Statewide tea party gathering looks to the future

Tea PartyBeing around in the early days of this “great awakening” known as the tea party, it was with much anticipation that I attended last weekend’s Florida Summit.

The event, organized by Karin Hoffman, founder of DC Works for US, brought together tea party leaders and other conservative activists from around the state.

The first thing evident on the event’s first full day, just a few months after November’s less-than-stellar election, was that participants never received the memo that the tea party is finished.

While I detected weariness in their demeanor, it was matched by a firm resolve. These were the doers among the tea party, and there was an undeniable determination about them.

Almost to a man — or woman — they seem to understand that the tea party is in transition and that the movement must learn and grow from its experiences. Having the opportunity to address the room, I fell back on a quote from Leon Megginson, a World War II vet and a professor from Louisiana State University, who said:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.”

It was an encouraging sign that about 150 attendees gathered in the Buena Vista Palace conference room Saturday, about the same number as a similar Central Florida gathering held in late March.

While the ranks do not appear to have thinned, many of the older faces were absent. There were still a few “ambitious” individuals in the room, but many of the carnival barkers of years past were missing in action.

There was little presence from the libertarian-minded, often called the “liberty movement,” although Mark Cross, the Florida chairman of Campaign for Liberty, was there.

With the exception of newly elected U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., who addressed the gathering Saturday, there wasn’t an elected official in sight this non-election year —  a stark difference from last year, when a U.S. Senate candidate forum was held, with former U.S. Sen. George LeMeiux, then-U.S. Rep. Connie Mack and challenger Mike McCalister participating.

The Senate race in Florida may have been the proverbial straw that broke the back of the tea party movement here. A faction collaborated with the D.C. insider group, FreedomWorks, in an attempt to create the false image that Mack enjoyed widespread support among tea party groups, with some healthy compensation being a part of the equation.

In fact, a straw poll was held at the end of last year’s forum, and Mack finished third in a three-way race, with his supporters and his campaign vociferously disputing the results.

Interestingly, FreedomWorks was among the sponsors of this weekend’s festivities. Outside of the GOP, the tea party must be leery of the litany of conservative organizations that regularly harvest its fertile ground.

While many have good intentions and most share common objectives, their interests trump that of the tea party. Valuable allies, no doubt, but they should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism.

There were also no representatives of the Republican Party present — a stark reality that should resonate with everyone sitting in that room, although I sense many are still unsure about whether they’re conservative or Republican. These days, it’s hard to be both.

I suspect the GOP has moved on from the tea party. The “smartest guys in the room” are in need of a scapegoat for yet another dismal election performance, and the “yahoos” in the tea party make for a rather convenient scapegoat.

And you know what? The movement is all the better for it.

There was plenty of discussion about the few successes the movement did experience last year — much of it at the local level, where folks do the hard work of putting action to words. Tampa and Volusia County led the way here.

While some suggest the tea party’s real strength is its bottom-up nature, I’m of the opinion that the movement needs better structure if it hopes to endure. The progressive left is more focused and better organized, and well out in front.

A statewide organizational structure is needed, and the biggest challenge will be in setting up a fair and equitable process to arrive at the end product. And to keep the self-promoters and double agents — trust me, they exist — at bay as this effort takes shape.

There was a lot of talk about the coalitions on the left, and the various factions in the tea party must find common ground where they can, setting disagreements aside for another time. If it cannot do this, it will be but a footnote in history.

That fact was pointed out by Liberty Council’s Matt Staver, who addressed participants Friday evening. As he shared his views on the Second Amendment and updated attendees on the status of the legal challenge to Obamacare, he stressed that the conservative movement cannot afford to throw one person over the fence.

More importantly, Staver was adamant that the stakes could not be higher, and in the end, if the tea party falters, there’s no one else calling for fiscal responsibility and limited government outside of a few politicians pandering for votes. Future generations will look back on these times, and they will write the legacy of how this all plays out.


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Tom Tillison

Tom Tillison

Tom is a grassroots activist who distinguished himself as one of the top conservative bloggers in Florida before joining BizPac Review.
Tom Tillison


  • J. Davis

    The Republicans do not want the Tea Party because they have no money. Did you not get the memo? The RPOF and Governor Scott are courting the big bucks. They believe that the Tea Party will vote for Scott because, well because who else is there?

    Tom I will say this you hammer Freedom Works and that is fine. They deserve every hit they receive. However, don't kid yourself by thinking that all the money spent by AFP came from Ma and Pa Kettle. Lots of big money sponsors there as well.

  • louis klar

    The tea party is like the lion, resting, conserving its strength and resources not willing to expend them needlessly. While we rest we work hard bieng productive providing for self and family, we are conservatives and we don't quit. what the liberals are doing today is merely an impetus for perserverence. Everything is badly broken and it is going to take quite some time and effort to turn things around

  • seazen

    Such a wonder quote: "“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.” And such a deflection to accompany it. Both the Republican Party and this Tea Party represent nothing more than an extraordinary resistance to the real changes that continue to shape this country and the world. We all have to embrace that change and make it our friend – seriously. This is 2012 not 1950 or 1850 and it is marked by diversity, openness, cooperation, inclusion and global interdependency. If the Tea Party wants to be part of this; terrific, we need it. If, on the other hand, it is all about acting out some childish fear of "liberals" and our own government; don't bother.

    • Terry Anderson

      well said.

  • Terry Anderson

    or it could be that the tea party message is too extreme and out of touch with the average American voter, especially Latinos.

    Fix the message not the messagers.

  • Craig Morehouse

    Like Tom, I was there from the beginnings of the Tea Party movement. I spent two years on the Republican Executive Committee.

    Now, I have joined the Libertarian Party, and expect to stay there. The Libertarians are my brothers, the powers in the G.O.P. are not.

    The motto of the Libertarians is "Maximum Freedom, Minimum Government".

    The motto of the Democrats now is "Maximum Government, Minimum Freedom".

    The motto of the National GOP is "Not-Quite Maximum Government, Not Quite Minimum Freedom".

    Pick one, then get involved and fight for your ideas.


    For those who want to consider this from a practical perspective, some stuff to think over:

    The Tea Party has a vast force of educated, liberty-loving citizens, but no political operation or formal presence.

    The Libertarian Party has a national organization and a formal political presence in most of the States, but they don't have the manpower to make their presence a power.

    A consortium of Liberty-loving Tea Party folks and dedicated Libertarians would be a force of major proportions.

  • seazen

    Or, it is really all about me. What I want. What I need. What I said. Everyone else can fend for themselves. This whole "we the people" and "the common good" and "citizenship" is for wussies.

  • Florida Dave

    Craig, Ditto on Tea Party, GOP, and REC. Thanks for the tip on the Libertarian Party. I will start looking at it this afternoon.

  • http://Bizpac Ted

    The majority of the voters look at the Tea Party as the clowns popping out of that little car in the circus. If they don't change their image, the same thing will happen in 2014. The GOP will lose. Breaking off the GOP to another party (Libertarian), will only take votes away from the total Republican number. You can feel better about voting the way you feel even if you lose. That's if you are more concerned with feeling good about the way you voted, than losing. You have to win to make changes. Losers only have excuses. Can't do much with excuses.

  • Marc

    Craig, you are completely wrong about the Democrats. Their motto is Maximum Government, Maximum Personal Freedom. Oh, wait… I digress… that was in the 70's. Now they are Maximum Government and your opinion to the contrary is wrong.

    The GOP qute is quite wrong as well. Their motto used to be Less Government, More military, Maximum Business Freedom – but that was just a lie they touted in the 80s. Their true motto is Maximum Goverment, Maximum Interference in other Nations, and Liberty onhold until they say otherwise for business, personal, and moral.

    However, I completely agree with your practical perspective. If the Tea Party people joined the Libertarian party it would replace the Republicans and defeat the Democrats regularly. Unfortunately too many Tea Party people think moral laws belong at the federal level and thus they get caught up on non-Constitutional uses of government that push Libertarians away.

    My viewpoint – the Republican party is dead until it realizes that Liberty and Rule by Law is more important than interventionism and forcing Christian morals on our non-Christian neighbors.

    Liberty and Freedom for all, not our morals for all.

  • Tea Party Patty

    Tom – You continue to speak and write that the tea partiers need to bury their individual hatchets and I think you are right. Having said that, look in the mirror , my friend. You are the movement's worst offender and you continuously bash Freedom Works and anyone associated with them. You vigorously supported your pet candidate in Sandy Adams but worked against the hands-down primary winner in the Senate race, Connie Mack. You have demagogued Connie Mack, the consensus winner of the primary, and Freedom Works from the very start. It seems that burying the hatchet and supporting the movement is good for the goose, but not the gander. Evidently, you need a new mirror. I hope you wise up before you alienate more people in the movement and drive them away. I think most have just come to ignore you now actually.

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