Suits Them to a Tea
The Chattanooga Tea Party is a nonprofit organization, not a political party, organizers say, self-identifying as a movement of people who came together around storm water and sewer fees in 2009. They tend to be Libertarians, Republicans and mainline conservatives—but without liberal representation.
Locally, Chattanooga Tea Party (CTP) may have won its three-and-a-half year battle for nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service recently, but the obstacles of the future might offer a greater and more compelling challenge. It will be a struggle for new political hearts and minds to bolster a membership base that has few young followers, and almost no diversity.
“It’s mainstream media,” said CTP supporter Charlie Hyatt, “that painted the Tea Party into a corner by pointing out that they are all white and with only a handful of followers under 30.” Hyatt is the owner of a local counseling company. “As far as them being political,” Hyatt continued, “they are—but everything we do is political in nature, because we all do things that are in our political interest.”
The CTP is a network of 90 savvy individuals, attracted first to Republican party principals and then to the holy grail of the Tea Party ideology: limited government, fiscal responsibility and a limited tax structure. “Taxes were a galvanizing flash point, but not the only one,” said Mark West, a successful businessman, a racer of fast cars and president of the Chattanooga Tea Party.
West and newly elected Chattanooga District 4 City Councilman Larry Grohn talked freely about their recruitment plans for hearts and minds, and of mentoring kindred spirits to replenish the ranks. For Councilman Grohn, it was a blinding glimpse of the obvious—“faith-based organizations. We have a lot in common with Hispanics and blacks as to how we look at faith issues,” he said, “and how we can take a look at the issues that seem to be dividing us. How do we look at how we are the same rather than how we are different?”
Some new local office holders sought, counted on and were rewarded with support from the Chattanooga Tea Party, its members and others. The victors were city councilmen Chip Henderson, District 1, Larry Grohn, District 4, Ken Smith, District 3 and Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd.