Tea Party Already Looking Past Tuesday

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    BOSTON - APRIL 14: Mary Lou Russett, of Pittsfield, Massachusetts and Val Touba, of Bedford, New Hampshire recite the Pledge of Allegiance at a Tea Party rally on Boston Common on April 14, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Tea Party Express is on a current tour through the United States ending tomorrow in Washington, D.C., on tax day. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

    A radar systems engineer who prefers PowerPoint presentations to power lunches, 26-year-old Nathan Mintz is an unlikely politician -- and that's the idea.

    The charismatic state Assembly candidate from Redondo Beach is the first and only tea party co-founder to run for high office in California this year, buoyed by a wave of anti-incumbent anger and motivated by a desire to rein in what tea partiers see as big government run amok.

    "Maybe this isn't the best or most logical career step for me," said Mintz, who formed South Bay Tea Party last year shortly after the $787 billion federal economic stimulus package became law. "But this is my state, I've lived here my whole life, and if people like me aren't willing to step in and say, 'I'll do what I can to fix this,' it's not going to get fixed."

    Getting people like Mintz elected to local and state office is one of numerous ways California's tea party activists are attempting to move beyond the boisterous protests that have marked the movement's early stages. They want to establish a political presence that will last far beyond this year's election cycle.

    "If the Obama administration and this Congress went away tomorrow, there's still a lot we need to do," said Erin Ryan, president of Redding Tea Party Patriots, one of at least 175 California chapters of Tea Party Patriots, which organizers say is the nation's largest. "You can't create a long-term movement that's viable if it's based on anger."

    Over the past few months, Ryan and her fellow activists in Redding have formed subgroups to promote civic participation and engage elected officials. Weekly meetings draw as many as 400 people from the conservative region about 160 miles north of the state capital, who tackle topics such as "what a district attorney does."
         
    Three hundred miles south, in Fresno, one of the state's largest tea party groups, Central Valley Tea Party, has started an "adopt-a-politician" committee to follow state and congressional representatives and hold them accountable.
         
    Tea party activists also are among candidates seeking elected positions on some county Republican committees, which register voters, train volunteers, recruit candidates and raise money.
         
    U.S. Senate candidates Carly Fiorina and Chuck DeVore, running for the Republican nomination to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in the fall, have actively courted tea party adherents for months.
         
    But the tea party's longevity also will depend on its ability to break free from the perception that it is simply a tool of the GOP, especially important in a state where Republicans are less than a third of all registered voters.
         
    "Our biggest problem right now has been that the Republican Party is trying to make us part of them," added Dawn Wildman, a founder of the San Diego-based Southern California Tax Revolt Coalition. "We're not all Republicans, and that notion is insulting to even those of us who are Republicans."
         
    Wildman and other tea party leaders acknowledge that Republicans and Republicans-turned-independents do comprise the majority of the movement.
         
    At the tea party's Tax Day rally in Sacramento on April 15, Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler, an attorney from the Gold Rush-era community of Nevada City, asked the crowd of more than 2,000 how many of them were current or former Republicans. Nearly every hand went up.
         
    The tea party's other challenge is to overcome the skeptics who ask why its members were silent during the Republican administration of George W. Bush, when the federal deficit reached record levels. It was the Bush administration that pushed for the $700 billion bailout for the banking industry.
         
    Tea partiers cite a multitude of reasons for their lack of activism while Bush was in office and Republicans controlled Congress. Ryan, the president of the Redding group, said she was not happy about the Bush administration but felt she had "no mechanism to plug into."
         
    Brad Roltgen, head coordinator of the Central Valley Tea Party, compared many tea partiers' delayed activism to "a frog in a boiling pot."
         
    "You put the frog in there and slowly turn up the heat, and pretty soon before he knows it he's boiling," the Fresno Republican said. "But Obama came in and turned the temperature way up."
         
    If it wants to become a long-term force in California politics, the tea party also will have to diversify, something that is not evident today.

    Tea party rallies, candidate forums and other events are noticeably lacking in racial and ethnic diversity -- a particularly sensitive issue in California, where 60 percent of the population is nonwhite.

    The tea party's cultural conservatism is unlikely to strike a chord with the state's largest minority group, Hispanics, said Harry Pachon, a public policy professor at the University of Southern California's Tomas Rivera Policy Institute. Hispanics comprise nearly 37 percent of the state population,

    "There's a strong anti-border, anti-immigrant perspective among the tea party members, from what I've seen, and most Latinos are going to shy away from that," Pachon said.

    As the tea party attempts to polish its image and impose some order while maintaining its grassroots credentials, Mintz, the legislative candidate, is running as the only Republican for an open seat in the 53rd Assembly District that leans heavily Democratic. Undaunted, he tries to explain to prospective voters that tea partiers come from all walks of life -- including his mortgage broker and doctor.

    In the general election, Mintz said he is counting on winning support from the 22 percent of district voters who are registered as independents. He believes his socially centrist, fiscally conservative platform will resonate with that group of swing voters.

    "We've got too many one-dimensional thinkers in political office -- from both parties -- who aren't willing to make the effort or imaginative or smart enough to solve problems correctly," he said.

    A radar systems engineer who prefers PowerPoint presentations to power lunches, 26-year-old Nathan Mintz is an unlikely politician -- and that's the idea.

    The charismatic state Assembly candidate from Redondo Beach is the first and only tea party co-founder to run for high office in California this year, buoyed by a wave of anti-incumbent anger and motivated by a desire to rein in what tea partiers see as big government run amok.

    "Maybe this isn't the best or most logical career step for me," said Mintz, who formed South Bay Tea Party last year shortly after the $787 billion federal economic stimulus package became law. "But this is my state, I've lived here my whole life, and if people like me aren't willing to step in and say, 'I'll do what I can to fix this,' it's not going to get fixed."

    Getting people like Mintz elected to local and state office is one of numerous ways California's tea party activists are attempting to move beyond the boisterous protests that have marked the movement's early stages. They want to establish a political presence that will last far beyond this year's election cycle.

    "If the Obama administration and this Congress went away tomorrow, there's still a lot we need to do," said Erin Ryan, president of Redding Tea Party Patriots, one of at least 175 California chapters of Tea Party Patriots, which organizers say is the nation's largest. "You can't create a long-term movement that's viable if it's based on anger."

    Over the past few months, Ryan and her fellow activists in Redding have formed subgroups to promote civic participation and engage elected officials. Weekly meetings draw as many as 400 people from the conservative region about 160 miles north of the state capital, who tackle topics such as "what a district attorney does."
         
    Three hundred miles south, in Fresno, one of the state's largest tea party groups, Central Valley Tea Party, has started an "adopt-a-politician" committee to follow state and congressional representatives and hold them accountable.
         
    Tea party activists also are among candidates seeking elected positions on some county Republican committees, which register voters, train volunteers, recruit candidates and raise money.
         
    U.S. Senate candidates Carly Fiorina and Chuck DeVore, running for the Republican nomination to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in the fall, have actively courted tea party adherents for months.
         
    But the tea party's longevity also will depend on its ability to break free from the perception that it is simply a tool of the GOP, especially important in a state where Republicans are less than a third of all registered voters.
         
    "Our biggest problem right now has been that the Republican Party is trying to make us part of them," added Dawn Wildman, a founder of the San Diego-based Southern California Tax Revolt Coalition. "We're not all Republicans, and that notion is insulting to even those of us who are Republicans."
         
    Wildman and other tea party leaders acknowledge that Republicans and Republicans-turned-independents do comprise the majority of the movement.
         
    At the tea party's Tax Day rally in Sacramento on April 15, Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler, an attorney from the Gold Rush-era community of Nevada City, asked the crowd of more than 2,000 how many of them were current or former Republicans. Nearly every hand went up.
         
    The tea party's other challenge is to overcome the skeptics who ask why its members were silent during the Republican administration of George W. Bush, when the federal deficit reached record levels. It was the Bush administration that pushed for the $700 billion bailout for the banking industry.
         
    Tea partiers cite a multitude of reasons for their lack of activism while Bush was in office and Republicans controlled Congress. Ryan, the president of the Redding group, said she was not happy about the Bush administration but felt she had "no mechanism to plug into."
         
    Brad Roltgen, head coordinator of the Central Valley Tea Party, compared many tea partiers' delayed activism to "a frog in a boiling pot."
         
    "You put the frog in there and slowly turn up the heat, and pretty soon before he knows it he's boiling," the Fresno Republican said. "But Obama came in and turned the temperature way up."
         
    If it wants to become a long-term force in California politics, the tea party also will have to diversify, something that is not evident today.

    Tea party rallies, candidate forums and other events are noticeably lacking in racial and ethnic diversity -- a particularly sensitive issue in California, where 60 percent of the population is nonwhite.

    The tea party's cultural conservatism is unlikely to strike a chord with the state's largest minority group, Hispanics, said Harry Pachon, a public policy professor at the University of Southern California's Tomas Rivera Policy Institute. Hispanics comprise nearly 37 percent of the state population,

    "There's a strong anti-border, anti-immigrant perspective among the tea party members, from what I've seen, and most Latinos are going to shy away from that," Pachon said.

    As the tea party attempts to polish its image and impose some order while maintaining its grassroots credentials, Mintz, the legislative candidate, is running as the only Republican for an open seat in the 53rd Assembly District that leans heavily Democratic. Undaunted, he tries to explain to prospective voters that tea partiers come from all walks of life -- including his mortgage broker and doctor.

    In the general election, Mintz said he is counting on winning support from the 22 percent of district voters who are registered as independents. He believes his socially centrist, fiscally conservative platform will resonate with that group of swing voters.

    "We've got too many one-dimensional thinkers in political office -- from both parties -- who aren't willing to make the effort or imaginative or smart enough to solve problems correctly," he said.
     

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