Local Tea Party/GOP Battle Heats Up

1 Jul

Since the Tea Party movement began, there has been a fair deal of tension between it and the establishment GOP over the direction of the party as a vehicle for conservatism. This has been manifested in a number of primary challenges to elected GOP congressmen and senators by Tea Party-aligned candidates around the country. These candidates have had a decent amount of success, most recently in the Indiana Senate race.

A microcosm of this conflict is taking place here at the local level between the Jefferson County Tea Party and the county GOP establishment. The first skirmish in this battle took place at the county GOP caucus on March 17, when questionable tactics were used to prevent a Ron Paul slate (that had a lot of Tea Party support) from winning the day. Another engagement will take place on August 7, when a number of GOP Township Committeeman/woman seats will be contested between establishment and insurgent candidates. These races will have a large impact on the future of the county party.

County Councilman Bob Boyer’s proposal to amend the county charter to enact term limits and make county elections nonpartisan became the battleground for another fight at the June 25 county council meeting. Tea Partiers, responding to pleas from Boyer and former Tea Party head Ken Horton, showed up to argue for these measures, particularly term limits. Establishment types, including county Republican Central Committee chair Janet Engelbach, appeared in order to argue for continued partisan elections.

Neither of these positions are surprising. Tea Party adherents are skeptical of career politicians at any level. And the county GOP, reveling in its new-found majority status in the county, doesn’t want to give up the power that comes with its endorsement. Nonpartisan elections would make it easier for conservatives that are not part of the county GOP good-old-boy network, or who might have a libertarian streak, to gain county elected office.

The two measures, alas, failed at the meeting to gain approval for the November ballot. Only Boyer and Kelly Waymon supported them. The main objection to these measures seemed to be a pretty weak one – “It’s too soon to amend the charter.” That is a cop-out: either these measures are a good idea, or they’re not.

One odd episode here involves the (now former) head of the Tea Party, Steve Farmer (who is also running for county office). Along with voicing his opposition to the measures, he condemned a letter sent to council members by the Tea Party Steering Committee (the letter can be seen here, but warning, you will encounter much nuttery from Linda Van de Riet). Inexplicably, given the tame nature of the letter, Farmer called it “vitriolic, coercive, and threatening,” according to the June 28 Leader. Judge that for yourself. He also announced that he had stepped down from his position as head of the Tea Party.

The local Tea Party-GOP feud should only heat up between now and August, November, and beyond.

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