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The following article is a first-person account of a Tea Party “celebration” on February 26, 2011, held at the Shilo Inn near the airport in Portland, Oregon.  The author, Mike Edera, found the importance of ideas within Tea Party ranks of particular note.  Read alongside two articles by Devin Burghart, “Tea Time with the Posse: Inside an Idaho Tea Party Patriots Conference,” in April 2011, and “Hundreds of Tea Partiers Gather in Olympia for Sovereignty Winter Fest,” in January 2010, we can begin to see the shape of the Tea Party movement in the Pacific Northwest.



The 2nd Annual Oregon Tea Party Celebration: A Movement in Which Ideas Seem to Have Growing Importance

Observed and written by Mike Edera

The hotel ballroom was half filled when I arrived.  I noticed a John Birch Society table set up against one wall, right next to the Multnomah County Republican Party table. An older man in a nice suit manned the Bircher table, giving away DVD’s, pocket US Constitutions, and back issues of the Birch monthly, The New American.

The Multnomah County Republicans spread was more spare. Three young people sat with a number of sign up sheets and voter registration clipboards. For give-aways, it looked like the Birch Society inventory had spilled over. I got a free Citizens Rule Book, which looked to be a handbook for jury nullification. There was also a stack of books about Jean Bastiat, the nineteenth century French economist said to be the first proponent of what became known as the conservative Austrian school of economics.

A young guy behind a laptop, wearing a Ron Paul t-shirt, told me, ”All I have is this Silver Certificate.” He showed me an old dollar note from 1957 that said Silver Certificate on the top. I told him that I remembered my mom taking me to the bank to trade one of those for a silver dollar.  “Like this?’ he showed me an old silver dollar. “Silver’s doing pretty well right now”, I said. “Unfortunately, I’ve had to sell a lot of my silver, ‘cause I’m not working right now” he told me. I made the mistake of asking him what work he did, and he started in on a spiel for a voter map he’s marketing that helps candidates find off-year voters.

By the time the event got underway, the ballroom had filled to about 200 folks. On the stage were the speakers – officers of the Oregon Tea Party PAC.  Jeff Reynolds, chair of the Multnomah County Republicans got the ball rolling. “I’m not the enemy”, he declared. He listed a string of achievements that he and fellow Tea Partiers have accomplished since they took over the county committee, including taking fifty percent of Multnomah County delegates to the Dorchester Conference (the annual Republican State get together founded by Bob Packwood decades ago.) After the 2008 elections they took over the committee. It had $120.00 in the bank account and one sub committee. Today, there are twelve sub committees, dozens of new volunteers, and they have recruited thirty people to run for office in the county.

Next up was Jeff Lutt, an Oregon Tea Party officer.  He traced his involvement with politics to twittering about the 2008 elections. Apparently, he developed a big following. He spoke about Rick Santelli, the Chicago trader who made ‘the rant heard ‘round the world’ in response to Obama’s stimulus program. He quoted Santelli in response to Obama’s mortgage relief effort: “This mocks thrift and makes chumps of those who pay their own way!” Since early 2009, Lutt has used his skills with social media to build up the Oregon Tea Party.

Kristine Ribaldi delivered an impassioned, if unmemorable,  speech amounting to little more than cheerleading.  And another speaker, seeming to represent the American for Progress, talked about how the Tea Parties could ‘build the bench’ of candidates by contesting non-partisan races. “By doing this a candidate can say ‘I’m not scary, I’m on the city council.”   In the 2010 elections, despite state wide GOP failure in Oregon, Americans for Progress claimed that it helped create a three person conservative majority on the Lane County Commission, elected a Mayor of Lincoln City and two council members, a new Mayor of Damascus, and a Clackamas County commissioner.

He also presented Americans for Progress’ so-called Road Map for 2012: identify activists and build capacity; train activists; and motivate volunteers.  While this is the same formula that many progressive groups use, he claimed that the Tea Parties were growing rapidly.  As evidence he said that the Tea Parties in Oregon had grown to dozens of chapters, with significant numbers of new people. He told the crowd that he always asked for a show of hands from people who were brand new to activism when speaking at Tea Party events. It has steadily been about two-thirds of the folks in the room, he said.

The keynote was from John Kuzmanich.  He declared that the Republican Party was to be the Tea Party’s vehicle to ‘fight back,’ and he ran in the Republican primary for Congressional District One, currently held by Congressman Wu, a Democrat. Apparently, there was another Tea Party candidate running, so the mainstream Republican, Rob Cornilles, won the primary race.

Kuzmanich’s speech was remarkable. He explained his version of the ‘why’ of the Tea Party, and delivered a coherent theory of free market economics that has gained in popularity, precisely during a period of economic crisis brought on by free market capitalist excess.   He claimed that conservatives were the original liberals (using the classic European definition of liberals as free trade free market proponents).  “Conservatives are trying to conserve the liberating ideals of the American Revolution”. He quoted DeToquville, “Liberty is freedom of action to sustain life.” While he claimed that progressives had ‘distorted’ the meaning of freedom, they had not done that with the concept of liberty, which was owned solely by conservatives. Conservatives believed in progress, but believe that progress comes only from the private sector, he said.  Progressives, by Kuzmanich’s definition, are elitist socialists, seeking to create a greater good by centralizing the state.  He said that there have only been two conservative Presidential candidates – Goldwater and Reagan — conveniently dumping the legacy of both Bushes over the side.

Kuzmanich touted three books: The first was The 5000 Year Leap by the late Cleon Skousen, an effort to link America’s success with 28 divine principles that the founding fathers supposedly accessed.  The second was Liberal Fascism, by Jonah Goldberg, a highly annoying attempt to link the left thought with fascism.

The last work was Road to Serfdom, by Frederick Von Hayek, a Nobel-Prize winning economist of the Austrian school of economics. According to Hayek, the catastrophes of Nazism and Stalinist communism were outgrowths of the efforts of social democrats to centralize the state and European economies.  In this writer’s opinion, it is important to understand this analysis, because it has become an alternative explanation for the present crisis. Kuzmanich overtly made this point, saying that while “we retain our moral values, the Tea Party unites around three principles: 1) constitutional limited government and the rule of law; free market capitalism; and fiscal and personal responsibility.  The Tea Party’s slogan is: No Public Money for Private Failure.

In conclusion, it should be noted that this is a movement with an increasingly coherent ideology, and a reasonably well-funded plan to build political capacity. But the emphasis on ideology, on political ideas, was striking.

My prior encounters with the Tea Party had been during the congressional town halls, where the Tea Partiers were incoherent with fury, and all the racist signs were in evidence. The strange political formulations coming from Glen Beck – the equating of fascists with communists with Obama again served to cement in my mind this notion of an irrational and disjointed movement.  By contrast, at this gathering people seemed to care about ideas; and not just the leaders but also the crowd. It was not a prosperous, yuppy looking group either – much more lower middle class, blue color, older. They were looking for answers.

Altogether, this gathering was a sobering experience.


Mike Edera is a long time activist with the Oregon based Rural Organizing Project, and earns his keep as a landscape contractor.


Devin Burghart

Author Devin Burghart

is vice president of IREHR. He coordinates our Seattle office, directs our research efforts, and manages our online communications. He has researched, written, and organized on virtually all facets of contemporary white nationalism since 1992, and is internationally recognized for this effort. Devin is frequently quoted as an expert by print, broadcast, and online media outlets. In 2007, he was awarded a Petra Foundation fellowship. more...

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