TEA Party is growing despite media coverage

By Jamie Shearer

Note: I found more recent polls and negative media coverage. I also added the information on how to create a political party and that the TEA Party is not one. The story turned into a beast, so I added subheads to break it up.

The Portage County TEA Party might seem small compared to the Republican and Democrat parties, but its membership is five times larger than when it started in July 2009.

The TEA Party had about 350 members at its inception and has grown to about 1,800 members. According to the Portage County Board of Elections there are 10,845 registered Republicans, 34,154 registered Democrats and 64,091 independent voters as of January.

The Portage TEA Party is one of many independent tea party groups across the country with common beliefs, but they are not affiliated with each other.

However, the TEA Party is not registered as a political party. According to the Ohio Revised Code, a party can only exist with at least five percent of the vote for governor or nominees for presidency. If the party gets less than five percent, a petition must be signed and submitted to the secretary of state with an amount of signatures equal to one percent of the total vote for governor or nominees for presidency with the intent to create a new party.

But according to Tom Zawistowski, executive director of the Portage County TEA Party, they have no intention on becoming a separate political party.

“People say to us, ‘Are you going to start your own party?’” Zawistowski said. “And my answer is, “Why should we? We already have two of them.’”

Even though Zawistowski describes most members as “disgruntled Republicans,” 15 percent are Democrats. The group also has Libertarian, Green Party and Constitution Party members.

According to a Rasmussen report on Oct. 14, 23 percent of Ohio voters consider themselves party of the TEA Party. A different Rasmussen report on Oct. 8 states 47 percent of think the TEA Party is good.

“Even people who are not TEA Partiers are thinking like TEA Partiers,” Zawistowski said. “Even people who are not TEA Partiers understand when you don’t have any money, you stop spending.”

Negative media coverage

The party has continued to grow despite negative media coverage.

Zawistowski rattled off a list of adjectives used in the media to describe the TEA Party, among them “fringe,” “racists,” “Nazis” and “tea-baggers.”

Ed Schultz, host of “The Ed Show” on MSNBC, referred to Tea Party-endorsed Nevada senate candidate Sharron Angle as a “nut job” on the Oct. 18 show.

Christiane Amanpour, host of “This Week” on ABC, asked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell if Tea Party-endorsed candidates’ “fringe quality” would turn people off on the Sept. 26 show.

Mike Sever, political reporter for the Record-Courier, has been covering the Portage County TEA Party since its beginning and said he covers them as he would any other political organization.

The paper is supposed to be a representational picture of what’s going on in the community, and because the TEA Party is party of the community, Sever covers them as such.

“I don’t think we handle them any differently,” he said, adding that he hasn’t heard any complaints about the coverage.

On a more political level, Chris Redfern, Ohio Democratic Party chairman, referred to members of the TEA Party as a variation of the F-word in a speech in Monroe County on Sept. 20. On the Ohio Democratic Party’s Web site, Redfern says in a blog he will not apologize.

“It’s a tremendous victory for us,” Zawistowski said. “Anybody will tell you that when someone’s losing their cool, they’re losing.”

Not the Republican TEA Party

At a speech at the University of Akron on Sept. 20 Vice President Joe Biden warned the crowd about the Republican TEA Party.

It’s this constant correlation with the Republican Party that causes public misconceptions of the TEA Party, Zawistowski said.

“We fight the Republicans more than we fight the Democrats, just flat out, because we’re angry with them because they’ve lied to us,” he said, adding that at least the Democrats believe in what they’re doing and Republicans aren’t standing up for anything.

The recent primary season proves Zawistowski’s statement, with at least 11 TEA Party-endorsed candidates beating Republican establishment-backed candidates throughout the nation.

Of the nine Portage County TEA Party endorsements for the upcoming election, eight are for Republican candidates. The exception is Robert Owens, the Constitution Party candidate for attorney general.

Zawistowski said they’ve mostly endorsed Republicans because the Democrats provide no alternative for their small government interests.

The group was created by Portage County residents who had concerns about their government after it had taken over General Motors and Chrysler, the House had passed cap and trade and, at the time, was trying to vote on the healthcare bill. The TEA Party wants local, state and national governments that act in its interests and spend its money wisely.

The TEA Party also holds meetings, raises money and endorses candidates.