Guest column from Matt Winey
Upcoming meetings of the Bears Ears Tea Party Patriots:
• 1 p.m. March 31: Featuring District 8 State Sen. Jean White, R-Hayden
• 7 p.m. April 5: Featuring Bob Rankin and Ron Roesener, Republican candidates for Colorado House District 57
• 6 p.m. April 7: Featuring Colorado House District 57 Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R- Hot Sulphur Springs. Baumgardner is running against White for the District 8 position.
— All meetings take place at The Center of Craig, 601 Yampa Ave. For more information on upcoming meetings, visit www.bearsearspatr...
There’s an old adage — don’t believe everything you read or hear.
Yet news reporters and anchors have continually reported the demise of the national tea party movement, portraying organization members and chapters around the country as being little more than gun-toting, conservative extremists from the far radical right.
This isn’t the impression one gets when sitting down and discussing politics and political views with members from the Craig tea party chapter — the Bears Ears Tea Party Patriots. Most members go against the grain of negative stereotypes.
“There’s a huge misunderstanding of what the tea party is all about,” said Carol Haskins, a Bears Ears chapter member. “People think we are all a bunch of radicals, but we have worked really hard to build a reputation in this community.
“We’re just concerned and pretty well informed citizens that want other people to be informed so they can make educated decisions on candidates and the issues facing our country.”
Although it shares a loose affiliation with the national party and other chapters around the region, state and country, Bears Ears is not an official organization.
The local group has never filed paperwork with state or federal governments. It does not elect officers, collect dues, or operate a budget. You’re not likely to find a roster of active members of the political group, either.
Bears Ears is a grassroots movement, Haskins said.
The group, which was founded in 2007, hosts monthly meetings at The Center of Craig, 601 Yampa Ave. Meetings generally begin with a reading of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution and also generally feature at least one guest speaker.
In its infancy, the local tea party experienced rapid growth and was widely supported.
But, a decision to publicly support certain candidates during the 2010 midterm elections caused a rift in the group’s membership and a number of once dedicated members walked away.
Remaining members said they learned from the mistake and the group now prides itself as being unaffiliated from any political party.
“We’re not Democrats and we’re not Republicans,” said Matt Winey, by most accounts the unofficial leader of the Bears Ears Tea Party Patriots. “We’re just concerned citizens that believe in limited government, fiscal responsibility and Constitutionally-based government decisions.”
Although the group discontinued its policy of endorsing candidates, it continues to engage in the vetting, or public evaluation, of people vying for office. In this regard, the group is perhaps Moffat County’s most active, exceeding or at least matching both the local Republican and Democratic parties.
In February, the organization hosted an open forum featuring all five candidates campaigning for the Moffat County Commission’s District 1 and District 2 seats.
More recently, the tea party hosted Tisha Casida, an Independent candidate running for Colorado’s Third Congressional District seat, and Ron Roesener, a Republican candidate vying for Colorado House District 57.
A slate of candidates are also scheduled to make appearances before the group in coming weeks, including District 8 State Sen. Jean White, R-Hayden; HD 57 Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs; and Bob Rankin, Republican candidate running to replace Baumgardner in HD 57.
Winey said the group has also extended invitations to CD 3 Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., and his Democratic opponent, Sal Pace.
“It goes back to our philosophy of trying to be welcoming of people and candidates of all views and political affiliations,” Haskins said. “Everyone is welcome to attend our meetings.”
“And we don’t have any delusions, either,” added Rick Barnes, a Republican candidate for the county commission’s District 2 seat and a tea party member. “We realize we may be wrong about some things, but the only way you can come to a reasonable decision is by listening to all sides.”
Barnes is credited by many as being the Founding Father, of sorts, of the local tea party. He organized the first Bears Ears Tea Party Patriots rally with his wife, Tami, in front of the Moffat County Courthouse on Tax Day in 2007.
Many chapters around the country, including Bears Ears, continue to organize annual rallies in honor of pre-Revolution colonials who protested King George III’s authority to execute a tax on exported British East India Company tea to the colonies, while barring the right of early Americans to duly elect officials to represent them in British Parliament.
Their historic protest of “no taxation without representation” continues to resonate with tea partiers to this day and the Boston Tea Party is credited with initiating the convention of the First Continental Congress, the American Revolutionary War, the Declaration of Independence, and ultimately the U.S. Constitution.
Today, tea party members are united by a the common theme of “take our country back.”
Although the interpretation of that theme varies from chapter to chapter, for Bears Ears members it simply means returning to ideals defined in the nation’s two founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
“The Constitution is the foundation of this country,” said Dave Haskins, a Craig resident and tea party member. “We’re literal Constitutionalists. Our feeling is the Constitution is what made America great and it is still pertinent today.”
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