Kitsap conservatives turn out for the (tea) party

Kitsap Patriots Tea Party organizers estimated about 300 people came to hear conservative speakers and candidates at the group’s potluck Aug. 13 at the Silverdale Waterfront Park. It was the Kitsap Tea Party’s first public event. - Lynsi Burton/staff photo
Kitsap Patriots Tea Party organizers estimated about 300 people came to hear conservative speakers and candidates at the group’s potluck Aug. 13 at the Silverdale Waterfront Park. It was the Kitsap Tea Party’s first public event.
— image credit: Lynsi Burton/staff photo

Jim Ullrich of Chico thinks the U.S. has been headed in the wrong direction for the last 50 years, since prayer was outlawed from public schools. He wants fiscally conservative and pro-life candidates in office and wants the state and federal governments to stop “redistributing wealth.”

He echoed the sentiments of several picnickers among the hundreds of Kitsap-area residents who munched on hot dogs Aug. 13 at a Silverdale Waterfront Park potluck hosted by the Kitsap Patriots Tea Party, the group’s first public event where conservative candidates for state and federal office made their cases to the crowd.

Ullrich was quick to point out that he’s not a “Tea Partier,” affiliated with the decentralized network of Tea Party movements throughout the U.S. The groups generally call for a return to a strict interpretation of the Constitution and lower taxes, among other grievances related to what is viewed as government encroachment. Ullrich, who has never attended a Tea Party rally or event before, said he just wanted to hear the candidates out so he can make an informed decision.

“First and foremost I’m a conservative and not a Tea Partier,” he said. “All we want is for the government to get out of our business.”

That’s fine by the organizers of the Kitsap Patriots Tea Party.

The mission statement and vision statement of the group make no mention of Republicans or Democrats - only “conservative candidates” and “constitutional limits.” Two of the coordinators, Don and Mary Gerry Taylor of Seabeck, don’t seek to create a new conservative party or advocate an existing party. They see the local branch of the Tea Party function as a group that will motivate conservative voters to be more politically active.

“Our role is to empower people to make a difference,” Mary Gerry Taylor said. “I think people kind of feel helpless sometimes.”

The Kitsap Tea Party started at the end of June, inspired by the independent Tea Party groups that have sprung up throughout the country since last year. In the coming months the group will elect officers and its first monthly meeting will take place Sept. 27. Some estimates pegged the first gathering’s attendance at 200, organizers said 300, a Republican candidate for the Legislaure said 500.

According to a Washington Poll survey conducted in May, about 20 percent of the Washington voters polled identified themselves as “true believers of tea party.” At least 74 percent of those “true believers” said Washington state is going in the wrong direction, disapprove of Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire, the Democratic-controlled state Legislature and Congress, federal health care reform and the state candy tax. On the flipside, they approve of state Attorney General Rob McKenna’s decision to sue the federal government to block certain provisions of the national health care bill.

Though several of the potluck attendees cited overspending by former President George W. Bush or the Democratic Congress as contributors to national debt and the poor economy, they say that unemployment, taxes and the health of the economy have gotten worse under President Obama, which is why they are becoming more vocal now.

It’s prompted Rachelle Ottosen of Olalla, a self-described introvert, to come out of her shell. She’s usually afraid to approach people she doesn’t know, but at the potluck, she handed out pocket-sized copies of the Constitution as reminders of what the government’s focus needs to be.

“We need to do more than vote,” Ottosen said.

Consequently, the Taylors want to get more young people involved in the Tea Party movement, noting that today’s economic woes will affect them more than the predominantly middle-aged and older crowd at the potluck. Don Taylor said the group is actively recruiting younger voters, saying he has four to five “potential” young Tea Partiers in mind.

Silverdale resident Steven Connell, 20, was one of a handful of young people in the potluck crowd, listening to the string of conservative stump speeches. He came to the event out of curiosity, admitting he isn’t too involved in politics.

Connell isn’t necessarily sold on the Tea Party movement — he wants to hear more from its members — but he liked the speakers’ message about returning to constitutional values.

“I’ve been listening to what they have to say and it does seem positive and good,” he said. “I think one of the most appealing things is, what are the fundamental things that make this country great in the first place?”

Connell said he leans neither left nor right — his first election was the 2008 general election and though he voted mostly conservative, he also voted for President Obama. But he is disappointed in what he views to be a lackluster performance by the president.

“Things have kind of stayed the same,” he said. “OK, so they’ve gotten worse.”

Candidates who spoke at the potluck were mostly Republican, except Kitsap County Commissioner candidate Wally Carlson, who touted himself as a conservative Democrat and lost in Tuesday’s primary to Josh Brown and Abby Burlingame. May’s Washington Poll about the Tea Party indicated 66 percent of Washington Republicans approve of the Tea Party movement, while 38 percent of Independents and 8 percent of Democrats indicated support.

Nonetheless, attendees of the potluck said they vote both tickets, are independent voters or are simply frustrated with the performance of both parties.

Ottosen said many Republican politicians try to co-opt the Tea Party movement, acting sympathetic to garner more conservative votes.

“I think both parties are corrupt,” she said.

Don and Mary Gerry Taylor, though mainly conservative voters, faithfully vote for Democrats Sen. Tim Sheldon, of the 35th legislative district — mainly because of his support of property rights — and Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer.

Most others at the potluck who said they had voted for Democrats in the past did so because the candidate was fiscally conservative.

Several attendees discussed a frustration with what they said was the media’s portrayal of the Tea Party as racist, rude or wanting to abolish government — but they want the public to know that these stereotypes aren’t true.

“I think they’re just concerned individuals,” said Judith Dickison of Port Townsend. “They’re concerned for this country.”

The Kitsap Patriots Tea Party first monthly meeting is at 7 p.m. September 27 at the Silverdale Beach Hotel.

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