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GOP Fails to Hijack Maine Tea Parties

State politicians in Maine tried and failed to co-opt the tea party demonstrations for their own purposes.

by
Andrew Ian Dodge

Bio

April 18, 2009 - 12:00 am

So my first tea party is over and its time to look back on what was achieved.

I think there are several ways of looking at the events nationwide. From what I have seen, there was none of the promised trouble from anti-tea party activists, though there were plenty of problems for those brave souls who volunteered to organize local events.

Things were not much easier for the state coordinators, some of whom were finding out about additional tea parties the evening before tax day. Even with all the new technology, we were faced with people who didn’t communicate, dodgy mobile phone reception, frozen and overfilled email accounts, hacked websites, and people who were trying to take over the day’s events for their own partisan aims.

It became obvious along the way that many of those who signed up to arrange events did not know the hassles and annoyances that come with this sort of endeavor. I was able to help people locally and nationally deal with some of the ins and outs of dealing with the media. (In fact, a few kind souls on a conference call took notes which can be found here. These might prove useful the next time you encounter journalists.)

We can all agree that the national effort was a cracking success. We should all be very proud. There were problems that could have been avoided if certain decisions had not been made at the national level. One of the major mistakes made by the national movement was the ill-conceived decision to accept the help of Newt Gingrich and his American Solutions organization. Gingrich is a very divisive and high-profile Republican. His entry into the movement marked the beginning of a campaign by Republican groups to take over and ruin the non-partisan cred.

This decision gave a cudgel to the mainstream media and those on the other side. National Republican attempts to sponsor the tea parties did not help either. The following was posted on a Maine forum after the announcement Newt Gingrich was on board.

Sounds like the perfect event for Republicans to gather together to lament the fact that they lost the election, and that the Democrats are running the country because the people elected them to do so. Also a good time to forget how the Rs under Bush spent like crazy, grew government, and left office with the country in a mess. Should be fun to watch all the teeth gnashing!

Gingrich’s attempt to co-opt the tea parties had the effect of creating an opening at the top. Previously there had be no pyramid, no organizational head. It also gave Republicans an excuse to “move in” on tea parties and it provided a reason for more fringe groups to have tea parties to “counter” alleged “control” over events.

In Maine, top Republicans quickly rushed in to try and take over all the events. And guess who the media cared most about? The non-partisan events going on all over the state? Not on your life. They concentrated on the Republicans’ attempts at organizing things. A few days before tax day, the Portland Press Herald confirmed existing media bias and preoccupation in an article titled “The Mad Republicans Tea Party:”

A “Tax Day Tea Party” will be held on the pier Wednesday from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. It’s one of many such events being held around the country on income tax day to demonstrate that the hard-core GOP is mad as hell at President Obama, liberals and the media elite, and is not, repeat not, going to take it anymore.

This made it far harder for those of us in red states to convince people it was not just a giant Republican Party whine-a-thon. There were many people involved — and some who pulled out — who were incensed by this move by Gingrich and top Maine Republicans.

Needless to say, this was especially hard to swallow in states like Maine and Pennsylvania, where it’s hard to tell some of the senior Republicans apart from Democrats.

Ultimately, it was fascinating to watch the big crowd at my local tea party.  The people were happy to express their opinion about those who were on stage. It reminded me of a crowd at a comedy club improv night. I can assure you that speaking before the crowd was not for the faint of heart

I should point out the amazing turnout from all parts of the community. There were medical practitioners, teachers, business owners, veterans, and working people. Many were newcomers to demonstrations, feeling forced to stand up and be counted. They were very concerned about the out-of-control government spending by the Obama administration. The day produced several impromptu speeches from a variety of individuals keen to express their concerns.

A few politicians naively grabbed the megaphone and tried to make a case for themselves. Needless to say, there was quite a bit of booing involved when that happened. A few of us likened it to The Gong Show back in the day. The most satisfying parts of the protest were the fife player, a well-spoken 9-year-old, and some great on-message protest signs.

Despite all the frustrations and a lack of accurate coverage in the media, it was worth it for the cause. I look forward to helping the next wave of organizers get through the minefield that is the organization tea party events.

Andrew Ian Dodge blogs at Dodgeblogium.
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