As Tea Party members of Congress threaten to shut down the federal government and default on the national debt if they don’t get their way on repealing Obamacare, Minnesota Tea Party supporters say they are stressing mainstream conservatism.
At their meeting in Plymouth last week, West Metro Tea Party members said they want the government to get out of their health care, their businesses and their pocket books.
“See, we’re not as crazy as some people think,” said Jack Rogers, president of the Tea Party Alliance in Minnesota, who helps organize Tea Party groups around the state.
But results of a poll taken at the event earlier in the evening indicate that most of the West Metro attendees seem to be in step with Tea Party supporters in Congress.
Meeting attendees were asked: “Do you believe a government shutdown on October 1 is a necessary next step for Congress to take regarding the defunding or stopping of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare)?”The vote was 19 in favor, 14 against.The vote was the same in response to a second question: “Do you believe the issue of raising the debt ceiling on October 17 should be included in the debate regarding the defunding or stopping of…ObamaCare?”
Rogers and Joe Arwood, chair of the West Metro group, maintain that Minnesota Tea Party members are like any community group that gathers to share interests and information. “What were finding with this is that there is a segment of people that are apolitical and they are here to get educated,” Arwood said.
During the course of the evening discussion, while dining on pizza and beer, there were a few insinuations about government conspiracies and dark, outside influences. (“I’m concerned about Sharia Law,” offered one woman.) But for the most part, 33 people were there to commiserate about business regulations, taxes, the quality of education, labor unions, the Met Council and, of course, Obamacare and its Minnesota counterpart, MNsure.
And they were looking for solutions from Dave Thompson and Randy Gilbert, Republican candidates for governor and state auditor, who were there to pitch for votes.
“That’s another misconception of the Tea Party. We are willing to talk about solutions,” said Arwood. “How else can we make this work?”
Gilbert explained the scope of the auditor’s office and called for greater oversight on unfunded public-pension liabilities. Thompson called for a substantial increase in tuition tax credits to close the state’s achievement gap between white and minority students.
Thompson rejected the image of Tea Party supporters, particularly in Minnesota, as extremists. “I don’t accept the premise,” he said. “I’ve spoken to a lot of these folks and they are regular folks who believe in constitutionally restrained government, and I think it is an unfair smear to say they are trying to destroy anything.”
For the record, Thompson said “no” to both questions on linking government funding and debt ceiling to Obamacare.
Thompson, Gilbert and other candidates who appear at Tea Party meetings may find supporters but they will not necessarily find endorsement. “We are going to provide that open forum [but] we are not out to endorse candidates,” said Arwood. “We are not beholden to a political group.”
Unlike political activists whom Tea Party members of Congress try to appease, Arwood describes Minnesota Tea Party members as “a true cross section of the citizenry.” In fact, Tea Party gatherings of Minnesota may resemble more a Rotary meeting than a political action group.
But there is some heat in the discussion. As Arwood describes it: “These are people who want a right to the fruits of their labor and don’t feel the government should have first claim — people with a bedrock of principles that they are willing to go to the mat for.”