While there is a lot of talk (and in my opinion, truth in some cases) behind allegations that the Tea Party movement has been usurped by business-as-normal Republicans, I'm pleased to state that this certainly isn't the case in the state of Alabama.
Perhaps it's because Alabama has been holding Tea Parties since long before they became cool, or perhaps because the first Alabama Tea Parties were in response to a major Republican Tax increase plan, our Tea Party events in Alabama have stayed true to the mission: support of fiscal responsibility and adherence to the Constitution.
"But the rally wasn't a feel good event for the Republicans with many of the speakers on the raised platforms taking them to task for not standing up for conservative values," writes Markeshia Ricks of the Montgomery Advertiser about a rally held yesterday at the Alabama State House. "As the Alabama Patriot Coalition, members of the tea party movement hope to put pressure on state legislators to pass bills and resolutions that support state sovereignty and gun rights."
A State Sovereignty Resolution, the first of the bills being pushed by the informal network of Alabama Tea Party groups called the Alabama Patriot Coalition, passed in Alabama's lower legislative chamber shortly after yesterday's rally. It had already been introduced by Senator Scott Beason in the state Senate where it passed on the opening day of this legislative year.
The rally itself, like many which have already been conducted across the state, stayed true to form. No elected officials or candidates spoke at the event, and those who showed up were chided, perhaps not personally, but for the actions of the Republican Party over the years.
Quite a few candidates were there, including four of seven GOP gubernatorial candidates, despite the fact that none were given speaking spots. It's no wonder that "establishment" candidate Bradley Byrne didn't show, as he voted for the billion dollar tax increase proposal which led to the earlier incarnations of Tea Parties in Alabama. It's to be noted that Byrne also missed a recent debate hosted by Birmingham Tea Party leaders, raising the ire of Birmingham talk radio host and Tea Party personality Matt Murphy.
Gubernatorial candidates Bill Johnson, Robert Bentley, Tim James and Kay Ivey showed up and listened to the speakers and shook a lot of hands. Campaign literature for all of the candidates was distributed.
"[Northwest Alabama organizer Deborah] King said the movement is finally getting people's attention, but she is wary of those who want to use it to bolster their own conservative credentials to catapult into public office," reads another article about yesterday's rally.
Sensitive to such feelings, James hosted a post-rally reception several blocks away immediately following the rally for people who were interested in attending. Quite a few showed and James received the personal endorsement of one of the Birmingham Tea Party leaders.
At this point, it's only fair for me to disclose that Tim James is my guy in this race. I was sporting a Tim James sticker yesterday and I'm doing what I can to help ensure his election. However, if I wasn't supporting James, I probably would have written the same exact words.
In Alabama, the movement isn't sucking up to candidates, but making candidates come to them. Which candidates continue to show and which ones have a pattern of missing Tea Party events is becoming apparent, too. In addition to debates and events, Birmingham's Rainy Day Patriots now have the candidates signing pledges. And they are proposing and PASSING legislation.
While I'm sure there are some, no Alabama Tea Party activist or leader that I know plans to attend the Tea Party Nation event to be held right up the road in Nashville. The national event is under fire from people like Melissa Clouthier and Erick Erickson because people stand to a make a million by charging $500 to walk in the door. The people I know around here are much more concerned about electing good people to local and state office while pressuring them to enact good legislation.
Yesterday's event worked out perfectly. It wasn't a big-money event but it was very politically successful. No candidate usurped the event and it would have caused a lot of hard feelings had that occurred. The Alabama crowd is more politically viable because they are more distant from candidates and the state GOP.
One of the key purposes of the movement seems to be to apply some carrots and some sticks to the GOP. This wouldn't be possible if the movement and the party were the same entity. While plenty of politicians would eat all the carrots, how many of them do you expect to see hitting themselves with the sticks?
This said, there were plenty of candidates and plenty of signs and stickers on the ground -- and they were welcome specifically because they weren't pushed from "above." The post-rally James event is a perfect example of how folks can reasonably mix electoral politics with the Tea Party crowd.
Jon Henke incorrectly wrote that "the Tea Party crowd may not end up being a movement, but that's ok."
In my state, it is a movement, and one with teeth.
He was absolutely correct with his conclusion, though: "The energy itself is important to maintain until the policies and organizing vehicles do emerge."
Here's a pretty good video presentation of the rally (video doesn't seem to render in IE, this link may work for IE users):