The Tea Party and me go way back.
In 2009 and 2010, I spoke at a couple of the big Tea Party rallies, including the big Tax Day 2010 rally at the Capitol, as well as more in other, smaller locales.
At the time, the Tea Party was a fairly organic thing; lots of little groups of people, angry about Obamacare and taxes and immigration and gun control and the general sense that Obama was going to sap the bejeebers out of whatever liberty, economic future and choice we had left.
One of my big memories of my big speech was asking the crowd “How many of you voted Republican in 2008?”. About half the crowd cheered. “How many voted Democrat?” A few people cheered, gingerly. “How many voted Ron Paul?” Many cheered lustily. “How many would rather jab a screwdriver into your skull than vote for Ron Paul?” Other cheered with gusto. “How many of you didn’t care because you hated politics?” Many, many cheered.
What made the Tea Party so fun at the time was that it was that, as I discovered in my speech, it was a little bit of everyone. And it worked; the Tea Party, and its outpouring of energy, was disproportionally responsible for flipping both chambers of the Minnesota House in 2010.
It was the biggest political tent I’d ever seen – because nobody involved knew enough to try to keep anyone out (except, of course, for liberals carrying signs designed to make the Tea Party look bad; we kept them out pretty handily).
The Tea Party – at least a part of the big, decentralized whole, anyway – seems to have unlearned that vital lesson.
Jack Rogers and Jake Duesenberg have built up a pretty big network of Tea Party groups around the metro. The groups involve big monthly meetings, speakers, lots of education…
…and, well, I’m not sure what.
The other day on the Tea Party podcast with Jack Rogers and Jake Duesenberg, they took a run at the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance – one of the most accomplished, successful civil rights groups in the state.
Here’s what they had to say:
To closely paraphrase Duesenberg (it’s the first half of the clip above) – GOCRA does some big things, but they do it by playing the political game with politicians. By doing this, they make incremental improvements, but fail to go for the BIG improvements in gun rights.
I think Duesenberg is trying to compare GOCRA’s approach – he calls it “Access-Based”, which to the non-access-based is a term that means “belonging to the country club” – with some of the more confrontation-based groups, whose model is based more around making a big noise (almost always in front of people who vigorously agree with you). Groups like “Minnesota Gun Rights”, the Iowa-based group we’ve written about in the past, as well as some of the “liberty” groups that focus on building large groups of followers, and then…
…well, we’ll get back to that.
Of course, if you want to focus on confrontation, it helps to show you’re able to go politically medieval on your opponent. For example: while GOCRA certainly can work the “access” angle, they can also bring the political pain; ask the Capitol legislative assistants and receptionists how many phone calls they get when GOCRA puts out a call to their troops to melt the phone lines. The phone lines melt; tens of thousands of calls, emails, letters and visits follow. And behind those calls are votes; when GOCRA decided to confront the outstate DFLers in 2002 on “Shall Issue” carry reform, every single outstate DFLer that’d voted against carry permit reform lost their election. Carry permit reform followed in the next session.
After 25 years of “access-based” lobbying mixed with “kicking opponents asses at the polls”, GOCRA has achieved something any grass-roots group should sit back and study; we’ve got a legislature where the GOP is 100% pro-gun, and where even the DFL is about evenly split, giving pro-gun forces a solid majority. Think how much shooters in Colorado – where the push this past session was led by the “confrontation-based” National Association of Gun Rights, and was a complete fiasco – would like to have such a situation.
And between the combination of access-based influence carrots and “Bring the Pain!” political sticks, GOCRA got a hell of a lot done this session; barring gun confiscations in emergencies, repealing the capitol felony trap, expanding carry permit reciprocity, and bringing Minnesota into line with federal law on Suppressors and purchase of long arms in noncontiguous states. Is there more to do? Absolutely; much of it depends on getting a GOP governor into office.
So what has the Tea Party done lately?
I’m not saying that to needle Jack and Jake; I say let a thousand flowers bloom.
But when you say “GOCRA would like…” to a legislator, they sit up and pay attention – either because they like or respect GOCRA and its leadership, or because they loathe but fear them for what they can do at the polls. And when you’re trying to get policy passed, being liked or feared are equally useful.
So here’s your question: when it comes to influencing votes on policy, do people like and respect the Tea Party (or Jake’s guest, “Liberty Minnesota”, a libertarian group that seems to spend a lot of time riffing on Republicans and, occasionally, obliquely, DFLers) enough to extend themselves on their behalf when it comes to voting on policy?
Or, failing that, do they legitimately fear what the Jack and Jake Brigade is going to do to them at the polls in November?
As someone who was doing the Tea Party before the cool kids were involved, I’d love to see the Tea Party legitimately do all three.
Can anyone honestly say they do?
Because until they do, they’re no better than the Libertarian Party; a bunch of people sitting around a room vigorously agreeing with each other.
Bonus Question: To pick a constitutional liberty out of the ether for an example; how do you think “Constitutional Carry” – changing Minnesota to a “no permit” state, like Vermont, Alaska, Wyoming, Arizona or Kansas – is going to happen:
- Via a judicious combination of carrots and sticks, both during sessions and on the campaign trail, to get the Legislature to pass it, or
- People sitting around in rooms bellowing about how awful it is that it hasn’t been passed yet?