© 2022 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
The 88.5 FM KMST Rolla transmitter is operating at low power while awaiting a replacement part. We expect this to be resolved around December 12th.

McCaskill, Nixon, Koster in local Tea Party's sights for 2012

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 7, 2010 - With several election victories (and at least one near miss) behind them, St. Louis Tea Party leaders are wasting no time in organizing their next project -- examining St. Louis' voter rolls -- and settling on their election targets for 2012.

Less than two years old, the St. Louis group is also figuring out the nuts and bolts needed to keep it in operation, including a stable source of revenue and a permanent area office.

Who are the key incumbents that local Tea Party activists want to oust in two years? They are Missouri's three top remaining Democrats: U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, Gov. Jay Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster.

St. Louis Tea Party spokeswoman Jen Ennenbach said conservatives take issue with all three officials' records and their demeanor -- especially McCaskill. (Koster also is particularly disliked because he's a former Republican who switched parties back in 2007.)

The St. Louis Tea Party will more actively seek their defeat, Ennenbach said, once it has helped recruit acceptable rivals. "We do have our eyes on several candidates who we think are a better fit," she said.

Executive director Ben Evans says Tea Party leaders' chief aim is to maintain and harness the grassroots energy (pictured here at a rally last November) that, by all accounts, gave a boost to Republican candidates in the St. Louis area.

Tea Party groups around the state also take some credit for the victorious Republicans at the top of the Missouri ticket: most notably, Roy Blunt, who won election to the U.S. Senate, and Tom Schweich, who ousted state Auditor Susan Montee.

But the St. Louis Tea Party has not forgotten about its only endorsed candidate -- Republican Ed Martin -- who narrowly lost his bid for the 3rd congressional seat now held by Democrat Russ Carnahan.

The latest vote tally has Carnahan ahead by about 4,400 votes, but Martin has yet to concede. He has been raising questions about various issues -- most notably, the final flurry of pro-Carnahan votes from St. Louis. The city's Republican officials with the bipartisan Election Board say that there was nothing fishy about the city's voting process or counting and that Carnahan's lead is accurate.

Still, Ennenbach says the St. Louis Tea Party believes "this election was stolen" from Martin.

Leaders hope to have teams of Tea Party activists ready later this month to begin a telephone and door-to-door canvassing of neighborhoods in St. Louis that fall within the 3rd congressional district.

The aim, she says, is to document vacant homes where people are registered, and residences where Tea Party activists suspect that more adults are registered to vote than actually live there.

"The St. Louis Tea Party coalition has asked the secretary of state for two months to clean them," Ennenbach said. Since Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (the losing Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate) has failed to do so, local Tea Party activists plan to take on the task themselves.

(A spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office said it has no powers under current state law to probe local jurisdictions' voter rolls and is also restricted by federal laws that limit when states can remove people from their voter rolls.)

Ennenbach said that one Tea Party activist reported being told at one household, during a pre-election canvass, that one voter registered at the residence was dead. In particular, the spokeswoman added, "we're looking at homes with six or seven voters or the house has been foreclosed on for two years."

Besides the voter-roll canvass, the St. Louis Tea Party also plans to bolster its ties with other Tea Party groups locally and around the state. And that effort will include creating a more permanent presence in its own backyard.

This fall, the St. Louis Tea Party had a temporary office on south Hampton Avenue. Leaders hope to set up a permanent arrangement -- either at the same address or elsewhere -- once they've established a stable source of income.

Ennenbach said the St. Louis Tea Party's operations this fall, such as rent, were funded by contributions. "We have a contribution box in the office," she said.

One idea is to set up a "Friends of the Tea Party Coalition," where activists would contribute $10 a month. Donations from 200 such supporters would provide enough money for rent and utilities, Ennenbach said.

With more than 5,000 friends on Facebook, she said, reliable contributors shouldn't be hard to find.

As a 501c4 nonprofit, under the federal tax code, the St. Louis Tea Party is not bound by any donation limits. Contributions to the group are not tax deductible. As such, the group does not have to disclose the identity of its donors.

Evans and Ennenbach dismiss the assertions of some Democrats and progressive bloggers that the St. Louis Tea Party ran afoul of its nonprofit status by endorsing Martin. As a 501C4, the St. Louis Tea Party is allowed to be politically active, as long as politics is not its primary activity. Endorsements are allowed, but can't be communicated to the general public.

Both say the St. Louis Tea Party was careful not to run ads in favor of Martin and defend a billboard that featured pictures of Martin and Carnahan and the question, ""Who deserves to serve?"

Ennenbach noted that the National Rifle Association, for example, also is a 501C4 and endorsed Martin as well.

Evans and Ennenbach are the new official "voices" of the St. Louis Tea Party, as some of its other notables move on. Dana Loesch and Gina Loudon both are radio talk show hosts, and also are involved in other conservative pursuits. Tea Party founder Bill Hennessy is stepping out of the picture, said Ennenbach, because the last 20 months have left him exhausted.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.