Tea Time

Nate Blakeslee talks about the tea party movement and what it means for Texas.
Tea Time
Nate Blakeslee

The biggest political story of the past two years has been the rise of the tea party, and nowhere has its impact been more profound than in Texas, where the movement’s energy and activism on behalf of conservative candidates led to unprecedented gains for Republicans in the state legislature. Nate Blakeslee spent some time with the King Street Patriots, a tea party group based in Houston, to learn firsthand what the movement is all about and where it will go next. Here’s the story behind the story.

Much has been written about the tea party and its widespread popularity across the nation. Why did you decide to write about the tea party in Texas now?
It became clear months ago that the momentum of the tea party movement was going to benefit the Republican party in the November elections, though nobody really knew how great the boost would be. Now we know: A gain of 22 seats in the Texas House of Representatives, which gives the Republicans their biggest majority since the Reconstruction era. The question now is: What will the tea party’s influence be moving forward?

Why did you decide to approach the King Street Patriots for your piece?
The King Street Patriots are just one of more than two hundred tea party groups in Texas, and I could have visited any of them to file this story. I picked King Street because they were one of the better-organized groups and because they were active in Houston, which had a number of close races in which Republicans were trying to unseat Democratic incumbents. It seemed like a good place to gauge the impact of the tea party on the election.

When you first approached the group, they declined to give you access. Were you surprised?
I was surprised, though in the end I thought it was perfect for the story, because it illustrated a style of politics that is common in this new movement. I aroused suspicion because I am one of hundreds of journalists who have received a grant from a George Soros–funded foundation over the years, and Soros is considered a sort of evil mastermind by a certain kind of conservative in this country. Never mind that I received the grant seven years ago and that I work for a magazine that had Laura Bush on the cover within the past year. In fairness, as I explain in the story, King Street is being sued by a group that has received Soros’s funding.

What do you hope readers will learn about the tea party and its members from this story?
I think some people are still laboring under the misconception that the tea party was manufactured by Republican operatives, that it was an “Astroturf” movement and not a true expression of grassroots discontent. Certainly the Republicans have benefited from it and have fought mightily and with some success to co-opt the energy of the movement and turn it to their message and their ends. But this kind of populist anger can easily turn on any group that tries to harness it, and we’ll see in the coming legislative sessions in Austin and Washington whether the Republicans have hitched their wagons to a horse they cannot control.

Was there anything you wanted to include in this piece that you weren’t able to?
An entire story could be devoted to the politics of anti-voter fraud campaigns of the kind King Street and many other conservative groups undertook in this election cycle. Voter fraud sounds like a nonpartisan issue, but in fact it is not. We had no room for that discussion this time around, unfortunately.

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