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Missouri tea parties object to Tea Party Express' choice in Missouri U.S. Senate contest

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 22, 2012 - The Tea Party Express, the nation’s largest tea party political action committee, is traveling the state to endorse state Treasurer Sarah Steelman in the crowded Republican contest for the U.S. Senate nomination in Missouri.

But a number of Missouri tea party groups disagree and have issued a statement disavowing the Tea Party Express’ action.

“The endorsement of Sarah Steelman for U.S. Senate by the Tea Party Express does not represent the consensus of tea party groups and conservative grassroots organizations that exist in Missouri, neither does the Tea Party Express represent the positions of tea party groups as a whole,” the 18 groups said in a joint release.

“The Tea Party Express is a California-based, consultant-heavy organization with no connection to Missouri, and they do not speak for Missouri tea party organizations when stating they have identified a 'true Tea Party candidate in Missouri.' "

Later, two other area tea party-aligned groups -- the Missouri Conservative Coalition and the Gateway Grassroots Initiative -- issued similar statements dispararaging the Tea Party Express' action.

The Tea Party Express held an event this morning in Kirkwood and then was traveling to Springfield and Missouri. A spokesman said the group also will campaign for Steelman with a bus tour closer to the August primary.

Steelman’s chief Republican rivals are St. Louis businessman John Brunner and U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Wildwood. All three claim allegiance to tea party principles of less government, when it comes to programs and spending.

A tea party dispute could weaken the movement’s clout in Missouri’s U.S. Senate contest, in which Republicans seek to oust U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

Such a controversy also could hurt Steelman, if tea party groups continue to banter over whether or not she deserved their support.

Amy Kremer, the chairman of Tea Party Express, said in a statement praising Steelman, “One of Tea Party Express’ top priorities in 2012 is to elect a conservative majority to the U.S. Senate, and we are confident that Sarah Steelman is the candidate in Missouri best suited for the job.

Kremer then went on to praise "Steelman’s unabashed economic conservative record combined with the experience of running statewide races (which) has prepared her to take on McCaskill in what will be a tough race."

“Americans are fed up with the out-of-control spending and irresponsible job-killing legislation coming out of Washington. While Sen. McCaskill has been voting to expand government and spend money through government programs like Obamacare and the failed stimulus, Sarah has advocated for reining in spending by demanding a balanced budget and repealing Obamacare.

“Americans are demanding real solutions to the fiscal woes facing our nation. Sarah Steelman’s understanding of the economy and experience managing Missouri’s $19 billion annual revenue and over $3 billion in investments in the state’s portfolio have prepared her to tackle the issues McCaskill has failed to address during her past five years in Washington.

“The Tea Party Express is proud to announce the endorsement of Sarah Steelman – she represents just the kind of leader we need in Washington,” Kremer concluded.

The Tea Party Express earlier has endorsed candidates in four other states.

Meanwhile, the Missouri tea party groups announcing they do not endorse Steelman are:

Branson Tea Party, Callaway Patriots Tea Party, Capital Tea Party,Cooper County Tea Party, Eureka Tea Party, Franklin County Patriots, I Heard The People Say (a St. Louis County group), Jefferson County Tea Party, Lebanon Tea Party, Liberty Restoration Project, Macon County Patriots, Mid-MO Patriots, Northsiders TEA Party, Sikeston Tea Party, Springfield Tea Party, Springfield/Greene County TEA Party, and the Sullivan 9-12 Group.

The Missouri Conservative Coalition, which also includes a number of tea party groups, is lambasting the Tea Party Express' action as well.

Karladine Graves, the coalition's president, said she "does not want the public to assume that the California-based Tea Party Express speaks for Missouri tea party groups and other independent conservative organizations across the state."

"Missouri Conservative Coalition is an organization composed of various tea party and independent conservative organizations across the entire state.," Graves added. "Each group belonging to the MoCC is responsible for their own organizations beliefs and activity. We don't believe in stifling our individual groups by telling them what to think or who to vote for."


The Gateway Grassroots Initiative -- involving activists who broke away from  the St. Louis Tea Party -- issued a statement noting that the Tea Party Express' support for Steelman "was done without consulting or reaching out to local groups to gauge whether or not their endorsement was a wise one."

"We feel that this was an important and crucial step that the Tea Party Express missed and it has the potential to discredit the organization in the eyes of Missouri voters," the Grassroots Initiative said.

"... We are disappointed that a national group such as the Tea Party Express failed to include in their decision-making process the very people that have actually sat down with these candidates and lived under their elected leadership," the Initiative continued.

"Furthermore, while we understand that the Tea Party Express is a PAC and not an organizational group, the endorsement carries the implication of a 'tea party candidate,' of which there is no such title.."

The Initiative noted that candidate-filing for the Senate seat remains open until next Tuesday. "In the future," the group pointedly added, "we hope that the importance and influence of local grassroots groups are not ignored and that the city in which they work to change for the better is acknowledged as more than a backdrop for an endorsement."

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.

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