Thursday, November 18, 2010
Cedar City, UT A panel of diverse perspectives addressed the roots, significance and longevity of the politically polarizing Tea Party movement Wednesday evening.
The panelists’ opinions were generally split between conservative and liberal views of the Tea Party, with Mitzi Butler, a tea party representative from St. George, and John Howell, assistant professor of political science, represented a generally conservative approach
G. Michael Stathis, professor of political science, and Luke Perry, assistant professor of political science, represented a more liberal side to the discussion.
Butler described the Tea Party movement as building steam when early protestors were “enraged” by initial bailout programs.
Party members had a “steep learning curve” when running for political office, Butler said.
“We’re not professional politicians, we’re just regular people,” Butler said. “The Tea Party is a work in motion, and we’re changing and morphing as we go on. We have learned some valuable lessons, and what we’ve learned is that politicians are extremely afraid of us.”
Howell said he sees the Tea Party as having a genuine impact on American politics.
“The question has come up, ‘are they dangerous?,’ and maybe so — but mostly just to Washington beltway insiders,” he said. “They have proven they have electoral clout.”
Stathis was dismissive of the long-term effects of the Tea Party and said that the shift in congressional power was typical of mid-term elections.
“Perhaps we were looking at something that was more a tempest in a teacup than anything particularly astounding,” he said. “There was a kind of whiplash effect concerning the party in power.”
While Howell and Butler both described the Tea Party as being a group of “regular people,” Perry said he took exception to that perspective.
“National polling of tea party followers show that it’s not a diverse cross-section coalition of Americans,” he said. “It’s predominantly Republican, predominantly white, predominantly male, predominantly married, predominantly 45 or older, predominantly more educated and more affluent than mainstream Americans.”
The panelists spent a large portion of time answering questions about fiscal responsibility, budget deficits and the national debt, and there was a general consensus among the four: The national debt is one of the most important issues facing the American people.
“The debt is one of the fundamental dangers to the future of our nation,” he said. “This is the equivalent of a true national disaster. It is going to have to be a time for national sacrifice.”
The future of the Tea Party and its continued success will depend on its members’ ability to unite under a common banner, Butler said.
“We know in this last election that 30 percent of the voters align themselves with the Tea Party,” she said. “That’s a large amount of people. That’s an army here in Utah. We have an army in each state … it’s time we become a united Tea Party.”
Part of that unity in Utah involves hiring a professional lobbyist to represent the party, Butler said.
“We’re in the process of getting a lobbyist for the state of Utah — a professional lobbyist to represent the tea party so we can get our voice heard more,” she said.