Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

April 16, 2012

Fourth local Tea Party attempts to organize in Elkhart County

GOSHEN — Three years after the emergence of the Tea Party movement, efforts by conservative activists in Elkhart County continue to evolve.

Unlike many communities where a single tea party group has established itself, Elkhart County has had three groups for several years and a fourth may soon emerge.

Gerry Rough, of Goshen, is attempting to launch a new group and will host its first meeting Thursday.

Rough was formerly associated with Tea Party of Michiana Action Coalition, commonly known as Tea Mac.

Rough said he grew tired of what he believed was too much emphasis on extremist views that came out of Tea Mac activities. Discussions of whether President Barack Obama was legitimately elected and issues tied to the John Birch Society are two of the examples he said that seem to take away from Tea Mac’s overall objectives.

He also pointed to what he considers to be conspiracy theorists that the group seems to consider.

“Tea Mac has become hopelessly involved with kooks,” Rough said. “You generally get the notion that Tea Mac has become its own rogue group.”

Suzy Chilberg, a co-founder of Tea Mac, acknowledges that the group is open to discussion on a range of issues.

The group’s Facebook page had a link about a book arguing that Obama does not meet the constitutional requirements to hold office. Another post by Chilberg refers to U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar as a socialist.

She said Obama’s citizenship is a legitimate issue because his father was born in Kenya.

She said they make it a point not to censor people when debating issues.

“There have been some heated discussions that have gone on,” Chilberg said. “If (Rough) has a problem with that, I can’t help that.”

A common cause?

Rough’s yet-to-be-named group would mark the fourth Tea Party organization in Elkhart County, a fact that begs the question: As the movement matures, are local organizers splintering their efforts or expanding their base?

Chilberg said having different groups with varying emphasis on educating the public, advocating certain candidates and becoming involved in elections helps the overall goal.

She pointed out that numerous people are involved with more than one group.

“I think if we have these divergent points of view and yet we can still come together on specific things,” Chilberg said, “that’s the strength of the Tea Party movement.”

Bob Moore, a leader of the Elkhart County Patriots, downplayed Rough’s concerns with Tea Mac and described the existing groups as “allies in the same cause.”

Conservative blogger Danny Turkette, of Fort Wayne, tracks Tea Party activities in northern Indiana and has chronicled some of Tea Mac’s happenings, including a feud with leaders of Kosciusko Silent No More.

Turkette said he believes Tea Mac has lost a significant number of supporters.

The fact that three or four groups in Elkhart County are active is a good sign, but he adds, “If they were all working together, it probably would be even better.”

Rough’s initial news release invites “conservatives, independents, and disaffected democrats” to the first meeting 7 p.m. Thursday at the Maple City Chapel on Lincolnway East in Goshen.

Rough also made a specific appeal to the Amish community, a group that normally remains uninvolved in politics. He said he chose to do so because of the large number of Amish who attended a controversial county zoning meetings a year ago.

He said he made a point to invite Amish just in case they might be interested.

Working with candidates

He said he’d like to get the group established and begin working to support certain candidates including U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock and fellow Republican Jackie Walorski, who is running again for the 2nd District Congressional seat.

“I want to emphasize activism. We need to pound the pavement. That’s how you win elections,” Rough said. “You don’t win it by sitting at your computer reading e-mail and doing the discussion list thing.”

Rough said he is also aligned with Elkhart County Patriots.

Rough said he has no qualms with the Patriots, but said the group’s weekly meetings tend to be too much for his schedule.

He said he believes his group would likely meet every 4-6 weeks once it is established.

The other Tea Party-oriented group is the Michiana 9-12 Project, which has been around for three years and does not endorse candidates.

An evolving movement

As the Tea Party movement continues to evolve, more and more of the efforts have focused on grassroots politicking instead of holding public protests that were common during the national health care reform debate a few years ago.

The Elkhart Patriots were heavily involved in phone banking in last year’s municipal election and have touted the campaigns of Mourdock and former presidential candidate Rick Santorum in recent months.

The Patriots and Tea Mac have worked to put supporters into positions as state delegates and poll workers to help advance their cause.

While the groups appear to be supporting many of the same local candidates, Tea Party groups in Indiana have strongly aligned behind Mourdock, the state treasurer who is challenging Lugar in next month’s Republican primary — a race that has gained national attention.

Chilberg and Rough both agree the Senate primary race will be a strong indicator of how strong and established the Tea Party movement has evolved.

“Americans,” Chilberg said, “are fed up with the status quo.”

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