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Tea Party Movement Morphs

This week, organizers are putting on a National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.  April Baer checks in on what’s happening locally to channel Tea Party turnout into political activism.

Last year, it wasn’t hard to feel like the Tax Day Tea Partiers had taken over. Websites mobilized crowds of hundreds to meetings like this town hall, where Democratic Congressman Brian Baird took a sharp dressing-down from Camas resident David Hedrick.

David Hedrick: “Stay away from my kids. (applause)  I also heard you say you’re going to let us keep our health insurance. Well thank you. It’s not your right to decide whether I keep my current plan or not!…”

Baird announced last month he will not be running again, although he denied the town hall opposition was the reason.

David Hedrick is one of the few actual candidates to come out of the Tea Party movement. He’s one of ten candidates running for Baird’s seat.

It’s not clear what Hedrick can do in terms of fundraising and endorsements, but he promises a choice for people who share his concerns about limiting government.

David Hedrick  “The conservatives are taking the Republican party back. And if you’re in the establishment, you have two options: you can hand us the keys, or you can watch us kick the door down.”

Despite his YouTube stardom, Hedrick doesn’t automatically get a Tea Party seal of approval. He’ll go through the same vetting process as any other candidate.

There are over thirty Oregon and Southwest Washington groups  with an online presence who might be considered Tea Party alumni.

Some are formally known as Tea Party Patriots. Others are part of radio host Glenn Beck’s 9-12 movement.

Still others are closely allied with free-market societies like Americans for Prosperity. Most do not have cash flow or formal leadership structure. And for now, that’s the way they like it.

Tom Hann  “Our focus is really about growing our membership on the We the People Washington Patriot hub.”

Tom Hann is an engineer who lives in Clark County. He’s the assistant state coordinator for We the People. When he talks about goals, he doesn’t mention kicking down doors. He’s more interested in vetting candidates who emerge on their own.

Tom Hann  “We’re focused on education. Included in education is also our statewide vetting process for all candidates. We’re looking for statesmanship from those candidates.”

Hann’s group won’t do formal endorsements, he says, but will try to sell candidates on the group’s conservative constitutional views.

Other groups are trying to change the system from within.

Organizer Geoff Ludt says his group, the Oregon Tea Party Patriots is working with the Republican Party, recruiting for ten legislative races.

The Tea Party Patriots won’t run candidates or make endorsements, but will run its own people for internal GOP positions.

Geoff Ludt  “One of the efforts we’ve been involved in is filtering Tea party members into the precinct committee people positions.”

In Multnomah County alone, the GOP has about 1300 empty precinct seats. These volunteer jobs aren’t glamorous, Ludt says, but they’re key to how parties work.

Geoff Ludt  “The long term goal would be to go after all the progressives in the Republican party, and replace them with people who are more Constitutionally-minded.”

By progressives, Ludt means Republicans who agree with nationally-known moderates like John McCain. McCain himself is facing in-party challenge from the right this year.

While some in the Republican party are nervous about the growing Tea Party influence, party officials like Glen Pelikan say the GOP needs new blood. He works on outreach for the Oregon Republican Party.

Glen Pelikan  “The first steps are to establish trust. If they come and join in the efforts of the Republican party, are we going to gobble them up and be corrupt, or whatever it is their fears are.”

If you’re still not sure how the Tea Party alums fit into the political structure of the right, you might imagine them as Facebook profiles.

Most would probably “friend” the GOP, but they’d be more likely to cross-post with groups like Americans For Prosperity, which advocate for limited government.

For now, Tea Party affiliates are functioning with strong online resources, but a lack of cash. I asked Geoff Ludt about  the Oregon tea Party Patriots budget.

Geoff Budget “No! Wish! I’m still trying to find a budget! If you find one, let me know!”

Neither Ludt’s group nor We the People intend to join the Nashville conference later this week. They say they can get more done here at home. 

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