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Minnesota Tea Party gaining supporters, but has little political clout

MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday
West Metro Tea Party members gathered in Plymouth for a meeting in September.

When the North Metro Tea Party started meeting in 2009, its dozen members could gather in a small coffee shop. Last week, 165 people showed up for the group’s most recent meeting at the Mermaid event center in Mounds View.

From Aitkin to Wright counties, the Minnesota Tea Party has grown from its early days in the north metro to more than 3,000 members statewide, according to Jack Rogers, president of the Tea Party Alliance, the umbrella group that covers roughly 40 affiliate groups in Minnesota. Rogers predicts that by the end of next year that number will grow to more than 5,000. (Rogers considers someone a “member” of the Tea Party if he or she attends more than one event and supplies contact information.)

But Minnesota Tea Partiers are far less active than their national counterparts when it comes to putting their supporters in office. With the exception of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, who is not running for reelection in the 6th District, there are few prominent politicians in the state who identify themselves with the Tea Party.

The party does not endorse candidates in Minnesota, doesn’t field candidates in state races and, despite claims by supporters, appears to have had little influence in state elections. (One exception was the 2012 legislative race in District 33b in the western suburbs, where Tea Party activist Cindy Pugh defeated incumbent state Rep. Steve Smith in the Republican primary.)

Center of attention

The Tea Party, of course, is the center of attention in Washington with its supporters playing key roles in the federal government shutdown. But the Tea Party could be marginalized if Democratic and Republican leaders push through a budget deal without meeting major Tea Party demands, including the repeal or defunding of Obamacare.

Rogers says that’s not his concern. Minnesota’s Tea Party Alliance, he said, keeps its distance from the national scene and tries to influence state policy on taxes and spending, education and health care.

“We prefer to stand by and remind both parties of the Tea Party principles,” added Tea Party Alliance Executive Director Jake Duesenberg.

The Tea Party Alliance is trying establish a base of financial support. The Alliance recently registered as a political action committee, listing Rogers as its chair and Duesenberg as financial director. Duesenberg says the Alliance has raised $28,000, money mainly used to cover the costs for its “traveling Tea Party tool kit,” material that can be used to start a Tea Party chapter.

Rogers said most contributions are $3 to $5. “This is purely grassroots, everyday hardworking people,” he said.

Minnesota’s Tea Partiers, with their philosophy of free markets and limited government, are mainly Republicans, like Rogers. Although he said there are parts of the state GOP platform the Tea Party doesn’t like, “I think the three strongest policies we support together are the right to work, voter identification and protection of human life.” Duesenberg disagrees a little with Rogers, saying that the Tea Party avoids social issues like abortion and gay marriage.

Rogers maintains that Minnesota’s Tea Party attracts from all points on the political compass. “At the State Fair booth, we talked to so many people,” he said. “Just as many DFL people as the other parties.”

Parties playing games

Some Tea Party supporters say the shutdown scenario in Washington proves that both parties are playing games with voter trust and tax dollars. “The overarching thing that the Republicans and [Democrats in] the Senate are running from right now is the blame for shutting down the government,” said Joe Arwood, chair of the West Metro Tea Party, which meets monthly in Plymouth.

Pat Anderson, former state auditor and a member of the state GOP’s executive committee, admires the Tea Party stand on principles. “They can’t be co-opted by the existing Republican Party,” she said. “The perception is that both parties restrict, pass laws, play games. Republicans do it through restrictions, perceptions that they favor some business entities over others, the big guy over the little guy.”

Anderson credits the Tea Party with helping Minnesota Republicans take control of the Legislature in 2010. “It’s truly a grassroots movement about individuality and freedom,” she said. “The Republican Party in 2010 took up those themes and it greatly influenced the campaign.”

Still, Anderson and others agree that Minnesota Tea Party members are less interested in winning seats than they are in winning over minds. “They talk about issues and policy rather than politics,” she said.

According to a legislative scorecard distributed at a recent Tea Party meeting in Plymouth, the party opposes an increase in the minimum wage, “common core” curriculum in schools, unionization of day-care providers and, of course, MNsure and tax increases. The list of policies Tea Partiers support is shorter: construction of nuclear power plants and liquor sales on Sunday.

Rogers says that education rather than active lobbying is the purpose of the state Tea Party’s PAC.  “We are not elitist; we are not trying to set ourselves up as a ruling class,” Rogers said. “One of the things we’ve been successful at is encouraging people how to get  engaged…. to become an election judge or a poll watcher. We do encourage them to go the caucuses in February to watch the process.”

Common sense

Even as Tea Party Republicans in Washington taint their party with the blame for the government shutdown and the possible global financial problems, Anderson said she believes Minnesota Tea Partiers will be a beacon of common sense in the 2014 and 2016 elections.   

“They don’t want gridlock. They want good solid economic policies that don’t favor any entity; they don’t have any other agenda,” she said. “In reality, it is getting back to the basics of what this country is all about — freedom and individualism and keeping America strong.”

That’s the reason that some Republican candidates pay their respects. “They’re fighting for the same principles that I believe in,” Dave Thompson, Republican state senator and candidate for governor, said at recent meeting of the West Metro Tea Party. “I’m here because these are the kinds of people who are likely to support me in an election campaign.”

But Thompson and other candidates may have a long wait for formal Tea Party support. Duesenberg said that for the foreseeable future, the Minnesota Tea Party wants to stay out of the fray of election cycles and won’t officially back and campaign for candidates.

Still, while the Minnesota Tea Party tries to maintain its independence from the sausage making that is politics in 2013, its supporters say the party’s principles will put the United States on the right path.

“This is a nation in great sorrow, great jeopardy, great depression,” said Rogers. “This is a scary thing and we have got to do something.”

Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/15/2013 - 11:26 am.

    Semantic exercise

    If nothing else, Ms. Brucato’s piece reinforces my hope is that the Tea Party will remain a fringe group, with little genuine influence on policy in Minnesota at any level — local, county, region or state.

    Even a single quote from the piece is revealing.

    For example: “I think the three strongest policies we support together are the right to work, voter identification and protection of human life.”

    In practice, there is no “right to work” in this country, anywhere. If there were, we’d have no unemployment. “Right to work” means “We hate unions,” which too often — not absolutely every time, but far too often — translates to “You have the right to work for less pay.” Among the several benefits (yes, there are downsides, too) of unionization is collective bargaining, and the resulting rise in wages above the starvation level typically “enjoyed” by entry-level workers in a host of occupations where union representation is unheard of. It doesn’t take a lot of research to discover this. States that are hostile to unions (e.g., the South), with “right to work” laws on their books, have lower wages than states the have no “right to work” law on the books.

    Ostensibly promoted as a means to correct and/or prevent voter fraud, voter identification is, as has been pointed out on MinnPost many times over the past few years, a solution in search of a problem. There’s no significant voter fraud in Minnesota, so “voter identification” is more likely to be part of the national strategy of Tea Party true believers to suppress the vote, especially the vote that seems likely to be cast for candidates of which the Tea Party disapproves.

    If Tea Partiers were actually interested in the protection of human life instead of merely wanting to control the reproductive functions of women, they’d be demonstrating just as fiercely against nuclear and chemical weapons, for disarmament, for vast increases in food, monetary and occupational aid to the poor (both here and abroad), they’d be at the forefront of gun control and safe driving movements, and they’d be leading the charge to ensure that *all* children in Minnesota grew up with adequate housing, nutrition, and educational resources. I’ve seen no evidence at all that the Tea Party is interested in these things.

    The Tea Party notion of “freedom” is based on ignorance and fear, and those two characteristics form the basis of their policy priorities.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/15/2013 - 04:09 pm.


      Ray, thanks for the great piece. You’re far more articulate than I have the patience for and present a very strong case as to why the tea party folk are inconsistent in their message and are low on information.

      I would add just a couple of items on the sanctity of life issue. Were they really concerned about the protection of human life, they would also be working hard to eliminate the death penalty. But they work under the premise that adults are not worth the effort to keep alive. One person tried to justify it to me by saying that babies don’t have any choices and adults do, ignoring that some people on death row are mentally handicapped and others are falsely convicted. And that position narrows their own definition of what constitutes a sacred human life, which seems like an odd tact to take.

      Another way they could easily reduce abortions and promote their position is to advocate for sex education, family planning, and contraception use. That would truly position them as a new party with a platform that garners members from across the political spectrum and not just a sliver from the conservative right who are too reactionary to get along with the Republican moderates.

      Instead of the tea party, why can’t we get the Intelligence Party? A group made up of people who can think, reason, and find the best solutions to problems instead of wallowing in the ideological shallow end of the pool. Now that’s a new movement I could get behind!

  2. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/15/2013 - 11:57 am.

    “This is a nation in great sorrow, great jeopardy, great depress

    Yeah, it’s scary, so let’s all be afraid. Gays can get married, no one’s checking IDs at the polls, and we have expanded health care! Oh, the horrors. Never mind that someone else getting married in no way affects them, voters are vetted even before they get to the polls, and Obamacare prevents countless ruined households. How much freedom do people have when they lose all their assets and have to fight their way out of bankruptcy?

    Tea partiers are pretty much a non starter until they can articulate a positive progress message. Declaring you’re “for freedom” is just a sound bite, and one people of all political stripes can use. If you want to join the big leagues and be taken seriously, you have to put on your big boy britches.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/15/2013 - 12:37 pm.

    Political clout

    “It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.” – Samuel Adams

  4. Submitted by Kevin Slator on 10/15/2013 - 12:51 pm.

    Tea Party tools

    Perhaps “Tea Party tool kit” should really be “Tea Party tool, kit”?

  5. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/15/2013 - 02:24 pm.

    Last Statement Says it All

    Mr. Roger’s last statement says just about all you need to know about the people in Minnesota’s Tea Party:

    They, themselves, are “in great sorrow, great jeopardy, great depression,”…

    but without any evidence to back them up are convinced that the entire NATION feels exactly as they do,…

    while washing their hands of their strong and undeniable association with those who have used unprecedented means, including extortion to bring this nation to its knees,…

    and are more than willing to take us into a Federal default (while ignoring the predictions of the credible experts regarding the dire consequences of doing so),…

    simply to exert their own personal power and get a political “win,”…

    with NO awareness, nor any concern for the havoc that they will bring to our nation and the world’s economy if they DO win.

    These people seem only able to try to save us from problems we don’t even have,…

    using means that are guaranteed to make the problems we DO have considerably worse (for them as well as us).

    Which is, of course, why they feel “great sorrow, great jeopardy, great depression.” It’s all their own creation based on the dysfunctional ways they approach the issues of their own lives.

    The last thing we need is to grant them the power and position to take those same dysfunctional approaches to our state and national life (been there, done that).

  6. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 10/15/2013 - 02:34 pm.

    Is this some kind of a satirical piece?

    “Anderson said she believes Minnesota Tea Partiers will be a beacon of common sense in the 2014 and 2016 elections.”

    Given what is going on as I write, how can any sane person make such a statement?

  7. Submitted by Kurt Nelson on 10/15/2013 - 06:10 pm.

    Two things

    Smaller government is probably a good thing, so the Tea Party has a point; the problem is their alignment with Ayn Rand, and her pseudo philosophy Objectivism, Altruism is not a dirty word, except when you believe Rand’s writings – then, selfishness abounds and everyone celebrates that virtue. Great for the individual, not so much for a society.

    Second, their selective approach to social issues. They, according to the article, believe in the sanctity of life, but I’ll bet many (most, all) are pro death penalty. Or, they hope and wish for voter ID, which is a solution looking for a problem. Absent proof of any type of voter fraud in the state, voter ID is voter suppression. Why anyone would risk a felony to vote Republican is confusing to me, but if that is what they believe.

  8. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 10/16/2013 - 06:41 am.

    you believe these guys?

    So we should believe membership statistics from a group of people who deny science and the scientific method as a conspiracy? They are all about issues? Those issues being more nuke plants and Sunday liquor sales. What a joke.

  9. Submitted by Bruce Johnson on 10/16/2013 - 07:04 am.

    It would be interesting to know if these folks have any thoughts on national interests in spite of wanting to focus on Minnesota hearts and minds. The quote here just referred to who deserves blame in Washington. Blame for what? Is there something going on in Washington that relates to Tea Partiers? Why would people who stand on principle concern themselves with blame? Is the sabotage of the American economy newsworthy in the context of this story?

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/16/2013 - 10:10 am.

      Easy answers

      These people have a very simplistic worldview.

      Who is to blame? Liberals, especially Obama.

      To blame for what? Everything they don’t like.

      Why are they concerned with blame? This is all they hear from their favorite media outlets. Actual solutions–beyond cutting taxes and implementing voter ID–are not part of the package.

      Is the sabotage of the American economy newsworthy in the context of this story? The whole idea that the economy will be sabotaged is a myth cooked up by the liberal media, so no, it’s not newsworthy (especially not when compared to Benghazi, or the IRS taking too long to process their applications for tax exempt status).

  10. Submitted by Richard Steuland on 10/16/2013 - 12:09 pm.

    Tea party akin to fascism

    Tea Party is not an apt name for these would be theocratic Fascists. These people are not patriotic they are subversive. The Koch brothers use these dimwits to further their interests. One must question the mental health of anyone claiming to be a member of these No Nothing’s.

  11. Submitted by Jeff Kline on 01/09/2014 - 11:16 am.

    If nothing else….

    Reading not only the story but then the subsequent postings here really tells me a lot about the reader here. This “rag” if you will isn’t much different than City Pages and some of the others on here that are very left wing. The best that I’ve seen so far is “left leaning” but seems that everyone on here despises all people who are conservative. This makes you out to be something not very attractive.

    Please; show me where in life a job is guaranteed to you?
    Please; show me where in life, an income is guaranteed to you?
    A car;

    I suppose in due time, when we “tea baggers” as you idiots like to call us take all this land back, you’ll be forced to go back out and find jobs and stop living off the public dole.

    II Thessalonians 3:10. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

    But wait. I forgot. You communists (aka democrats) rejected God on national TV. You do not respect anyone who believes in God. So there isn’t much help for you until you get something convincing. Good luck with that.

    You do not have the right to “Rule Over Me”… You are in the wrong land if you think you do.

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