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TribBlog: Invitation to a Tea Party

Tea Partiers expect to have a seat at the table during Texas' 82nd Legislative Session, the first since the movement's rise, via the new Tea Party Caucus organized by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. The caucus is advised by a select group of Tea Party leaders from around the state, including Greg Holloway, a leader of the Austin Tea Party Patriots and the Common Sense Texans Network. He talked with the Trib about the upcoming session.

Greg Holloway

Tea Partiers are expecting to have a seat at the table during Texas' 82nd Legislative Session, the first since the Tea Party's rise, via the new Tea Party Caucus organized by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston.

The caucus is advised by a select group of Tea Party leaders from around the state. One of them is Greg Holloway, a leader of both the Austin Tea Party Patriots and the Common Sense Texans Network, a statewide coalition of Tea Party groups.Holloway describes the Tea Party as a conservative, fiscally-focused movement that, he says, is separate from the Republican Party.

With the session about to start, Holloway says it is a "shame" that so much of the energy of Tea Party groups has been consumed by the now all-but-officially-decided Speaker’s race. His particular Tea Party group doesn't endorse candidates, and the speaker's race is no exception.

He took some time on Friday to talk with the Tribune about his expectations for the session ahead, what the Tea Party stands for, and who — if anyone — serves as its leader .

Here’s an edited transcript:

What do you see as the Tea Party’s role in the Tea Party Caucus and the session as a whole?

Audio: Greg Holloway

With the Tea Party Caucus, we set up this advisory committee, and it was a committee that we, the members, decided who would be on it. What we hope will happen and I think will happen is that we're going to have the opportunity to talk with some legislators across Texas — the number is over 50 now — some of whom already have what we consider Tea Party principles and others who don’t.  I don’t think there’s necessarily a purity test to get into the Tea Party Caucus. 

What we hope people do on the caucus level is listen to us and try to understand what the Tea Parties across Texas want to see in terms of legislation, and almost as importantly why we want to see it, how our principles can actually lead to legislation that we think will be good for people all across Texas, not just a few special interest groups or a privileged few.

We think that the kinds of things our principles stand for can be embodied in good legislation that can help the whole state.

Is there unity about what that legislation would look like? Are all the Tea Party groups agreed on what they’d like to see out of this session?

Let me say this: I think a lot of the Tea Party groups have been meeting as individual groups to determine what their groups want to see out of the session.  But, I think there are some things that we can certainly say will happen.

The Tea Parties want to see a budget process that emphasizes cutting of costs and not looking for new areas of revenue, which means no more taxes and no turning to gambling as a way to raise revenue.  As far as user fees, I think some user fees might make sense.

Overall, we want to emphasize making government smaller and more responsive to the people of Texas. In making the budget cuts, what we’re looking for are budget cuts that don’t favor certain groups to the exclusion of others.

Let’s face it, there’s some folks in our state who really need governmental assistance.  To cut them off with nothing is going to be a huge burden on them.  Over time, we think most things can be done better outside of government than in.  But we don’t want to see people who are really, truly dependent on government for very important services — especially if they have disabilities, for example —we don’t want to see those cut off if there’s not another place for those constituents to go.

You’re not advocating the complete removal of government.

No. Heavens no.  Government has a very important purpose, it just needs to be smaller and less intrusive than it has been in past years.  People say we’re anti government, and that’s not true at all.  We’re very much pro-government, we just think the government should be smaller and more responsive and more in line with what makes is going to make sense for all Texans.

Continuing on legislation, we want a strong voter ID bill, not some watered down version, to protect the electoral process.  Some groups, probably most groups, would like to see more second amendment protections — perhaps at the campus level and perhaps with 18 to 21 year olds under certain

We’d like to see some Tenth Amendment protections to allow Texas as a state to stand up against a lot of the federal intrusion.  Primarily, we’ve been looking at the Texas Health Freedom Act. 

We’d also like to see some laws that make sense — I don’t have an exact picture of what that is right now, there’s a lot of good suggestions out there — some bills that make sense on immigration reform, knowing it’s primarily a federal issue but there are some things we can do as a state. We’re not specifically advocating for an SB 1070 type of idea.

Is there any one leader [of the Tea Party] in Texas?  Is it Dan Patrick?

There’s no one leader.  I don’t think anybody would claim to be, as a matter of fact, I don’t think Sen. Patrick would at any point claim to be the head of the Tea Party. The Tea Party Caucus, by the way, isn’t designed to do that, and neither is the advisory committee.

Some people have stepped to the fore, especially this year and late last year, trying to lead discussion of the Speakers Race. Some of it has been very helpful and some of it has tended to be, “You have to think this way or else you’re a RINO [Republican in Name Only].”  I don’t think that’s a good tack.

By and large, if you ask most people across the state who identify as Tea Partiers or friendly to that movement, they’d tell you that there isn’t a leader and it’s incumbent upon them and everybody else that they know to make up their own mind and come to their own conclusions. And sometimes that leads us to disagreement.

One thing you’ll see in the Tea Party advisory committee is that when bill issues come up, we’re going to find not unanimity on a lot of things. I think the discussion itself will be almost as useful as the result. We do hope that we can agree on enough things to advise the tea Party caucus to say, “Here’s some pieces of legislation that make a lot of sense, why don’t you go ahead and try to push those through.”

How much of this is a grassroots movement, and how much of it is what some people call “astroturfing?”

Well, I think what you see in terms of the sea change in the public determining that overspending is bad and smaller government is good is very, very grassroots.

There are a lot people that would like to jump on that kind of a sea change and push their own agenda and, in some cases, make some money off of it. That’s a natural thing. That’s probably been a little bit more in the last few months than it has before.

But the base of everything, what really drives the electorate, and what drives people’s understanding and desire to change government is still very grassroots.  The Tea Parties you see across Texas, I can assure you that very few, if any, are getting money outside of their own groups.  A few might be, but here in Austin we completely self-fund.  We’re not looking for outside funding. We really like the idea of meeting our people, figuring out what they want, and helping them get legislation across they find useful, and mostly providing good information.

The base is still very, very grassroots. It’s America — people will try to commercialize anything, and the Tea Party’s no exception.

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