to move together.
The 2010 mid-term elections revealed a tension within the tea party movement. There is a percentage of tea party supporters who decry the state of Congress and their local government, who at the same time feel that the tea party should not run candidates, nor endorse or advocate for any particular candidate. The question then becomes; if elected officials determine which bills get advanced or which bills are thwarted or killed, then shouldn’t the tea party movement have its own people in those positions? Outside pressure is important. Being on the inside, where policy is promoted and voted on is better.
As the tea party movement matured it also looked back to the nation’s roots. The framers of the U.S. Constitution wrote a document that gave most of the legislative power to the states, not the Federal government. The tea party movement has started to redirect its focus to local and state level government. It is at the State level that the Federal government can be restrained most effectively, not always by direct voter intervention at the Federal level. It is at the state and local level which constitutionally has more power and authority over citizens. 50% of taxation occurs at the state and local level.
Voters can only elect five federal officials, but can elect up to 30 local and state officials depending on their locality. The liberal progressive movement, which aims for centralization as a means of control, wanted voters to focus on the national government, while they maneuvered people into positions on school boards, city councils, county government, judgeships, Secretary of State offices, and so on. For lovers of big government, no elected or appointed position was too small. Thus the left was able to build a significant political infrastructure while conservatives were listening to talk radio and forwarding emails.
The Virginia Tea Party Alliance grew out of the need for tea parties to be able to engage in elections. Although the law says that 501 (c ) 4 organizations can endorse candidates and engage in electioneering, (Citizens United VS F.E.C.) tea party groups, saw a need for an independent tea party organization to facilitate candidate development and candidate campaigns. Where the tea party could coalesce, especially in the Federal races, it was often through an outside political group or PAC, not necessarily through local tea parties. There needed to be a mechanism, especially here in Virginia, by which tea party supporters could begin to coalesce around candidates in order to advance the principles of fiscal responsibility and limited government.
One cannot expect to “do politics differently” using yesterday’s political tools and methods. We need an entirely new orientation, candidate field and political network. We need new people, new ideas and new methods. To that end, the Virginia Tea Party Alliance will begin to build a different 21st Century political structure that reflects the timeless principles set forth in the founding documents of the United States, and the changing dynamics of The Virginia Tea Party Alliance (VATPA) will recruiting, train, and field, candidates and campaign staff. It will work on voter mobilization. It will be another voice in the growing chorus of the tea party.
Karen Miner Hurd is the Founder and Executive Director of the Virginia Tea Party Alliance. Karen began her work in the tea party movement when she founded the Hampton Roads Tea Party in March 2009. Along with other leaders in the tea party movement, Hurd is a recipient of the Heritage Foundation’s 2010 Henry Salvatori Prize for American Citizenship. She lives in Virginia Beach with her husband and family.