Vander Plaats: ‘I am not the voice of the tea party’
As GOP presidential prospects prepare to announce their candidacies and eye the Hawkeye State for supporters, members of Iowa’s tea party movement are vetting which candidates will best carry their message of regaining fiscal responsibility and limiting government.
Yet, a highly decentralized movement and diversity of political interests within Iowa’s tea party may prove difficult for Republican candidates to make solid waves in Iowa, a key 2012 early contest.
Monday, The Family Leader chief executive and three-time gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats appeared in Washington, D.C., to speak at a press conference with William Temple, founder of the Tea Party Founding Fathers. Vander Plaats used the opportunity to call for “exceptional leadership” from the candidate who will ultimately face President Barack Obama in 2012.
“I’m telling Iowans and others across the country that America needs a President that will lead on tax reform, on reforming Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, on drastically cutting discretionary spending, and who will refuse to spend more than we take in,” Vander Plaats said Monday in D.C.
Temple is in the process of planning a tea party rally in Kansas City this fall similar to the rally he held in Washington D.C. in 2009. He contacted Vander Plaats to help, which Vander Plaats said he agreed to do.
“I think he knows Iowa is a lead-off state, and wants candidates who [also] realize that to attend this rally and really have the chance to address the core issues of the tea party movement,” Vander Plaats said of Temple.
The movement has already shown political success in 2008 and 2010 elections, said Ryan Rhodes, chairman of the Iowa Tea Party.
“In state [legislative] races, you’re starting to see more people with tea party influences,” he said.
But even with all its given momentum, the movement — both in Iowa and nationally — is hard to classify. There are many different values and interests within the group, which in turn makes it difficult to unify and have a singular voice on issues. Most who consider themselves activists agree they want limited government by repealing health care reform, returning to the basic Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution and implementing fiscally conservative measures. Several are against Democrat-centric ideas of government spending and creating more government-funded programs.
In an April article, The Des Moines Register quoted tea party activist Steve McCoy, of Indianola, as saying “the tea party’s not a Republican arm … there’s no allegiance to Republicans.” It’s a quote McCoy said he continues to stand by.
“But it’s not just Republicans,” McCoy clarified to The Iowa Independent. “Tea party activists are just upset with the direction the country is going, and with both the Republican and Democrat parties.”
Some tea party groups rally for conservative fiscal policies, while others advocate for home schooling rights, and still others champion for immigration reform. In Vander Plaats case, it’s “pro-family” values — specifically one-man, one-woman marriage and anti-abortion advocacy.
“That’s the blessing and the curse of the movement,” Rhodes said. “It’s fairly decentralized. We’re Republicans, we’re Democrats, we have all kinds of people in the tea party movement.”
Such diversity means there is no one person who speaks on behalf of tea party values, nor is the movement unified, unlike the Republican and Democrat parties.
Though often in the spotlight advocating many shared and individual beliefs held by tea party activists, Vander Plaats said Wednesday, “I am not the voice of the tea party in Iowa. There are a lot of threads to the tea party movement; I want to make sure the family thread is represented, and if I can add to that voice or re-energize the movement here in Iowa, then that’s what I want to do.”
Unlike other political parties, which rely on unity to make a stance and influence public policy, tea party members said loose organization is just as effective.
“We’re not a structured party,” McCoy added. “There’s no organizational structure, and I hope that never happens, because then you won’t have a Tea Party group. We’re people who think for ourselves, and we don’t want a (political) party to tell us what to think.”
Rhodes said his Iowa Tea Party is a loosely organized group. The group does not endorse any candidates, or even represent all activists, though it will lend a helping hand to local groups that ask for help in facilitating advocacy efforts on a specific issue.
A bus tour being launched by Rhodes’s Iowa Tea Party in June will give presidential candidates the chance to debate and will serve as a training tool to the public on caucus procedure.
“Our goal is to give people the tools they need to advocate for their issues and to back the candidate of their own choosing,” Rhodes said.
And candidates need not be only Conservative-leaning, Rhodes added.
“Everyone is welcome,” he said. “If a Democrat wants to come debate — I mean, if Barack Obama wanted to come to Iowa and debate issues with us, I’d be OK with that.”
Even if not a unified party, tea party activists believe the movement’s impact will be noticeable come November 2012.
“The tea party will have a significant voice in 2012,“ Vander Plaats said, adding similar movements have already resulted in drastic power change in other elections, primarily one in 2010, when U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., was elected to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s seat. Brown had tea party base support to defeat Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Democrat.
Coakley had been believed to be favored to win the seat in heavily-Democratic Massachusetts.
“(Brown) spoke to tea party issues out there, and people rallied behind him,” Vander Plaats said. “Who would have thought he would take Ted Kennedy’s seat?”
Similar action could happen in Iowa, as former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other potential presidential candidates sweep through the state in the coming months. As tea party activism grows from dissatisfaction of the two-party system, candidates will need to reach out, tea party members said.
“Candidates will need to address the tea party’s issues, especially where they stand on ‘Obamacare,’ (and) the role of government,” Vander Plaats said. “When people get a candidate who does that, and think the person can go against Barack Obama, they’ll rally behind that person. We welcome all voices. It’s a vetting process.”
And a diversity of tea party groups and diversity even within the pool of GOP prospects could mean trouble for establishment Conservative presidential hopefuls.
“It’s going to depend on who puts their name out there, but if the Republicans put up another John McCain, I think a lot of people will have a problem with that,” Rhodes added. “
Vander Plaats did not give a name when asked who he would support for President.
“I like different traits in many of them,” he said. “I will be examining their core values carefully.”
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