Fed up with presidential candidates, N.H. Tea Partiers refocus locally

Monitor staff
Published: 10/16/2016 12:10:54 AM

The New Hampshire Tea Party Coalition was born in 2007 at a time when most of the candidates for president weren’t discussing important issues, said one of its founders.

“And that’s even worse today,” Jane Aitken said in a phone interview Friday.

She was among the founding group that drove to Boston to throw metaphorical boxes of tea into the harbor on the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.

“I was out in the streets protesting,” the retired teacher said. “The candidates in 2008 were not talking about the issues we cared about,” including the national debt, overreach by the Federal Reserve and illegal immigration.

She’s even more unsatisfied this election cycle, as policy has consistently taken a backseat to personality at the presidential level. But rather than engage presidential candidates Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton – both of whom she believes were chosen because they’re easily manipulable – Aitken is focusing her efforts on working with her 40 or 50 Tea Party partners on local issues.

“We can only affect our immediate sphere of influence, like our towns. If you want to fight the federal government, you feel like the only thing you can do is write to Ayotte and write to Shaheen, but a lot of the time they just vote together and rubber stamp Obama,” she said, referencing New Hampshire’s U.S. senators.

Aitken said the Tea Party movement that took the country by storm in 2009 only co-opted what her group and other branches around the country started on Dec. 13, 2007, partly in support of then-Texas congressman Ron Paul’s fledgling presidential campaign and partly as a message to all the other candidates.

But nevertheless, the evolving Tea Party movement became a political force.

A New York Times analysis in October 2010 found 138 Tea Party candidates running for U.S. House or Senate.

By then, a Washington Post survey found, most local Tea Party organizers said Sarah Palin was the national figure who best represented their interests, receiving 14 percent of the vote over Paul’s 6 percent.

But, in keeping with the populist theme of the movement, 34 percent answered: “No one.”

Tea Party candidates won 44 seats in the House and Senate in the 2010 election, according to the Times analysis, but its influence has waned ever since.

Dante Scala, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, considered the Tea Party’s success locally in a phone interview Wednesday.

“In New Hampshire, the Tea Partiers never really had a big success in a Republican primary until arguably – I wonder if they would claim Donald Trump as a success,” he said.

If the Tea Party is viewed as very conservative voters, Scala said, then, “I think the answer is no.” But if it’s “the outs of the party versus the ins, then I think that you could make more of a case that Donald Trump was a success.”

“Clearly Trump was not the choice of the state Republican elite,” Scala said. “He was Al Baldasaro’s guy, not Tom Rath’s guy, not Jennifer Horn’s guy.”

Several people listed online as contacts for New Hampshire branches of the Tea Party didn’t respond to requests for comments this week.

One local group, Merrimack Tea, appears to have accepted Trump as an outsider capable of reversing Obama’s agenda, according to posts on its Facebook page.

But Aitken said she’s more concerned with taking on manageable issues close to home these days.

“The bad thing about elections is it distracts from these issues that we work on constantly, day in and day out,” she said.

Those include reducing federal influence on school curricula, weeding out voter fraud in local elections, monitoring the impact of refugees resettled in New Hampshire, ensuring regional planning commissions don’t change the character of rural towns against their residents’ wills and protecting the Right to Know law, she said.

“You can do more” than write to your senators, she said. “You can go to your town meeting and find out what kind of money they’re taking from D.C. and how is it going to change your town.”

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @NickBReid.)


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