Since its inception almost two years ago, the tea party movement has not only been about lower taxes and less government spending, it has primarily been about changing the culture of politics. It has been about returning the power from the establishment career politicians to we the people. It has been about getting reckless government spending under control and restoring confidence and trust in the very idea of self-government.
I was the primary organizer of the tea party movement in Tallahassee. As an employee of The James Madison Institute (JMI), I spend my days (and many nights) gathering support for JMI so that we can further public policy solutions for Florida that do not depend on government or “other people’s money.” Organizations like JMI exist to educate citizens (and policy makers) about the timeless principles that are needed for liberty to continue to exist and be available for all.
While JMI has been furthering these ideas since 1987, it was the tea party movement that brought the very principles of the Constitution back into the public square in 2009. Apart from my day job at JMI, I spent much of my personal time early in 2009 organizing two tea parties in Tallahassee. In March 2009, we had about 225 people attend, with our guest speaker, Dick Armey of FreedomWorks. That was only a warm-up act for April 15. We had more than 2,000 people come to the grounds of Florida’s state capitol for a “Rally Against Generational Debt.” There were more than 50 such rallies in Florida that day and approximately 1,000 around the country.
As our keynote speaker and local radio host Preston Scott said that day, the tea party isn’t against taxes, per se. We’re willing to pay our fair share. What we are against is the reckless and irresponsible spending by elected officials who arrogantly believe they know what is best for the rest of us.
As the tea party movement grew, the phones began ringing off the hook at JMI and other like-minded organizations. The tea party movement, for the most part, is filled with citizens who were becoming politically active for the first time in their lives. In any case, most in the tea party movement had never been THIS involved in taking action, coming to rallies, calling their elected officials, and even joining Facebook to stay in the loop. These newly active citizens were contacting organizations like JMI, looking for speakers and trying to find out how they could educate their groups and, in some sense, provide entertainment and engaging speakers at their rallies.
As the Director of Development at JMI, I accepted an invitation to speak at a tea party held in Fort Walton Beach, Florida on September 12, 2009. This was the same exact day that tea partiers across the nation were descending on Washington - reports estimate anywhere between 500,000 and one million people attended the rally in our nation’s capital that day.
Meanwhile hundreds of other rallies were taking place in locations across the country - for those who could not spare the time or expense to go to DC. At the rally I spoke at, there were several other speakers addressing the 400 plus crowd of people who came out despite the rain. Luckily, the event was able to be moved under a covered pavilion. One such speaker that spoke just before me was Rick Scott.
Yes, he’s now the Republican candidate for Governor. But I did not detect any political aspirations in him then. He came to speak representing an organization called “Conservatives for Patients Rights.” He spoke eloquently and from the heart. In between speeches, I was able to talk to him for a few minutes. I really liked him. I had read about him a few months earlier when I learned about what his group was doing to fight Obamacare.
I had learned he had already spent millions of dollars from his personal fortune to fight Obamacare and that he was willing to spend up to $20 million to do so. As I spoke with him casually that day, we discussed the hard fight against Obamacare ahead. I think I was most taken aback by the soft tone of his speech. He did not appear to me like a multi-million dollar CEO. In fact, he seemed like a very humble guy - and like “one of us," he clearly articulated an understanding of the threat big government programs, like Obamacare, posed to families, small businesses, and even large health care corporations like the ones he has run.
The Rick Scott name faded into my memory over the next six months or so. That was until the health care bill passed. During that battle, the Obama White House had named Rick Scott public enemy number one. They did not want any prominent people in the health care industry pointing out the fatal flaws in their health care bill.
A few weeks after the bill passed, I learned that Rick Scott was entering the race to become the next Governor of Florida. At first I thought this was odd. I knew his big issue was health care and with Attorney General Bill McCollum suing the federal government on behalf of Floridians, I couldn’t understand how Scott could feel he could do any better on the health care issue than his primary opponent, Bill McCollum.
But eventually I got it. And once I did, I realized that Rick Scott “gets it.” He gets it more than I could have imagined. In fact, I’m a bit embarrassed that he got it a lot earlier than I did. In fact, Rick Scott is a tea party patriot. Some have called him out as a fraud. Let me tell you that he is the real thing. Like most tea party patriots, he has been willing to invest his own time, his own money, and his own reputation to do what he feels is best for his country. There is nothing for him to profit by winning the Governor's mansion. In fact, he has said he won't even draw a salary as Governor. He has spent tens of millions of dollars of his own money to obtain a position he won't even take money for. If this isn't one of the highest forms of charity towards his fellow Floridians, I don't know what is. As a tea party patriot, he is restoring the true idea of public service.