On Friday and Saturday, a number of tea party leaders from across the state met alongside officials from the Middle Resolution PAC to examine the nine Republican candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general. The purpose in doing so was to evaluate each and determine which of the choices best represent the tea party values.
Now, I first heard about this process in early February and, after reading all of the materials provided on the subject, came out in opposition to the idea. It was not an easy decision to make, especially given that the Virginia Tea Party Federation was in favor of it and that I worked for We rVirginia in 2012, a group funded by Middle Resolution. Nevertheless, I believed that it was the right thing to do. I crafted a couple of similarly worded emails stating my objections which I sent to the leadership of the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party and Middle Resolution.
For the record, here is the text of one such email that I wrote on February 13th of this year:
Good afternoon, everyone.
I’m been thinking a bit more about this vetting on the candidates to produce a “tea party” candidate for both lt. gov. and attorney general and must say that the more I consider this path, the more that I am opposed to it. Now I understand fully why this plan is being implemented. After all, we saw what happened last year. With everyone divided, arguably the least conservative candidate (George Allen) won the GOP Senate nomination. But is this proposal of rallying most or all of the tea parties in the state behind a candidate the best?
In an ideal situation, I’d like to see the tea parties clearly state their principles for these races as well as inform their membership of the positions of each candidate. Based upon this information, we would let each person decide who best adheres to his or her principles. Instead, it seems that we are charting…a very top down/authoritarian course of action where the leadership and a handful of people in Richmond decide for the members who they think is best.
Now being involved in politics for more than half my life, I know how these sorts of things work. Unfortunately, most people of all political persuasions act like sheep and will dutifully follow their leaders where ever they are taken. But, I’d like to think that the tea party is something different, something better than just “the leaders have spoken and the faithful membership will follow us without question”. I have a lot of respect for…[the people involved in the vetting process]… and the leaders of the various tea parties, but that respect alone does not mean that I can allow them to do all of my thinking for me.
I suppose the question becomes, what do we do if we do not agree with the outcome of the vetting process? Are we beholden to honor it? I don’t mean to sound like a stick in the mud, but regardless of the outcome, I still plan to support whichever of the candidates that I deem is the best and will encourage everyone I know to learn about his or her choices and decide which person best fits his or her ideology.
Another factor to consider is the members who have already pledged themselves to a candidate. Once a decision is reached will they reject their previous volunteer efforts and accept an outcome handed down from on high? Or is it more likely that they will resent what is done and go their own way, thus ultimately weakening the tea party?
Perhaps I’m misunderstanding what plans are moving forth statewide, but, until I am convinced otherwise, I would recommend that the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party have no hand in this vetting process. There are too many parties, too many interests, and too many candidates involved. I believe that this plan strips away our political freewill, and without the freedom of choice, are we any better than either the Republicans or Democrats, whose flawed principles and processes led to the formation of the tea party in the first place?
I know that unfortunately this letter goes against the plans of my former employers, but is my reasoning wrong? Do the ends of ideally nominating a better candidate justify the means of potentially subverting the desires of the individual tea parties and their members? Am I crazy to think that this plan is dangerous? Is the idea of molding politically self-aware tea party members that can arrive at their own decisions without mandates from above nothing more than foolish idealism?
What are your thoughts?
Besides the concerns listed above, I worried that this vetting would be seen as an endorsement and that it was quite possible that the process would nominate a candidate who didn’t actually adhere to the core values of the tea party. Nevertheless, I was assured that this process would not be called an official endorsement.
At the end of the day, based partially upon the recommendation of a former tea party leader, I chose not to participate in this process myself. After all, if I did so and did not agree with the outcome, then would I still have any room to object? And, after hearing the results, I must say that I do strongly object. For the record, Corey Stewart won for lieutenant governor and Mark Obenshain for attorney general.
First, some groups like the Lynchburg Tea Party have declared this outcome to be an outright endorsement, which is what I feared would happen.
Second, from everything that I’ve learned about him, much like Black Velvet Bruce Li, I am not convinced that Corey Stewart is a proper banner carrier for the tea party principles of constitutionally limited government, fiscal responsibility, and a few other important issues that may come up in a future piece.
Third, if the tea parties do feel compelled to stand behind a candidate, let them do so regionally, not statewide. Let Mechanicsville decide what is best for Mechanicsville, Montross determine what is best for Montross, and the Shenandoah Valley declare what is best for the Shenandoah Valley.
Fourth, my worries that the vetting actually damaged the public perception of the tea party have increased after reading a number of recent blog posts on other sites.
I am well aware that my comments may not be popular with many tea party groups, possibly even my own in Harrisonburg. Nevertheless, as a member of the Board of Directors for the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party, based upon everything that I’ve written thus far, I feel compelled to urge my fellow tea partiers to consider the results of this weekend’s tea party vetting process with extreme caution.
If you are planning to cast your vote at the Republican Convention on May 18th, do so intelligently. I’ll tell you right now that I’m supporting my state senator, Mark Obenshain, for attorney general. However, you shouldn’t merely take my word as the absolute truth or the results of this tea party vetting either. If you think Rob Bell is more in line with your thinking, then you ought to cast your vote for him. You can use any endorsement as a guide, but never make that one item your only determining factor. Otherwise you surrender your vote to the whims of another.
I know it takes time, but let me stress that you need to research the candidates yourself and decide which best represents your values and your principles.
Here I stand. I can do no other.