Flag up over new caucus

James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Posted: 07/24/2010 09:55:26 PM PDT

Members of San Bernardino County tea party groups don’t want to be ignored by lawmakers, but group leaders say they’re suspicious of an attempt by some members of Congress to take up the tea party flag.

Some tea party leaders say the newly formed congressional Tea Party Caucus could give lawmakers a chance to claim they’re part of the tea party movement without holding to the movement’s ideals.

“It could be seen as the golden ticket, for lack of a better term,” said Kelly Good, an organizer of the Chino Hills Tea Party. “I think (members of Congress) are seeing it’s very valuable to align themselves with this movement.”

The Tea Party Caucus is the brainchild of Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., a favorite of many conservatives and tea party groups. Bachmann’s office said the caucus was formed to alert members of Congress to “the cries of everyday Americans who are calling for fiscal responsibility, adherence to the Constitution and limited government.”

Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, said some lawmakers will see the caucus as padding for their conservative credentials.

“My hunch is it’s like joining a high school club in order to impress college admissions counselors,” he said. “It’s mainly for show. It’s just a way of saying, `I’m with you, I’m one of you, I support you.”‘

As of Friday, the caucus had 42 members, including Rep. Gary Miller, R-Brea. A spokesman for Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, said Lewis had not yet made a decision about joining the caucus.

Miller said he has been supportive of tea party groups and has a tea party member on one of his advisory committees, but many Chino Hills Tea Party members campaigned for Lee McGroarty, one of Miller’s challengers in June’s primary election.

McGroarty, who slammed Miller for supporting bank bailouts and the “cash for clunkers” program, called Miller’s membership in the caucus “completely disingenuous.”

“If you ask any tea party member, they’re furious at anyone who is a Republican who voted for that type of program,” he said. “That goes completely against the tea party philosophy.”

Good said she still has concerns about Miller but said she is willing to give him a chance to prove he’s on board with the tea party agenda.

“Maybe he’s had a revelation,” Good said. “Maybe he’s been converted.”

But she also said she’ll be watching him closely.

“The only way to tell is to see how he votes,” she said. “Is he walking the talk?”

Good’s unease illustrates one of the idiosyncrasies of the tea party movement. Because it’s a largely decentralized movement based on local organizations, there is no single litmus test for tea-party adherence.

“The tea party is made up of people who just believe the country is going in the wrong direction,” Miller said. “It’s a new organization. There’s going to be confusion on the part of who agrees with you and who doesn’t.”

Local tea party leaders worry that the Tea Party Caucus could be an attempt by Republicans to co-opt the tea party movement, which is conservative but not necessarily supportive of Republicans.

“Neither party is sticking with the tea party agenda,” said Ross Lapham, organizer of the San Bernardino County Tea Party. “Republicans would be the closest (party), but there are many people within it who are not upholding the values of the tea party.”

Lloyd Rekstad, an organizer of the Yucaipa Tea Party, said the Republican party is full of “RINOs” – Republicans in name only – who could try to use the Tea Party Caucus to appear more conservative than they are.

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