Political experts discuss future power of Tea Party

Mary Ellen Knewtson

Although the Tea Party played a key role getting Republicans elected in the 2010 elections, four political observers at a panel Tuesday said they are uncertain how the group will fare in 2012 or what positions they will endorse.

About 70 students attended the panel discussion that included political consultant Jordan Berry, Texas Tribune reporter Reeve Hamilton, UT government lecturer James Henson and Taurie Randermann, chief of staff for freshman Tea Party candidate Rep. Stefani Carter, R-Dallas.

Henson identified ideological differences between Tea Party Republicans and other Republicans. Tea Party supporters are 13-percent less likely to support an increased tax on alcohol than non-Tea Party Republicans and 18-percent more willing to legalize marijuana, he said.

“[The Tea Partiers] are finding out that they’re not going to get what they want as easily as they thought,” Hamilton said. “They need to figure out what their relationship with the Republicans is.”

Four Tea Party candidates won House seats after the 2010 general election. Although many of the Tea Party candidates lost their primary elections, their supporters shifted their votes to endorse Republican candidates, which led the Republican supermajority in the House, Randermann said.

She said despite differences in ideology, many Republicans in office are careful to hear out Tea Party grievances and strive to represent their initiatives in votes.

Berry said consultants worked with Tea Party organizers to help them transform their efforts into a power that would lead to more conservative policy changes.

“You’re going to start seeing a lot of legislation that will excite the Tea Party,” he said. “You guys are going to start to see concealed handguns on your campus by this time next year.”

History senior Jon Andropoulos, who attended the panel, said he has always been politically active.

“I think most of the rhetoric surrounding the movement is a bit sensationalist and unbalanced,” he said

Austin Tea Party organizer Heather Liggett said she wishes the media would talk to members of the group instead of about them. She said that her organization is a group of stay-at-home moms, retired teachers and other citizens who believe the government has grown too large.