Let me preface this post with this: I always hesitate to write about my colleagues in the House, especially about Speaker Ralston, because it’s easy for some to dismiss what I say by assuming either I was forced to write the post, or that I’m trying to curry favor. Neither of those things are true, and I hope folks will read this with an open mind.
As you folks know, Debbie Dooley, Ray Boyd, and other TEA Party people from around Georgia campaigned hard against House Speaker David Ralston. You also now know that their efforts fell flat as Ralston won 65% of the vote on Tuesday (for more on how the TEA Party fared Tuesday, read Jon’s post). The entire episode has left me puzzled.
The Georgia Integrity Project, the organization responsible for the attack campaign on Ralston was formed a couple of years ago to be “the conservative alternative to Organizing For America.” OFA, as readers of this blog will know, is the huge grassroots organization that helped propel President Obama to two national election victories. It seems GIP has changed it’s mission from being a grassroots organizing organization to being an attack dog organization. Since they’ve filed no campaign disclosures we have no idea who is paying for all this, nor do we know how much money they have raised and spent.
What we do know, according to a recent email from the group, is that the war against Ralston will now go statewide, no doubt as part of an effort to pressure House members to do what they failed to do this past Tuesday, namely remove Ralston from the Speaker-ship. The good news for you is the politics of personal destruction is coming to your TV screen and answering machine soon.
Last summer several
TEA Party groups conservative groups, including TEA Party organizations, requested a meeting with members of the House GOP Caucus at our annual retreat. I and about a dozen of my colleagues attended. The purpose of the meeting was supposed to be how House members and the TEA Party these groups could work together and set aside the friction which had previously existed. If you haven’t noticed, TEA Party leadership rarely has much nice to say about GOP members of the House, especially Speaker Ralston. This has always been puzzling to me because we’re pretty dang conservative in the House. To characterize the House as a bunch of RINOs and the Senate and a bunch of conservatives simply isn’t accurate – not saying the Senate are RINOs, just saying we in the House aren’t either. I attended the meeting hoping to make progress on that issue and left the meeting feeling like progress had indeed been made.
I don’t feel that way anymore. Many of the TEA Party representatives who were in the meeting that day campaigned against Ralston in his district. Others in attendance representing other conservative groups did not campaign against the Speaker.
I think right now relations between rank and file members of the House and organized TEA Party groups around the state are at an all time low. Why? In addition to the scorched earth campaign against Ralston let me show you the text of a question I asked Debbie Dooley on Facebook recently (I never got an answer):
Debbie Dooley here’s why I’m confused: We had this year perhaps the best legislative session for conservatives in the four years I’ve been in office. We passed a major 2nd Amendment rights bill, we passed the toughest anti-Obamacare piece of legislation in the nation, we took away the Governor’s ability to expand medicaid without legislative approval, we passed three article V convention items (I know you support at least one of them), we passed a delegate limitation act to prevent even the remote possibility of a runaway convention, and we sent to the voters a Georgia constitutional amendment preventing there to EVER be an income tax increase in Georgia. We did all this and several other good things and all I hear from you is a quote from NPR in Atlanta saying liberal Democrat Jason Carter voted right this year. Then you go create a “wall of shame” to blacklist anyone who attended a campaign event for the Speaker and call two of Georgia’s most solidly conservative House members “insiders” who have been “co-opted.” You publicly said last year I was not a friend of the tea party because I was too close to Speaker Ralston. I don’t understand where your rage against House conservatives comes from, especially after we all met last summer to talk about how we (conservative members of the House and Tea Party folks) could work together? What went wrong?
Most of the legislation I mentioned above were initiated in the House, but all should be things that warm the hearts of TEA Party folks everywhere. Why then was this the year they decided to unleash a well funded, highly negative campaign filled with personal attacks against Speaker Ralston? I just don’t get it and I think it has done great damage, perhaps even fatal damage, to the organized TEA Party movement here in Georgia.
Why do I say that? Two main reasons: first of all, the people who know Ralston best decided to reject the claims made by the Georgia Integrity Project and reelect him overwhelmingly. But also for another important reason: By attacking Ralston and if I’m right and they are poised to go after House members who support Ralston, they are effectively declaring war on the entire House Republican Caucus, all 119 of us. What is the purpose of this war and where will it end up? I don’t know the purpose but I can tell you where it will end up: David Ralston will remain Speaker and they will lose.
The sad thing is, none of this needs to happen. There is no need for a war with the House GOP Caucus. There was no need for a campaign against David Ralston. As shown above in the question I asked Ms. Dooley, the House has passed plenty of good, TEA Party friendly legislation. The kind of legislation the TEA Party wants is what most Republicans want too so why are we fighting? Furthermore, the culture of the Legislature is changing, and quickly. The days of Legislators bragging about how much pork they being home have been gone for years. The days of people getting elected for life are gone as well. There are many other internal improvements that have been made before and during my time in the House. Perhaps most importantly, guys like me and my friends on the more conservative side of the GOP political continuum can propose bills, and if we can make a compelling argument our bills will move through the Legislative process and for the most part rise or fall on their own merit. All of this should be interpreted as good news for TEA Party folks but for reasons I can’t grasp, they’re not.
The truth of the matter is in Georgia, and around the nation, the TEA Party is now another group in the broader GOP coalition, as Ben Domenech says better than I can:
Over the past five years, the Tea Party’s agenda and efforts have been subsumed into the larger Republican mantras in a number of ways. Their movement is now effectively one more chunk of the Republican base – and just as different candidates appeal to different factions (social conservatives, defense hawks, small business), the Tea Party’s priorities are heeded or ignored to different degrees. McConnell’s approach has been to sound the gong on all sorts of Tea Party issues this election season, and this has been the approach adopted by several others as well – Thom Tillis was full-throated on the Medicaid expansion in North Carolina, Jack Kingston and David Perdue did their best to depict themselves as having an affinity to the more palatable aspects of the Tea Party agenda, and Monica Wehby made Obamacare issue number one for her campaign.
To a certain extent, McConnell, Eric Cantor, and other establishment figures are conceding a key premise of the Tea Party’s complaint: that the Republican status quo is unacceptable, that it’s damaged in a fundamental way, and needs a serious overhaul in order to win.
Again, the things Domenech says should be interpreted as good news by TEA Party folks.
So folks in organized TEA Parties here in Georgia have a choice: follow the Georgia Integrity Project and the others in the “destroy Ralston” movement over the cliff, or pull back and continue to build on the successes they’ve had. It doesn’t matter to me because the important issues the original TEA Party movement brought to the forefront have traction, and will continue to have traction whether they work with us or not.