Home Virginia Politics Should a Democratic Delegate Have Attended the Virginia Tea Party Convention?

Should a Democratic Delegate Have Attended the Virginia Tea Party Convention?


(UPDATE: Mark Keam Has a bunch of thoughts on all this at his blog. I think he makes a few good points, but overall, we’re just gonna have to “agree to disagree” (strongly) on this one. – promoted by lowkell)

Over at his Facebook page, Del. Mark Keam (D-Vienna) writes, “Spoke on a bipartisan panel on ‘transparency in government’ at VA Tea Party in Richmond. I’ll write up my thoughts on my website tonight.” To my knowledge, Del. Keam is the only elected Virginia Democrat to attend the Virginia “Tea Party” convention, along with numerous Republican elected officials – Bob McDonnell, Bill Bolling, Ken Cuccinelli, several others.  The question is, should a Democratic elected official, or Democratic candidate, be attending a “Tea Party” event?

I checked with a few Democratic activists and long-time Democratic Virginia political operatives, and have their comments after the “flip.” But first, for an “official” view, here’s DPVA Chairman Dickie Cranwell:

State Democratic Party Chairman Richard Cranwell of Vinton said the GOP leaders’ embrace of hard-line tea party activists raises questions about whether they can be consensus-building political leaders.

“What my basic instincts are telling me is that what you’re seeing is the real Bob McDonnell, the real Bill Bolling, the real Ken Cuccinelli and the real George Allen, not the people who run around in campaigns and say, ‘We’re moderates,’ ” Cranwell said.

I strongly agree with Dickie Cranwell about the Republican elected officials. But what about Democratic electeds attending this event?  Let’s see what some long-time Virginia Democratic activists and operatives think, after the “fold.”

UPDATE: I received an on-the-record statement from Gerry Connolly for Congress campaign manager James Walkinshaw (bolding added by me for emphasis). I couldn’t agree more.

Democrats attending the Tea Party convention are merely allowing themselves to be used as props to create a false patina of legitimacy for what is in reality a radical right-wing organization dedicated to turning back the clock on progress.  Tea Party values are not Northern Virginia values, and moderate Northern Virginia voters do not want to see their leaders associated with it in any way, shape, or form.

UPDATE #2: Former Arlington County Democratic Committee Chair Peter Rousselot stated on the record that he completely agreed with the Connolly campaign’s statement. Rousselot added that the Tea Party does not represent Virginia values anywhere in the state.

UPDATE #3: I received the following statement from the Jeff Barnett for Congress campaign.

I cannot speak to Delegate Keam’s motivations for attending the tea party convention. I can say that he is a strong Democrat and a great public servant. Having spoken to a tea party group myself, I admire any Democratic politician who is willing to stand up for Democratic ideals and values in front of any group of Americans. The tea party platform is wrong for America. We lose ground to the tea party movement when we refuse to engage them instead of standing up for our values.


*”I think it’s not good to appear at the Tea Party events for these reasons exactly — I don’t want anyone to think even for a moment that I would support their platform AND I do believe that doing so would lend legitimacy to them”

*Also, “there really are no votes to be had there.”

*”No good can come from our candidates going where they are so viciously opposed. Note that they won’t go to our events — our One Nation Working Together.  The best Dems can get is for them to Tea Party and, of course, some of them including people we know and/or love are going to the increasingly-nasty-to-Dems Jon Stewart Rally…”

*”I’m flabbergasted.”

*”I know gov transparency is his thing – but seriously, an AFP panel?”

*”The Democratic Party has enough troubles without countenancing traitors within its ranks pandering to the worst elements of the right.”

*”Sell out @@#$@#$!”

*”As a side point on this issue, who the hell could stomach being in a room with these people?  Seriously.”

*”Its not worth ‘dialogue’ as he said in his tweet. They aren’t open to our side at all.”

*”I dont think [it makes any sense for Democrats to attend a far-right-wing event], they aren’t going to vote for us ever.”

*”Why did he waste a vital day of campaigning for the democratic ticket to go to Richmond to talk to people who don’t care what he has to say? It’s not worth a day during election season when he could be helping Gerry [Connolly] or Jeff [Barnett].”

*”I’m glad Glenn Nye backed out, though he should have never accepted in the first place.”

*”All depends on motivation. If Nye’s going to kiss their ass, he should just switch parties now (or change his name to Joe Lieberman, whichever’s easier). If Tom’s going to tell them the Tea Party movement is being run by the GOP establishment, I’m all for it.”

*”They automatically discredit Dems for being Dems.”

Also, teacherken tweeted, “hard to understand why you are there…”

Adam Sharp tweeted, “Dialogue? I guess you believe politically active people are rational and reasonable, too. Good luck with that.”

Vivian Paige tweeted, “I was thinking the same thing. @MarkKeam.”

I do not disagree with any of the comments above. I’d just add that, in my view, Del. Keam made a huge mistake here. Del. Keam has stated numerous times that he’s willing to talk to anyone.  That’s fine, but so are most Democratic elected officials. Does that mean they all should speak on panels hosted by astroturf front groups for the Koch brothers like Americans for Prosperity? (also, big-time climate change deniers, behind much of the anti-healthcare-reform push, pro-tobacco industry, major funders of the supposedly “grassroots” “Tea Party,” etc., etc.). Sorry, but this is not an honest, serious dialogue in any way, shape or form.

I’d add that it is beyond unwise for a Democratic elected official to lend legitimacy, and give “bipartisan” cover to, a group that is spending millions of dollars to defeat Democrats at the polls in 24 days, and to defeat Democratic legislative initiatives in Congress and in state legislatures across America. I’m extremely disappointed in Del. Keam, who I endorsed for the Democratic nomination in 2007. If I had known then what I know now, I doubt I have done that. Ugh.

P.S. This is what Del. Keam should have been doing yesterday.

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    Mark Warner has the best political instincts of any Virginia politician, and his campaigning with Tom Perriello in Martinsville is worth a million dollars of TV ads. (I wish Jim Webb was doing more of this sort of thing.)

  • VA Blogger

    The very fact that so many partisan-entrenched people are opposing his decision is the best reason for it.

    Furthermore, you note that the issue he spoke on, government transparency, is a cause he’s championing in Richmond (along side fellow Fairfax freshman Jim LeMunyon). This is an issue that doesn’t cut along partisan lines, it cuts across old guard/new guard lines. Why not rally support for your chief cause whenever you can, particularly since this is an audience that will be highly supportive of it?

    Sadly, this will only serve as further impetus to launch a primary challenge against Keam, which is rather discouraging. Ironically, the same people who will be at the forefront of that challenge are the same people who revel in talking about how the GOP is “outside the mainstream” during our primaries.  

  • blue bronc

    I can almost, not really, understand why a candidate would go to any event. You don’t run for office unless you have an ego the size of a bronco. And with that ego comes the absolute solid feeling of “where ever I go people love me and will vote for me”. His campaign manager should have taken him to an ABC store for lunch and explained the facts of life. Those people hate you and will use you and your image to destroy you and the Democratic Party.

    Doing the teabaggers in person is the same as doing an interview slot with faux news. They will use it to embarrass you, destroy you, and destroy the Democratic Party.

    Even the paid talking heads get eaten up and used for crow feed by the Murdock propaganda machine.  

    Expect campaign lit to show up with Keam’s picture pointing out the Dem’s are really teabaggers too. That the teabaggers are bi-partisan and you need to vote for them because your elected’s will too.

    He might recover by immediately going public with an attack against the teabaggers.  Some thoughts would be:

    I went there and learned these people want to destroy you and our country.

    I went there to scout out how insidious they are – and they are insidious.

    Take the initiative immediately and attack the teabaggers. Turn the table on them immediately. Don’t let the post anything first, otherwise you lost.

    And, fire the campaign manager.

  • Setting aside whether this was the BEST use of Mark Keam’s time, given that we are in the home stretch of a very contentious election, I have to go on the record as saying that I fully support Democrats like Keam attending the Tea Party conference.

    This isn’t because I think that Keam is going to be able to persuade anyone to his point of view.  This is essentially a closed circle of argument, and nothing that he says is likely to verbally change someone’s mind.  And yes, I recognize fully the risk of organizers being able to claim this is a “bi-partisan” event, I’m also sure that Mark Keam accorded himself well on the panel (something not all Democrats would have been able to do), even if no one in the room came around to his point of view.

    But the fact that it is a closed circle gave Keam something that no one else yesterday in the Democratic party had — access to a group of people who are not only defining themselves (Tea Partiers) but also defining Democrats.  And the best way I know to stand up to opposition branding is to stand there and smile and say, “I’m here.  I’m a Democrat.  And what you’re saying doesn’t apply to me.”

    It’s a lot easier to insult groups of shadowy “theys” when there is no one there to laugh and say, “That isn’t me at all.”  It’s a lot easier for emotions to intensify when “the other” has no voice at all.  It’s easier to claim things about people when you don’t have to say it to their face.  Not that this will stop a certain segment of the population, but most Americans, to my mind, don’t enjoy being outright rude and hateful to someone’s face.

    Mark Keam may not have found any votes last night, but he probably brought the temperature down a few degrees.  He probably made at least some of the people there have to stop a minute and think instead of simply going with the flow, which in my mind, is a very good thing for long term politics here in VA indeed.

    So I’ll go out on the limb and say, Thank you for trying, Delegate Keam.

  • Teddy Goodson

    of his visit, and what he has to say about it, I refuse to condemn Delegate Keam for attending the TP-Con. As I said privately to some, it strikes me that it could make very good sense for a strong Democrat to attend the TP-Con, for the following reasons:

    1) Need to know what’s going on, meet participants face to face (as I did on my trip to Arizona a few months ago) 2) TP is not a monolithic block, believe it or not, there are angry Democrats who belong, not many, but they’re there and 3) TP memers will undoubtedly vote, and politicians have to go were the voters are.  

    I don’t believe attending TP-con validates the TP, but it treats its members with dignity, which they deserve as human beings, at least until they prove otherwise. The down side is obvious, but Keam’s presence does not mean he agrees with the TP (maybe sympathize  with, or understand, some of the anger, but not approve, just as a parent may understand a teenager’s emotions but not approve of how the teenager acts).  

    Until you actually meet individuals in the TP personally, especially when they are in their group-think mode, you do cannot truly “get it,” nor can you develop an effective response. Not all are batshit crazy, even if their leadership does seem that way.

    WE cannot afford to respond to the TP by becoming as rigidly polarized as they, or as Israeli-Arab, N. Irish Protestant-Catholic, Sunni-Shia, or North-South (prior-to-the–Civil War). Since there is little liklihood the TP leadership will show the maturity to be civil, we have to be the adults here if we want to short-circuit destruction of our experiment in self-government.

    Why do Democrats always self-censor themselves in advance, out of fear of what the Republicans will do or say about them? So what if Republicans cleverly use Keam in their propaganda? Have we no response?  

  • kindler

    Knowing Mark, I’m sure he is utterly sincere in his desire for bipartisan dialogue and problem-solving.  It’s a dream most of us share, deep down.

    Sadly, you can’t play baseball against people whose main goal is to use the bat to rearrange your face.  I wish we still had reasonable Republicans of the John Chaffee-Bob Michael-Gerald Ford variety, with whom you could talk, have a beer, and work things out.  But that’s reminiscing about a species that I’ve watched go extinct within my lifetime.

    The new tea party variety, and their corporate sponsors, are not interested in pleasant chats.  They are following dark conspiracy theories while being duped to support the corporate agenda, like the climate conspiracy theories bought and paid for by Koch and company.

    I think that we have here on Mark’s part is a little naivete from someone brand new to political office, perhaps believing the media’s gross mischaracterization of the tea party as an independent grassroots movement.  I look forward to hearing his explanations and a clear-eyed, not idealistic, description of his experience.  

  • robsmithiii

    Delegate Keam is a great Democrat with good values.  I can’t think of anything to give him bad marks.  He is a Democrat, I have talked to him one-on-one on quite a few occasions in Richmond without any pretenses to our conversations and can assure you that he is no right-winger, Tea Partier, etc.  At the same time, I don’t know why he was there on a panel.  Was he invited?  If so, did he decide not to decline in hopes to keep his doors open for all constituents?  The answer sticks with him.

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    The Tea Party is the creation of several extremely wealthy right-wing types, Dick Armey, and a whole host of righties who got the Bejeesus scared out of them by their loss in 2006 and 2008 and the prospect of change to their happy little game. Add to those, the people who are outright bigots, and you have a combination far from the ideals of the founding fathers, one that borders on being a danger to representative democracy.

    In fairness to some of the Teas, many of the small government, libertarian types have been upset since the Bush administration began some of their patently unconstitutional acts in the name of national security. Many of them may be attracted to the energy of the Tea Party, but they had better beware. They are playing with fire.

    For a Democrat to attend a gathering of the Tea Party supposedly to participate in a “bipartisan” panel accomplishes nothing. When Tom Perriello agreed to attend a meeting of the Tea Party group in the 5th, knowing that he would refute them at every turn and would have reasonable and cogent reasons why they are wildly wrong in their political beliefs, they closed the meeting to the press and the public. Not exactly “fair and balanced,” huh? I suppose they like to control their propaganda, just like their favorite propaganda channel, Fox News.

  • Fiona Usa

    Thank you, Low Kell. I appreciate everything you say.  Believe me, whatever you say is very, very interesting to all of us in the Green Party.  My friend, Arugula Bonita, tells me that some people in the Democratic Party in Arlington, Virginia, are not exactly the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, but I am sure you are aware of that by now. Indeed, Chris Zimmerman has handed the Strange Bedfollows Coaltion otherwise known as let’s not vote for Chris Zimmerman dot org, a remarkable gift and Tuesday Morning,the guano will most likely hit the propeller.

    Don’t stand too close, or you may encounter some identifiable flying objects with a distinctive stench.

    Go Greens!

  • KathyinBlacksburg

    Do we have to ask?  “Validating” the so-called Tea Party, which stands for nothing the original one did, but is a Freedom Works and AFP front group for corporatism,is the worst thing he could have done politically, IMHO.  And it qualifies him as Clown of the Week.  

    • blue bronc

      A different way of looking at this is to change the group to Progress Now and the pol to CH Cooch.  If CH Cooch went to a Progress Now meeting to I do not think one mind or vote would change. And, if he gave a teabagging speech it would be as flat as a wet pancake if he was not heckled out the door.

      There is no upside for a Pol, of any party, to attend events that are revival and/or come to jesus meetings for the other side.

  • Here’s Rex Simmons:

    But Fairfax County Democratic Committee chairman Rex Simmons said Keam’s actions, although well-intentioned, will not help fellow Democrats in what’s shaping up to be a tough election year.

    “Democrats do not tell their elected officials who they can meet with,” Simmons said. “However, the Tea Party and the big-oil-financed group that calls itself Americans for Prosperity stand only for a radical, far-right agenda with a goal to defeat all moderate and progressive elected officials.”

    Simmons added, “A Democratic official choosing to engage these groups three weeks before congressional elections, supposedly to advance legislation with bipartisan support in the Virginia General Assembly, will not likely achieve any success, and such a meeting certainly does nothing to help President Obama and congressional Democrats move the nation forward.

  • take the exact opposite!

    Del. Mark Keam (D-Vienna/Oakton) is my kind of moderate Democrat, which probably doesn’t endear him to the leftward side of his political party.

    Keam this week earned some abuse from the “progressive” wing of the local Democratic scene, for his decision to participate in a panel discussion at the Virginia Tea Party convention, held downstate over the weekend.

    Keam was there discussing legislation he is shepherding to expand transparency of government operations, something that one presumes both Democrats and the Tea Party crowd could find common ground on.

    Even U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly got in on the act, with his campaign team issuing a statement criticizing Keam for attending.

    Focus, Democrats, focus: You’re three weeks away from an election that is going to be somewhere between ugly and catastrophic for your side. While Republicans can still blow it, odds mount that it’s going to be a tough night for the Dems. Fighting among themselves isn’t going to help the situation.

    One can argue that Keam should have spent his weekend working to help fellow Democrats, including Connolly. At the same time, he deserves credit for taking his case to political opponents, doesn’t he?