There Is Some Unhappiness In The North Dakota Tea Party Caucus Ranks

The problem with grassroots movements is that the various members of the movement often have different motivations for being in the movement. Case in point, the North Dakota Tea Party Caucus.

The organizing committee for the group is fairly diverse. It runs the gamut from ordinary citizens to political candidates (like Paul Sorum, who is running for Governor in the next election, and Duane Sand, who is running for…something in the next election) to political professionals (Gary Emineth is the former head of the NDGOP and Bob Harms is the NDGOP’s Treasurer and a lobbyist for various interests).

As you might expect, some of these individuals have different outlooks on what the NDTPC should and should not be doing.

Right now the NDTPC is on a statewide tour, hoping to gin up support from the masses (you can find all the details on the SAB events calendar), but some are unhappy that certain members are using these events as defacto campaign stops. It’s been reported to me that Paul Sorum, specifically, has been announcing himself as a candidate at the events and soliciting the attendees for information for his campaign. The NDTPC members I’ve spoken to are unhappy that the events are being co-opted in this manner, and wonder if it’s appropriate to have a candidate for public office on their organizing committee.

On the flip side, others (including Sorum) are upset with Bob Harms being involved accusing him of using the group to further his lobbying efforts on various efforts (including opposition to the Measure 2 property tax elimination) and, as with Sorum, wonder if it’s appropriate to have a professional political operative on the organizing committee.

For what it’s worth, I’ve spoken directly with Harms about these concerns in the past and he’s assured me that it is not his intent to use the NDTPC as part of his lobbying efforts and to date I’ve not heard of any evidence that he has.

Frankly, all of these concerns are valid and they represent why I thought it was a mistake to try and organize the tea party movement in the first place. A leaderless, spontaneous, truly grassroots movement like the tea party is hardly going to be homogeneous ideologically. Nor are its members likely to agree on how to prioritize issues, or even how to go about pursuing the sort of activism that can make a difference in the political world.

By organizing a movement like the tea party you must define a platform of ideas, then work together to achieve it. That process will inevitably alienate some and make the movement smaller, and more splintered. Of course, that’s a necessary evil. The other side of the coin is that if the tea party isn’t organize, its influence will fade.

What the NDTPC is going through right now are growing pains. I think they’ll yet emerge as something of a political force in the state, but to paraphrase Franklin talking about the revolution, they must first learn if they can hang together. Otherwise, they may “hang” separately.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • two_amber_lamps

    Unfortunately as soon as you “Organize” something like this, some slug and/or Rino is going to try to co-opt the production for their own personal merit and/or agendas. 

    These people have no business stumping for their own interests at these events.

  • Game

    The “Tea Party Caucus”  of 2010 will become the “Reform Pary/ Ross Perot” effort of 1992. Impactful in one election cycle, but lacking the displine and dedication to create long term politcal change. We have a basic two party system in this country for a reason. It works. Parties are effective in getting people elected.

    I think that is pretty hard to dispute.

    • Rob

      Except that the NDTPC isn’t trying to be a political party.  They’re seeking to be an organization that disseminates information and encourages participation.

      There are plenty of other groups doing that nationally and they’re quite effective.

      Your problem is you have a faulty premise.

  • Dakotacyr

    I agree with the growing pains part. I would think that if you are an announced candidate for office, then you should excuse yourself from the main committee until you are no longer a candidate. Meetings and tour stops should have a strict agenda to stop any hijacking of the group for other purposes.

  • Robert

    Hi Rob, Harms here.  One quick note, regarding my participation in the Tea Party Caucus. I’m involved for one reason:  to get people involved in a network that helps our state and our nation function in a more limited, fiscally conservative, constitutionally oriented manner.  If any of my colleagues can point to anytime I have used the Tea Party Caucus activities to promote a client, or my own economic interests (or my opposition to Measure 2), I will step aside from the effort.

  • Guest

    The only problem with “organizing” is when politicians or any “party” members are involved – period.

  • Jamermorrow

    Politicians have one goal and that is to get elected. When your livlihood depends on it you will do whatever it takes. Nobody should be allowed to be a politician for more than 4 years. They should have to live with the laws they create.

  • One Woman

    I’m supposed to be going to the one on July 19th, but I don’t want to go to a freaking lying politician’s pep rally!! May have to reconsider!

  • Cal Schaible

    I like the idea of organing a Tea Party Caucus. Perry Schumacher made a good point at the first meeting I attended. He said we need to know one another so when something is going wrong politically we can communicate with one another. If you can’t communicate with one another you cannot operate effectively. Far too many Republicans have become too comfortable with defying their conservative roots. For instance, George Kaiser and other Republicans killing the defined contribution plan for public employees. I will be attending my second meeting on July 19th.

    • One Woman

       Since you said you’ve been to one…did the politicians use it as a campaign party? And, Rob mentioned them soliciting people for their personal info (I’m assuming this is so they can stalk them come election time). Did you see them doing that? Did they do it to you? Thanks!

      • Cal Schaible

        Paul Sorum was at the meeting but he did not speak. The primary emphasis of the meeting was to get involved with the political parties at the District level. The meeting also emphasized the importance of networking, growing the number of people participating, and each chapter generating its own ideas. The emphasis was by no means top down – it was definitely bottoms ups.

  • NDSuperman

    I think that if there is “Unhappiness In The North Dakota Tea Party Caucus Ranks” that is a very healthy, very welcome thing.  The last thing we want, as a nation/state of individuals, is to have everyone think alike.  These are people who think alike in principal, but often not in details.  What I mean is, for example, the NDTPC will agree that government is too big, but may not agree on which agencies to cut or reduce.  The purpose of the meetings, is to orient yourself with other like minded INDIVIDUALS, and learn about the government processes at all levels…along with whatever the hell you want information on…provided that some one else in attendance has the knowledge.
    Politicians ought to be as welcome as any other citizen…maybe even more welcome, if not desired to attend.  If you want politicians to not grandstand, you might as well wish that night wasn’t dark…or water wasn’t wet…or that wives were reasonable people.  These are not the people to worry about when it comes to keeping an eye on elected officials.  

  • Lynn Bergman

    Their is 100% consensus within the overall organizing effort on the most important issue, converting or replacing RINOs to restore the Republican Party “brand” to its platform ideals, including limited and constitutional government.

    A networking effort to find and identify like minded conservatives to implement an action agenda is vital. And 80% agreement on specific issues is a lot better than the 20% compliance with the platform that RINOs are responsible for.

    All of the men mentioned are essentially involved in the Tea Party for the right reasons. The only thing that differs is in how they propose to serve conservative principles and the degree of pragmatism they embrace versus their idealism.

    This movement will not fizzle and its biggest strength is its lack of dependence on one individual.

    Open debate and frank and open discussion within an organization are true strengths, not weaknesses.

    • Rob

      Open debate and frank and open discussion within an organization are true strengths, not weaknesses.

      I totally agree with that.

  • Dallas

    Is Harms also a paid lobbyist for the BIA or any other federally funded entity?  Need to know.

    Also somehwat rediculous to have Ed Schafer talk at Tea Party events.  That automatically makes them political and to have Ed talk about excess government spending is a bit of a joke.  Didn’t he personally go belly-up on government guaranteed loans for his fish farm fiasco.  Who bailed him out of the phone scam?

    Also say a rancher last year pseak at a Tea Party gathering.  He happens to have a federal grazing permit.  There’s no more refined form of welfare than a federal grazing permit and he’s bitching about government waste, fraud and abuse?  Get real folks. You’re being used.

    • Robert

      Dallas….. to answer your question, no Harms is not a paid lobbyist for BIA, CIA, EPA, DEA, FEC, FAA, or any other federally funded entity.  My involvment in the Tea Party is for the reason stated above—-to help build a network of citizens who want a smaller, less intrusive, less expensive government—period.  I hope you’ll join us, or at least come to one of the organizing events to hear the hole story.  I’ve been involved in the tea party movement in ND since the 1st tea party event on April 15, 2009….and frankly it costs me time, money and economic opportunities in doing so.  But, I’m willing to forego those opportunities because of the importance of what the movement represents–the essence of representative government–citizen participation.  Robert Harms

      • ellinas1

        But he is the treasurer of the ND republican party.