Reading the Tea Leaves: The Tea Party in Mississippi | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Reading the Tea Leaves: The Tea Party in Mississippi

Photo by Melissa Webster

Tea Party member Donald Wiggans was different. A small, wiry man, he stood quietly during an August 2009 town-hall meeting on health-care reform featuring U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson. Thompson, a Democrat leading a largely African American Delta district, was Mississippi's only fervent supporter in Congress for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law March 23, 2010.

Other Mississippi representatives like Republican U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper hosted their own forums, but used them to blast the health-care law, which opponents brand "government expansion" and "socialism."

People proudly calling themselves Tea Party members held signs such as "Tea: Taxed Enough Already?" during the town-hall debate. Angry, vocal Tea Partiers routinely stormed public hearings statewide to voice disdain for the health-care expansion, calling it "socialism" and worse, but most of the party members avoided the one forum in Jackson led by health-care advocate Thompson.

Not Wiggans. He stood next to a woman holding a union-member sign advocating for health-care reform, so it initially seemed that Wiggans was with her—that is, until I saw the sign leaning against the wall beside him reading: "No New Taxes," a Tea Party mantra.

I asked him if that was his sign, and he paused a long moment before answering that it was. I then asked him his name.

"Are you a reporter?" he asked, eying my digital recorder skeptically.

"I'm with the Jackson Free Press."

"Never heard of that."

"Maybe if you were younger," I said.

Wiggans laughed out loud—a hearty, earnest laugh, which made me feel small for stabbing at his age.

I asked Wiggans his issue with a health-care renovation, and he launched into a monologue about what he considered the socialization of health care, and eventually told me that the country had been going in the wrong direction for decades. He said it was time to "stop welfare" in the country.

Puzzled, I asked Wiggans his age. He said he was 57—meaning that he is drawing close to another federally administered social program known as Social Security, which many anti-government folks mistakenly call welfare or an "entitlement," although workers contribute their own funds to it.

I'd already mocked Wiggans' age, and was feeling too awkward to argue the difference between the "socialized" health care he envisioned ending and the Medicare he would also be eligible for in only a handful of years.

But Tea Party rallies around Jackson are dominated by a sea of graying hair in every auditorium they fill, who routinely call for eliminating all social services. A 2010 CNN Opinion Research poll (PDF) reveals that young people under 30—Generation Y—aren't drinking the anti-government tea: only about 20 percent of Tea Party activists are under age 29.

But not all are gray, yet: The majority of Tea Party activists are between the ages of 30 and 64: with 40 percent age 30 to 49; 29 percent 50 to 64; and 12 percent over 65.

The Power of Tea
Last September, Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, expressed bitterness during a legislative hearing at the state Department of Medicaid's predictions for Medicaid enrollment in 2019—figures that Flaggs found uncomfortably high.

"We have 699,000 people on Medicaid now, and we're about to have another governor and another Legislature. If by 2014 we've got that many people still on Medicaid, then we need to be run out of this country. We're not doing anything (to help) with the socioeconomic status of our people," Flaggs said.

"If that projection is true, then I might as well join the Tea Party tomorrow."

Republicans at Flaggs' table cut loose a few chuckles at this and invited him to "come on over" to the Tea Party.

Rep. Diane Peranich, D-Pass Christian, who rarely lets an opportunity slip, jokingly referenced a 1999 statement from Republican Delaware Senate nominee and Tea Party advocate Christine O'Donnell. Peranich warned Flaggs that he would have to first "dabble in witchcraft" to qualify for Tea Party status—which abruptly concluded the Republican laughter, but sparked an outburst of giggling from Democrats at the hearing.

While Republicans seem willing, or resigned, to work with the Tea Party, Democrats are jittery about the influence Tea Partiers will have on state elections this year. Especially the conservative, Blue Dog types such as those just driven from the U.S. Congress.

Mississippi State University's John C. Stennis Institute of Government Director Marty Wiseman said the Tea Party will have a lasting impression on Republican Party organization in the state for years to come.

"Tea Party folks will deny this, but they almost always vote Republican. ... [T]he alternative is a Democrat, and that is heresy to most Tea Party members I know. They say they're not controlled by any party, but they're firmly in the Republican camp, and their organization will help Republicans for a long, long time," Wiseman said.

Democrats in largely conservative districts containing a high portion of whites say they fear for their re-election because of the Tea Party's ferocious unity and organization.

"The Tea Party is highly influential in Desoto County," said Rep. John Mayo, D-Clarksdale. "It's very well organized. I don't know any members, but from what I read and what I see and the influence they appear to have on the members here in the House, they appear highly influential."

Mayo is vocal about his support for fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, a program that allocates state money to rural, underserved school districts with tax revenue that is too low to adequately pay for school materials and teachers. The Tea Party makes no mention of MAEP as a priority. The party is hostile toward any kind of government-organized education. Mayo has also taken a stand on other centrist ideas that look downright liberal when compared to the House's heavily slanted conservative coalition.

Because of his political alignment, Mayo fears the Tea Party's organization could best him in the next election should it put its power behind a more conservative candidate.

"I'll be honest with you: I don't know how I got re-elected other than by being attentive to my constituents' needs. My political philosophy is certainly out of the spectrum of a number of people," Mayo said, adding that a majority of his district is white and lives in the conservative Desoto County region. He said he predicts the Tea Party movement this election year "will have a huge negative influence" on his campaign.

Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, waved off Mayo's anxiety last October: "Ah, Mayo says that every election year, and every election year he stomps his competition."

But the power of the party appears to linger over House and Senate members like an angry bear in your outhouse: You really don't want to anger it, but the rules of your own biology demand you eventually contend with it. Even politicians representing the state's more liberal, urban areas do not loudly diss the party of tea, despite their obvious philosophical differences.

Flaggs said the Tea Party does not comprise a majority of voters who elected him to his seat, so he should arguably have nothing to lose in spilling every cup of tea that comes before him. Still, he said he tries to think of the Tea Party movement as "any other party, which has a right to the democratic process."

"They've got some positions that they think needs voiced, and we'll listen to them and look at it on their merits. I don't attack. I don't think it's necessary to offend folks because they have a different opinion, but I think we have to support those issues that unite us rather than divide us," Flaggs said.

A Useful Revolution
Many believe the Tea Party movement kicked off during the 2008 presidential run of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. Considerable numbers of youth jumped behind Paul's libertarian ideas, such as less spending overseas, decriminalizing all illegal drugs and prostitution, and pulling money from the nation's bloated $600 billion defense budget. Teens advocating for Paul showed up in many of Jackson's more progressive, urban areas, such as the Fondren, hoisting signs advocating Paul in the months leading up to the 2008 Republican primary.

But the foundation was laid much earlier by conservative and libertarian billionaires bent on dissolving every social safety-net program and eliminating taxes for businesses and the wealthy.

The party seems somewhat disorganized, with countless local factions that do not have to be officially accepted into a united statewide effort. Mississippi Tea Party Chairman and Brandon resident Roy Nicholson said the state party has only officially endorsed a handful of Mississippi's own Tea Party upstarts. "The Mississippi Tea Party is simply the association of 10 of the different Tea Parties from around the state. We don't represent all of them. There's another 10 or 20 of them," he said.

But even though local chapters may not be in lockstep, the national Tea Party effort is firmly tied to corporate interests seeking release from government taxes and regulation.

Brothers David and Charles Koch own Koch Industries, a private oil and chemical company whose annual revenues are about "a hundred billion dollars," reported by Jane Mayer of The New Yorker in a seminal story that exposes Tea Party facts they don't talk about much at rallies or on FOX News.

Mayer reported that Koch is considered one of the top 10 polluters in the U.S., and fights regulation tooth and nail. "The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus," she wrote.

Americans for Prosperity, founded by David Koch in 2004, holds training sessions and gatherings for Tea Party activists. The group has provided party activists lists of elected officials to target, hosted a website listing Tea Party talking points, held "Porkulus" rallies slamming President's Obama's stimulus measures and held more than 300 rallies against health-care reform.

Mayer discovered through tax record searches that Koch-controlled foundations handed out $196 million from 1998 to 2008 to conservative causes, including $12 million to FreedomWorks, which is closely allied with the national Tea Party movement.

"So far, in 2010, Koch Industries leads all other energy companies in political contributions, as it has since 2006," Mayer wrote

And the Kochs are not alone. Media Matters for America called out The Wall Street Journal, owned by Rupert Murdoch (as if FOX News), for "whitewashing" the Tea Party movement, going so far as to it is a reaction to Republican members of Congress.

All About the Business
Business owner Alan Ramsay, a Mississippi Tea Party member and a fan of the party's call to eliminate property tax, called income-based federal taxation a scam on Jan. 6. He advocates for a new tax scheme based exclusively upon sales taxes. His system, known as the Fair Tax, would replace federal income taxes including personal, estate, gift, capital gains and Social Security, as well as Medicare, self-employment and corporate taxes.

The Fair Tax, as outlined at http://www.fairtax.org, allows you to keep every $1 you earn—no Social Security payment, no FICA. However, you get 30 percent added to the price of your purchases, from groceries to new cars, to houses. Under the Fair Tax, the federal government will provide a monthly payment to qualifying families to cover their increased purchasing costs. One family with two children would get a "prebate" of $351 monthly check from the government to cover their losses at the Piggly Wiggly cash register, but a home costing $200,000 will demand you borrow an extra $60,000 from your banker or mortgage loan officer to meet the new tax cost.

Critics, like MSN finance writer Jeff Schnepper, point out that any advantage the poor could derive would come from the elimination of Social Security and Medicare taxes; the poor already don't pay taxes on their first $31,400 in income if they're married with one child.

Americans for Fair Taxation Chief Economist David Burton wrote that those earning more than $200,000 in profits or salary—like the Kochs and other high-wage earners—would see their share of the overall tax burden decrease, and that "probably those earning between $40,000 and $100,000" would see their percentage of the tax burden rise though the implementation of the "fair tax."

A sales tax, by definition, is flat, in that the same tax applies to everyone buying the same product, states Factcheck.org, but low-income earners spend much more of their income upon necessities, unlike high earners, who have the option of ferreting most of their income away into savings or investment accounts, or into trust funds for their children.

Ramsay said newer Republicans are more receptive of the Tea Party's call for a Fair Tax. He said he sat down recently at a table with apparently old-school U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and U.S. Rep. John Linder, R-Ga., to discuss the Fair Tax for an hour and made no headway on Wicker's side of the table:

"Roger did everything he could to find something wrong with it. Linder, who is a prime sponsor of the fair tax in Washington, had to cut him off at every turn. Roger did everything he could. He's a politician. His stock in trade is taxes. He sells taxes in exchange for campaign contributions, and he's even convinced himself he's doing the right thing." Wicker did not return calls for comment.

Killing the New Deal
The Mississippi Tea Party held a Jan. 6 rally in the state Capitol rotunda "for the citizens to meet with their legislators and show support for several freedom-restoring initiatives." The event amounted to a meet-and-greet with local legislators, and eventually broke down into squads of mostly middle-age and older people shaking hands with Republicans who didn't mind posing with Tea Party members for photographs.

The Mississippi Tea Party set up tables holding copies of the nation's Constitution and information packets encased in an envelope and labeled with the name of a legislator. By 9:30, most of the unclaimed envelopes lwere those addressed to Democrats.

Littered among the pamphlets were lists of Mississippi Tea Party priorities, such as: "phase out of Welfare Programs, initially requiring drug testing and eventually phasing it out completely."

Former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt kicked off a series of economic programs between 1933 and 1936 as a response to the nagging agony of the Great Depression. Many of those programs included Social Security and the Works Progress Administration relief program. Some, like WPA, shut down during World War II. Others, like Social Security, remain not only intact but wildly popular.

Some legislators take more easily to the Tea Party philosophy than others. Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, is a particularly zealous example of someone who agrees with it, saying it reflects his conservative beliefs.

"I'm not hearing a lot from the Tea Party movement that I have not heard from someone in the conservative movement in the last 20 years that I've been here (in the Legislature) and in the 10 years prior to that when I was active in politics," Formby told the JFP.

Formby, a real estate salesman, has a face that does not intimidate. With his oversized ears and perpetual, unassuming smile, it's difficult to trash-talk the guy. It may prove easier for the average Mississippian to disagree with his political bent, however. "(Jesus) Christ taught welfare. What he didn't teach us was taking money from somebody and mandatorily giving it to somebody else. Welfare is taking care of those who can't take care of themselves, and all of us, I hope, who are Christian, would advocate taking care of those who can't take care of themselves," Formby said.

"The wonderful goal of the Tea Party is to start going back 200 years to where we started. We started without government welfare, as defined today. Davy Crockett said the widow's pension would open a can of worms a long time ago, and the proof is in the pudding." (That supposed Crockett quote is apocryphal, and came from an 1867 dime-store novelist tale about an incident that did not happen, but is now widely circulated on the Internet, according to Ann Toplovich, the executive director of the Tennessee Historical Society.)

The ability to deliver welfare, according to the Picayune Republican, should be the adoptive role of family members and friends, and the church, not the government. Formby says this while admitting that his own church offers less and less aid than it used to.

Rather than citing dropping church attendance and revenue as the chief cause for sliding church charity, Formby blames an overly generous federal government: "Since the government has taken more and more responsibility for those people, the church has taken less and less."

"Mississippi is last in all categories that relate to social economic issues. We have to improve the condition of our people," said Rep. Flaggs of the Tea Party's effort to end welfare.

"For the most part, we'll continue to have the programs that are good."

Flaggs, who represents the largely progressive urban area of Vicksburg, did not slam every aspect of the party's attack on welfare, despite his initial recoil at the suggestion. "I do agree that we need to revaluate all (social) programs and eliminate the ones that aren't working. Some programs have become obsolete, and because they've become obsolete we need to look at more progressive programs so we can move the state forward."

Rep. Mayo of Clarksdale finds the Tea Party's push for the dissolution of welfare programs, which he feels include programs like Medicaid and Medicare, an illogical prospect, considering the programs' popularity.

"When one of (the Tea Party members) has a mother who is a senior on Medicaid, who gets cut off, who are they going to call first? They're going to call me, saying, ‘My Mom just got cut off Medicaid, and I want her back on it.'" Mayo said. "You have to be careful what you ask for."

Formby, like many dedicated Tea Partiers, says he "can't think of any (social) program that can't do with some shrinking."

"That includes education, Medicaid, transportation, human services. Most agencies are born, they eat, and they expand, like we do. We create a department, the department turns into an agency, and it grows and grows. You build a storage shed. It costs money, Five years later, you have to put a new roof on the storage shed," he said.

Wiseman is surprised by the Tea Party's ability to convince residents of Mississippi—which has an extremely high poverty rate—to vote against programs that serve them.

"It's the darndest thing you ever saw," said Wiseman. "I've never seen a state that's more inclined to vote against its interest. Take earmarks: The polls show we don't like earmarks, but we get more earmark money than any other state for our population."

Wiseman then referenced the Republican Party's successful shutdown of the omnibus spending bill unsuccessfully pushed during the December lame-duck congressional legislative session. Heritage Foundation member Conn Carroll wrote in December that "the spirit of the Tea Party won another major victory when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was forced to drop his $1.27 trillion, 1,924-page omnibus spending bill."

Wiseman pointed out, however, that Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi, combined, "will lose $104 million in combined research money," compared to last year because of the bill's demise.

Immigrants and Tea
Columbus Republican Rep. Gary Chism suffered an awkward moment last week when confronted by members of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance. This month, Chism submitted a Arizona-style bill to force local law enforcement to profile people they suspect are undocumented residents, which may include American citizens, and ask them for paperwork establishing their legitimate residency.

Last week, MIRA held a noon press conference blasting the bill and its Senate counterpart. MIRA Executive Director Bill Chandler beat the legislation as an open invitation to racial profiling, since the chief determiner for a residency request would likely be the suspect's behavior or appearance. Chandler then sent MIRA representatives and advocates into the Capitol halls to argue their point with legislators. A handful happened upon the nervous Chism in the Capitol's second-floor hall.

It did not help that the majority of MIRA members fussing at Chism were women, attacking him for submitting a bill that they felt discriminated against their children.

"Whether or not you like it, those little babies are just as American as you," said MIRA Treasurer Kathy Sykes.

"I understand that," Chism said, looking cornered, as a diverse group of about 20 MIRA members filled the hall to watch.

Chism argued repeatedly that the bill forbids law enforcement from racial profiling through its wording, but Sykes and the others complained that forbidding profiling in the bill wouldn't discourage profiling if police have nothing more upon which to base an inquiry.

"I'm sorry. I have to go," Chism eventually said, and almost jogged away.

The Mississippi Tea Party stands behind initiatives enacting a law similar to Arizona's controversial legislation, even if they are unlikely to survive court scrutiny over the long haul. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton issued a preliminary injunction against the portion of the law forcing officers to inquire about residency status last July, in response to a legal challenge by the U.S. Justice Department.

But the law is gathering traction in the Mississippi Senate, yielding a strong anti-immigrant talking point in conservative campaigns even if the law fails. The Senate passed Sumrall Republican Sen. Joey Fillingane's Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act on Jan. 18.

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, a candidate seeking Gov. Haley Barbour's seat in the upcoming election, openly backs the Arizona law. In 2006, when he was state auditor, Bryant produced a report, "The Impact of Illegal Immigration on Mississippi: Costs and Population Trends," which claimed "illegals" cost the state $25 million a year. But he did not calculate undocumented immigrants' contribution in direct and indirect taxes.

Statistics widely reported by diverse outlets from USA Today to the libertarian Reason Foundation shows that undocumented immigrants pay billions in taxes across the U.S. They pay personal income taxes, and have Social Security and Medicare withheld—and often do not collect it due to their status.

In 2008, for instance, "illegal's" paid $9 billion in Social Security taxes alone, and paid a total of $90 billion in federal taxes over the first eight years of the century.

They also pay state sales taxes, and their citizen children pay taxes through their jobs. IRS figures show that the children routinely pay thousands more in than the cost of government services that they consume.

Bryant's report also claimed that undocumented immigrants accounted for a significant portion of the state's $504.6 million in uninsured health-care services in 2004, without acknowledging that the federal government created a fund to repay hospitals for uninsured immigrant care—and Mississippi had yet to deplete its share of the fund.

The Tea Party's opposition to Latino expansion in the state is marking MIRA as a clear enemy in upcoming battles over the state's new political wedge issue. "The fact that a black man is the president of our country infuriates them," MIRA stated in its periodical MIRA in Action. "The fact that people of color will be the majority in this country, in this century, puts them over the edge. A major party has been thoroughly taken over by them, and they seek power by any means necessary. Their goal is clearly to turn back the clock."

Jackson Ward 2 Councilman Chokwe Lumumba, who spoke at a Jan. 12 press conference at the Capitol against the Arizona-style bills, said Latinos and blacks are recognizing their enemy and are joining together to form a powerful "movement of the people" to prevent a rollback of national race relations.

"We are at a point in history where the people are beginning to stand up again, like one of those colossal movements like the Civil Rights Movement," Lumumba told a crowd of about 80 MIRA advocates.

"We're at the point of history where people who have a legacy of coming from somewhere else and taking land from its original owners are complaining because the relatives of these folks whose land they stole are coming across the border in order to escape the wretchedness created in their country by corporations from this country," Lumumba said.

The Homogenous Party
Tea Party rallies around the city of Jackson have never been multi-racial affairs, although the occasional person of color takes the microphone.

Last July, Tea Party members at a rally in Madison drummed up support for the upcoming Arizona bill in the 2011 legislative session. Speakers included black Republican Bill Marcy, who compared the presence of undocumented residents in the country to a burglar making himself comfortable on your couch and demanding that you fetch him a martini. "Thirteen million people have sneaked through the back window, and now they're starting to come into your living room and telling you that they actually own the house," said Marcy, who failed to claim Bennie Thompson's Second Congressional District seat last November.

Local radio talk show personality Kim Wade, also an African American Republican, was another speaker at the Madison rally, telling about 200 participants that their "nation is in peril," and that they have bravely "decided to stand up on behalf" of the country by supporting an Arizona-style law in Mississippi.

Wade revealed a voting-strength fear, though, when he suggested to the Jackson Free Press last fall that it would be fine for more immigrants to come to the U.S. if they agreed not to seek the right to vote, an argument that conjures memories of the long-time fear of the black vote in the state and the efforts white legislators made to try to stop it.

"[W]hy don't you step up ... and say, ‘we just want to work We don't want to vote for anybody.' Do it like that," he advised undocumented workers. "If the people who come into this country illegally say that, they'd find that they don't have as many supporters as they thought they had, because the supporters they have only want to get them to vote for them."

Aside from Wade and Marcy, the Madison rally contained almost no people of color—just one Latino MIRA community organizer who grumbled later that none of his co-workers met him at the event.

Whiteness also blanketed a September 2010 town hall meeting in Rankin County, where Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker ended up defending the legitimacy of Obama's birth certificate before a crowd of about 150, many of whom beat the "birther" drum.

"This case was brought before a federal court. It went up through the appeal process, and the Supreme Court ruled that they would not take the case up—essentially upholding the decision of the lower court. In our rule of law, that settled it," Wicker said, sparking some grumbling from the audience.

"Birther" proponent Orly Taitz filed a suit in federal court last year, claiming a Kenyan birth certificate belonged to Obama. U.S. District Judge David Carter tossed the suit in October 2009. But the eagerness to undermine the president's legitimacy remained strong among the Tea Party crowd at the Northwest Rankin High School Republican fundraiser.

Yet, Tea Party members continually defend the whiteness of the group, saying that Obama disdain does not mean the group harbors openly racist members. But its own members, and their signs and other statements, often tell a different story.

The NAACP issued a report last fall called "Tea Party Nationalism," which criticized the national Tea Party over its racist members. The commissioned research by the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights documents the origins and activities of six national tea-party organizations: FreedomWorks Tea Party, the Tea Party Patriots, 1776 Tea Party, ResistNet and Tea Party Express.

The report claims the 1776 Tea Party group drew some members and leaders directly from the Minuteman Project, which is criticized as "one of the country's largest, richest and most influential nativist extremist groups" by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which documents hate groups on the left and right in America, from black separatists to white supremacists. The report also found overlapping membership between ResistNet and what SPLC describes as the "white nationalist" Council of Conservative Citizens.

Researchers "found Tea Party ranks to be permeated with concerns about race and national identity and other so-called social issues. In these ranks, an abiding obsession with Barack Obama's birth certificate is often a stand-in for the belief that the first black president of the United States is not a ‘real American.'"

It added that "rather than strict adherence to the Constitution, many Tea Partiers are challenging the provision for birthright citizenship found in the Fourteenth Amendment." Tea Party organizations "have given platforms to anti-Semites, racists, and bigots," and "hard-core white nationalists have been attracted to these protests, looking for potential recruits and hoping to push these (white) protestors towards a more self-conscious and ideological white supremacy," the report cites.

The Tea Party Nation event in Gatlinburg, Tenn., for instance, featured Wood County Tea Party leader Karen Pack, who is identified in the report as "a supporter" of Thom Robb's Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Furthermore, the report claims that the Council of Conservative Citizens is active in Tea Parties, and even advertised several events in its tabloid Citizens Informer and through its website at http://www.cofcc.org, including a Mississippi Tea Party demonstration at Flowood City Hall last March; and a "Mississippi for Liberty March" at the state Capitol last April. (The Tea Party, by contrast, did not approach the Jackson Free Press about advertising.) Worker's compensation attorney Gordon Baum formed the CofCC in 1985 using the mailing list of the old Citizens Council, founded in Indianola in 1953 to stop integration of the races. The Citizens Council national headquarters was in Jackson until 1990.

The Council of Conservative Citizens' "Statement of Principals" includes an item describing the United States as "a European country and that Americans are part of the European people." The same section speaks against the idea of interracial marriage.

"We also oppose all efforts to mix the races of mankind, to promote non-white races over the European-American people through so-called ‘affirmative action' and similar measures, to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people, and to force the integration of the races," the organization now states.

The NAACP document pointed out that the Upper East Mississippi Chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens sponsored a Halloween Tea Party at the Tippah County Courthouse, in Ripley, in March 2009.

Nicholson said the party has little to no influence over what organizations choose to list its public events—eerily similar to the answer Haley Barbour gave about a photo of him posting with Mississippi CofCC leaders posted on their site in 2003. Nicholson insists that the Tea Party, as an organization, does not promote policies aimed at particular races.

He would not speak for the CofCC's sponsorship of the Ripley Tea Party Halloween event, and said the Mississippi Tea Party had no official member branches in Ripley.

"I don't even know anything about (CofCC)," Nicholson told the Jackson Free Press. "I can tell you that in all of the dealings that I've had with our member chapters. ... I have never seen anything that was of a racist tone being brought into it. That doesn't mean that at some rallies somebody doesn't show up with a (racist) sign or something like that. We don't have any control of that, but as far as the discussion that has come out of the groups themselves, there has never been a racist tone."

Nicholson said the Tea Party is "opposed to anything that limits opportunities or excludes people based on their race or national origin" or religion. He said the party concerns itself with policies and "peoples' actions."

Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson looked surprised when asked if the NAACP has updated its 2010 opinion of the Party. "The Tea Party should purge itself of the racist elements that have been identified within the party structure," said Johnson last week. "How they feel about government and taxes is a policy issue, but there are individuals and organizations that have joined the Tea Party, like the (Council of Conservative Citizens Council) who have demonstrated a racial hatred of other individuals."

The wide spectrum of personalities welcomed under the Tea Party umbrella sets the stage for political embarrassment. One speaker at an April 2009 Tea Party rally at the state Capitol told an audience of a few hundred that government-mandated school integration had been a mistake.

"When we integrated the schools 30 years ago, the reason was a balanced and fair education system; yet 25 or 30 years later the public schools in Jackson are over 90 percent black, and we have a huge private school system that flourishes in this area, and it's well over 90 percent white," said business owner Doug Wilson. "The unintended consequences are that we now have a dual system that is anything but fair and balanced."

Wilson later walked back his statement to the JFP: "My point was that government acts and does certain things, and it has unintended consequences. It was done with a good heart. It was done with pure motives, but the end result was bad. We're still separate."

A Last Hurrah
But it is basic demographics that could ultimately doom the Tea Party uprising.

The U.S. population is changing fast with the Pew Research Center pointing out that only 53 percent of new mothers in 2008 were white, compared to 65 percent of new mothers in 1990. Meanwhile 45 percent of new mothers in 2008 were African American, Latino or Asian, compared to 33 percent in 1990. Following recent trends, the Pew Research Center predicts non-Hispanic whites to become the minority in 2050, with a population of only 47 percent, when compared to other minorities, including Asians, Hispanics and African-Americans.

The population trend spells trouble for the racially homogenous Tea Party. Former Vermont Governor and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean told an audience at a Jan. 5 Christian Science Monitor-hosted event that the Tea Party movement represents "the last gasp of a generation that has trouble with diversity."

"It's a group of older folks who've seen their lives change dramatically. The country's not the same," Dean said at the rally. "All of a sudden, it's here for them and they don't know what to do. ... Every morning when they see the president, they're reminded that things are totally different than when they were born."

The racial dynamics of Mississippi are changing, as are attitudes of younger Mississippians toward diversity and the federal government. Certainly suburbs, such as Desoto County are growing in populations, as the progressive bastion of Jackson has shrunk. But the Mississippi Department of Education data show that black and Hispanic populations are dramatically increasing, even in Desoto.

Ridgeland is experiencing its own brand of browning with a black student population in 2010 of 436, which outnumbered the 385 white students. In the 2003-2004 school year, this originally white suburb contained a black student population of only 264.

Rankin County represents one of the fastest growing populations in the state, but February Census numbers could reveal that a significant portion of that population expansion into Rankin County is due to the flight of non-whites to the suburbs. The Hispanic student population in Rankin County schools more than doubled from 148 students in 2003 to 371 students in 2009.

"Department of Education numbers are a pretty good way to discern the racial changes," Wiseman said. "I've never maintained that the Democratic Party in Mississippi is completely dead," Wiseman said. But the Democratic Party, Wiseman said, will have to take a lesson from the Tea Party's organizational effort: "Campaigning has become so high-tech and sophisticated (that) Democrats will have to follow all the way through and knock on doors and bring them to the polls if they're going to be successful," Wiseman said.

The party may also have a hard fight enticing younger voters to its cause: Generation Y isn't dying to go backward to darker times.

"They wouldn't want to have the survival of the fittest society that existed before the New Deal," said Tougaloo College political-science professor Stephen Rozman. "Go back before the New Deal, and you lose the safety nets. We'd be all at the mercy of people at the top who are controlling things more and more.

Previous Comments

ID
161733
Comment

Adam is one of the few people who has actually faced a bear in an outhouse--faced it and emerged victorious. If nothing else, I take comfort from the demographic shifts underway. As the Republican Party clings tighter and tighter to older white voters, each passing year diminishes their electoral prospects. Note that McCain captured about the same share of the white vote as President Bush did in 1988. But that don't cut it anymore. Note further that about 35 percent of voters in 2010 were 65 or older, which is fairly typical of a midterm election, where turnout is lower. Support for Democrats eroded in 2010, but the most important change from 2008 was that different people voted. Republicans will not be able to achieve such numbers in 2012. So I say, let them drink tea. They're stampeding down a cul-de-sac.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2011-01-20T12:41:50-06:00
ID
161750
Comment

Your article presents facts that contradict the official Tea Party mantra. They have never been a group willing to let facts stand in the way of ideology. Their puppet masters understand and exploit this blind faith very successfully. This is an ideological movement controlled by corporate overloads. The foot soldiers are believers. The generals are master manipulators. Their propaganda is broadcast around the clock. While occasional squabbles erupt, seldom does the central message ever change. The message is not complex. It's central tenets are that your freedom is at risk. Your right to religious freedom is threatened by swarthy hordes from foreign lands. They have infiltrated the highest offices in the land. These invaders want to destroy your way of life. They plan to destroy the economy and if at all possible kill you or at the very least lock you up in secret clandestine camps, probably in one of the scariest places you can imagine, most likely Alabama. Your only hope for survival is to buy as many guns as you can, and if possible kill them first. Who is they, them you ask? Anyone that disagrees with the Tea Party line, of course. Stepping away from my chalk board for a moment and dialing back the melodrama, I honestly think that a lot of well meaning people have been duped and frightened by a cabal of multinational business people into doing their political bidding. The Tea Partiers are stuck with the same failed economy as the rest of us. We are saddled with a military that is sucking us dry as our national heritage has been mortgaged to the Communist Chinese that have now morphed into businessmen. As long as our politicians work on commission and are beholden to the corporate overlords I am not too optimistic for the future. I think the best we can do is hope we are not caught up in the cross fire when the next lunatic exercises his second amendment rights in a public venue.

Author
Jeffery R
Date
2011-01-21T00:07:54-06:00

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

comments powered by Disqus