Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Interview: American Independent

Asheville Tea Party remains neutral in Shuler-Miller race
Aaron Sarver | American Independent News Network | September 21, 2010

Now with more than 700 people subscribing to its e-mail newsletter, the Asheville Tea Party (ATP) has grown rapidly in the past few months as voters tune into the fall elections. Membership in the group is a non-formal affair, requiring no dues. And with the attention and influence tea party factions continue to wield, on both local and national levels, many established Republicans are trying to shore-up their local tea party’s endorsement.

Speaking about the group’s process for endorsing candidates, Tim Peck, co-founder of the ATP, says, “We need to remain non-partisan and be very clear on who we’re going to endorse and why, we’re not just going to fall in line. This is a clarifying moment for us as an organization. Through this process of looking very seriously at the substance of the candidates we’ve been able to differentiate between the people who really understand our mission and those who expected us to be something else.”

The Asheville Tea PAC, which the Asheville Tea Party uses to raise funds and run ads, has endorsed several local candidates for the General Assembly, all Republicans, including R.L. Clark for Senate District 49, Jim David for Senate District 50, Mark Crawford for House District 115, Tim Moffitt for House District 116 and Sam Edwards for House District 118. Yet, the ATP has not endorsed either candidate in the 11th District congressional race between incumbent Democrat Heath Shuler and Republican challenger Jeff Miller.

The group uses the Independence Caucus Survey, which consists of 80 yes-or-no questions focusing mainly on tax and fiscal policy, to determine endorsements. Audio from each endorsed candidate is available on the Independence Caucus website, which is used to clarify answers (and non-answers) to any questions. Peck says, “It’s not just yes-or-no questions. It’s more in-depth, why did you answer yes or no to these questions.”

Peck says both Democrats and Republicans are eligible to receive an endorsement so long as they take the survey and participate in an interview. Neither Shuler nor Miller has taken the survey, though the ATP has encouraged both candidates to do so in their print advertisements, which lists the group’s endorsed candidates. Peck says a lot of people in the ATP will vote for Miller. “We have a lot of internal wrangling over whether to endorse the Republican nominee.”

But Peck believes the group will stick to its strict endorsement criteria. And for those who expect the ATP to automatically get behind Miller, Peck said, “You ought to be able to find another political organization who will endorse a Republican regardless of their merit.”

Peck doesn’t think highly of Miller himself. “He’s a waffling big-government conservative. He’s already flip-flopped on Social Security. He’s not able to defend his position on Social Security so he flip-flops on it.”

The ATP did endorse a candidate in the Republican primary, Dr. Dan Eichenbaum. Eichenbaum bested Miller by 48-27 percent in Buncombe County, which includes Asheville (the largest county and largest city in the 11th District). Miller won the primary 40-34 percent overall, with four other candidates on the ballot.

Peck, who is registered as “unaffiliated,” Buncombe County’s official term for independent, says the group is not just a bunch of disaffected Republicans, and that he will continue to go to great lengths to explain how tea party groups are misrepresented by the media. “Don’t confuse Glenn Beck and the tea party and Sarah Palin. Anytime Glenn Beck says something stupid, that paints the tea party in a bad light. … A lot of these groups don’t have anything in common.” Peck says the group’s views are frequently misunderstood on local blogs and forums as well, and he frequently points to the group’s mission statement to try and set others straight about the ATP’s views. It reads, in part:
The Asheville Tea Party is an independent, local, voluntary, nonpartisan, grassroots political activist organization that stands for individual rights, limited government, fiscal responsibility and free markets; and was created by concerned citizens in response to the out-of-control growth of government power, scope, arrogance, recklessness and corruption.
Miller isn’t the only GOP candidate Peck is wary of endorsing. Of incumbent Republican Sen. Richard Burr — running for reelection against Democrat Elaine Marshall and Libertarian Michael Beitler — Peck has previously said of ATP’s views of Burr, “They’re just not interested in what Burr has to offer.” Peck didn’t consider his favored candidate Beitler a spoiler in Burr’s chances of reelection. “If Burr loses by 7 percent he needs to think about that,” Peck said. “He will lose because he’s wrong on the issues. I would consider Burr the spoiler.”