by Chris Potter
Early this week, the Tribune-Review reported the interesting news that John Krupa -- a "Tea Party" candidate for governor -- received assistance from supporters of ... Democrat Dan Onorato:
Members of unions that endorsed Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, as well as one of his campaign workers, helped get Tea Party candidate John Krupa onto Pennsylvania's gubernatorial ballot for November's election, state records show.
... Among those who gathered signatures are officers of building trades unions, whose statewide organization unanimously endorsed Onorato on June 9 ... Another Krupa petition circulator, Heather Damron of Lehigh County, was paid $1,000 by Onorato's campaign for his petition drive four months earlier.
The Corbett campaign, naturally, touted the Trib's coverage, identifying the paper as "Dan Onorato's own hometown newspaper" and quoting a typically witty Trib editorial asking "Smell a political rat? Or should we say an OnoRATo?"
Indeed, it's shocking to hear that Democrats might be using the Tea Party movement to covertly advance their own political interests. That's supposed to be what REPUBLICANS do.
Witness, for example, the heavy tie-ins between GOP stalwarts and last year's Tax Day protest in Market Square. (The connections are also debated roundly in the comments section of this post.)
Or witness the political affiliations of Patti Weaver.
Weaver is the most prominent face of the Tea Party movement in Pittsburgh. She has, in fact, been quoted in the Post-Gazette about Krupa's candidacy earlier this week:
[S]ome tea party activists are wary of [Krupa's] candidacy.
"The Pittsburgh Tea Party Movement is the largest tea party group in Pennsylvania and you would think John Krupa would have had the courtesy to contact us to put himself on our radar screen if he was going to legitimately use the tea party name," Patti Weaver, a key organizer of the local group, said in a e-mail. "I have never heard of John Krupa and don't know anything about him. While our organization does not endorse anyone, I, personally, would say, 'Don't vote for him.'
"I have spent a year and a half as a volunteer developing the tea party name and John Krupa is hijacking it," she added.
What the story doesn't say is that Weaver apparently has another political affiliation: She's listed as a member of the Republican Party's state committee, representing Allegheny County voters in Senate district 38.
I have called and e-mailed Weaver about her dual role, and have not heard back from her. (I did, however, verify with the state Department of Elections that the Fox Chapel address on her campaign documents matches the one used on many Tea Party missives.)
ADDED: And in fact, Weaver got back in touch with me to say she "wanted the position so I could understand exactly how the party works and why [it] has been endorsing candidates that don't have tea party values."
But at first blush, it'd be kind of hard to square a GOP role with the Tea Party "Declaration of Independence" -- which contends that the movement is "INDEPENDENT of the Republican Party, which has in the past manipulated its Conservative Base to win election after election and which then betrays everything that Base fought for and believed ... We demand the Republican Party understand that we reject its attempts to co-opt us."
I'm not accusing Weaver of trying to co-opt the movement -- still less of seeking to "hijack" it. For one thing, she seems only to have been elected to the Republican commtitee this spring -- AFTER she was well into her tea party activism. (If anything, she may be trying to co-opt the GOP.) In any case, it's no secret that tea party sympathies are more closely aligned with Republicans; the GOP, in fact, clearly does see tea partiers as members of its base.
But all this begs the question: What does it mean to be part of the "tea party" in the first place? And if this "independent" movement's principal local spokesperson is an active member of the GOP ... what difference does it make if its gubernatorial candidate was backed by Democrats?
After all, the "tea party" phrase itself is just a label, slapped on an inchoate movement. A movement, in fact, that takes pride in its incoherence. Again, to quote from its "Declaration of Independence":
Many seek to define this Movement, to use it, to lead it, to co-opt it, to channel it, to control it, to defeat it. WE WILL NOT LET THIS HAPPEN.
Of course, the Declaration burns hundreds of hundreds of words trying to "define this Movement" anyway. (As I've mentioned before, the document is longer than the original Decleration itself.) But even so, if no one has the right to use, lead, define, or channel your movement ... it's not really a movement at all, is it? So what's to hijack?
Is Dan Onorato's camp trying to split the conservative vote by giving voters another conservative choice this fall? I'd be willing to bet on it. He was willing to engage in machinations to get people off the ballot, so helping to put someone on it would be no great stretch. But even if he's muddying the November ballot, he's clarifying something else: how absurd it is to speak of an independent tea party "movement" at all.