All politics is local

Tea party groups take on local issues
James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Posted: 03/07/2011 03:50:34 PM PST

Think of issues likely to draw protests from tea party groups, and you might think of the federal health-care law or the California air-pollution law known as A.B. 32.

But in some parts of San Bernardino County, tea party members are just as likely to get riled up about local issues as they are about so-called “Obamacare.”

“The city council is bought and paid for by the unions,” said Jess Siglow, speaking last week to members of the Redlands Tea Party. “We need to start to rattle City Hall’s cage.”

While Siglow was decrying public employee unions generally – lately a common move for conservatives – the specific aim of his sermon was to get tea party members to oppose a water rate increase that he says will be used to pay for salaries and benefits of municipal workers.

Siglow called the rate increase the “public employee unions’ plan for increasing water and sewer rates.”

In their push for smaller government and lower taxes, many tea party groups have moved beyond calling for less spending at the state and federal level.

That’s still one of their battle cries, to be sure, but they’re also pushing against local tax and rate increases, against red light cameras and against anything else members see as increases taxes or local government expansion.

“It’s easier to kind of take the tea party template and lay it over state and federal government than it is to local government,” said Lloyd Rekstad, an organizer of the Yucaipa Tea Party. “But the principles of limited government intervention and fiscal responsibility and of politicians’ accountability, those principles can easily be put in place when you’re talking about municipal government.”

And at the local level, a tea party group’s principles can more easily be translated into real action and change, said Phillip Naman, a leader of the Redlands Tea Party.

“I can rant all I want about Barack Obama – he’s not going to change his policies because of me,” he said. “But several thousand of us dealing with a city council, I believe we can have a direct affect.”

And, indeed, in Redlands, Yucaipa and elsewhere in San Bernardino County, tea party groups have the attention of city governments.

In Yucaipa, City Council member Greg Bogh said tea party members helped get him elected.

And earlier this year, Yucaipa Planning Department officials asked the Yucaipa Tea Party if they could make a presentation at a tea party meeting.

“A lot of that has to do with the fact I was elected,” Bogh said. “People ask, `What did Councilman Bogh do to get elected?’ And a lot of it was that I went to tea party groups. … The city sees the tea party as a major force in Yucaipa.”

In Redlands, tea party members have shown up at enough City Council meetings to draw the notice of Mayor Pete Aguilar.

But while Aguilar likes the idea of Redlands residents participating in city government, he said tea party members could find more constructive ways to get involved.

“The difficulty is to have 10 or 15 people show up and oppose a rate increase that had a citizens committee make the recommendation and that had six or eight public meetings … and then to show up the day it’s in front of the council,” he said. “There’s ample opportunity for individuals to get involved and make their feelings heard.”

Councilman Jerry Bean, though, said getting involved in the early stages of a water rate increase or any other city policy isn’t as easy as Aguilar makes out.

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