The controversy over the chairmanship of the state Republican party got lots of attention last month. It was pitted as a battle between the Republican establishment in New Hampshire and the newer, liberty-minded, tea party folks in New Hampshire. There were those who said the controversy created a rift in the state Republican party.
That characterization of the battle, which resulted in Jack Kimball’s resigning as chairman moments before he would have been voted out by the executive committee anyway, may or may not be correct, but either way, it hasn’t affected the business of the New Hampshire Tea Party Coalition.
For the Coalition, it’s business as usual, and business is very good. In the last month, the Tea Party Coalition saw three local Tea Party groups open up — in Nashua, in Merrimack and a joint organization in Barrington, Lee and Madbury. Jane Aitken of the New Hampshire Tea Party Coalition has had five other states’ tea party groups call to see how the New Hampshire operation functions.
But Tea Party leaders say the Coalition has no quarrel with the state GOP, even though Kimball identified himself as a tea partier and even though many saw Kimball’s overthrow as the GOP establishment pushing back on the tea party movement.
Aitken took issue with a recent op-ed in the Union Leader by former state GOP chairman Fergus Cullen, in which Cullen wrote there were just 1,000 members of the New Hampshire Tea Party. Aitken said a better picture of the Tea Party’s popularity and influence would be to take a look at the many groups that support the Tea Party. She remembered a protest in Manchester with about 4,000 people. The tea party movement has been happening since 2007 in the Granite State.
“It’s not just one group,” Aitken said, adding there are thousands of tea partiers in the Granite State. “There’s certainly something going on underneath.”
“Presidential candidates and the media have overestimated the size and influence of the Tea Party,” Cullen wrote in the Union Leader. “They have treated a small number of vocal activists as though they control large numbers of votes. In reality there may be fewer than 1,000 Tea Party activists statewide. It takes more than an angry blog and frequent Facebook status updates to be a leader. It also takes followers.”
Cullen asserted in the op-ed that support for the Tea Party sentiment is greater than actual membership. Cullen points to polling data that suggests about half of Republicans in New Hampshire support the Tea Party. But Cullen also wrote that 7 percent of primary voters identified themselves as Tea Partiers, according to University of New Hampshire polling.
The tea party is not part of the Republican party, though politically it is often lumped in with the GOP. The intention is to remain separate, Aitken said. The New Hampshire Tea Party Coalition is not affiliated with the national Tea Party organization. There are no anointed leaders of the New Hampshire tea party movement.
“We’re not here to be an arm of the GOP,” Aitken said. “We’re here to vet all candidates.”
In fact, the Coalition doesn’t see the GOP chairmanship as a political position. Coalition leaders aren’t happy with how things played out — it wasn’t particularly pleasant for anyone involved — but they thought the idea that establishment Republicans were at war with the Tea Party in New Hampshire was a stretch, to say the least.
“It’s a difficult administrative job,” Aitken said of the GOP chairmanship. “We just felt badly that some people wanted to make a war out of it.”
The tea party movement played a big role, nationally and in New Hampshire, in 2010, when many Republican lawmakers were elected to office. Many of those elected would be associated with the tea party. Aitken said even former governor John Sununu, who was then chairman of the state GOP, thanked the grassroots efforts of the liberty-minded Republicans in New Hampshire following the 2010 elections. Some reporters and bloggers suggested Sununu may have been working behind the scenes against Kimball after Sununu’s hand-picked successor wasn’t chosen for the chairmanship.
The political system is a two-party system. Anyone can say they’re a Republican or a Democrat and the party essentially has to support them, Aitken said.
“There’s no litmus test,” Aitken said. “The tea party is there to be that litmus test for values.... Staying separate and vetting those issues, we can do things that, being part of a party, we could not do.”
A Republican candidate, Kevin Janvrin, recently won a special election for state representative though many see Janvrin as having some anti-Republican stances. James Pindell of WMURPoliticalScoop.com quoted Janvrin as saying his victory sends “the message that the tea party needs to get out of New Hampshire.”
“We understand the GOP is a party and they have to support the person who has an R after their name,” Aitken said.
But the tea party doesn’t. The Coalition doesn’t endorse candidates, but the Coalition will pick out particular issues and make sure voters know where candidates stand on those issues: “Alright, here is an issue we care about, let’s see what each candidate thinks about it,” Aitken said. “And then it’s up to the people to make the right decision. In that way, we’re empowering people to make the right decision.” The Coalition in New Hampshire would never think of telling someone who to vote for. The Tea Party Coalition wants to be like the Better Business Bureau, a place where people can go to get information on different candidates and issues, Aitken said.
The situation with Kimball was unfortunate but it hasn’t had any impact on the New Hampshire Tea Party Coalition, members say.
“No, not at all,” Aitken said. “We’re just continuing the work we’ve always done, communication, education, activism, getting the word out. That’s ongoing. … More people are signing up every day to get information on events and activities. I haven’t slowed down one bit.”
“We felt badly about what happened with the chair,” Aitken said. “I don’t know what particularly went wrong, but people obviously weren’t happy with the job he was doing. … We don’t view it is a war between the Tea Party and the establishment. Frankly, the establishment is outnumbered. That’s not a political position. There’s no ill feeling toward the establishment or Kimball. We just kind of saw how it played out and we were hoping for the best.”
People are often interested in particular issues, such as taxation or the 10th Amendment. Aitken said the Tea Party Coalition always directs people to local groups where they can make the most difference, such as a local taxpayers group.
“There’s something for everyone,” Aitken said. “We try to promote them all.”