The Tea Party Gets Hardwired into Orange County GOP

A couple tea party activists protesting in Southern California (Photo credit: Los Angeles Times)

A couple tea party activists protesting in Southern California (Photo credit: Los Angeles Times)

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On Tuesday night, Mike Munzing anxiously awaited results from the Registrar of Voters and spotted the trend almost immediately.

“The asterisks were falling off the map,” said the 46-year old Aliso Viejo resident and newest member of Orange County’s Republican Central Committee, referring to the mark used to identify incumbents on the list of candidates for the committee.

By the end of the night there were noticeably fewer asterisks than there had been just hours before. The most apt symbol to replace the asterisks…a tea bag.

Munzing was among at least 10 tea party activists elected to the central committee, based on ballots counted so far. While they still seem a long way from a takeover, the tea partiers will definitely make things more interesting on the committee.

They were mixing things up even before Tuesday’s primary by calling for forensic audits of the party’s books, criticizing a new headquarters purchase and questioning establishment candidates like Congressman John Campbell for voting on things like cash for clunkers and the bailout. And in the process they’ve irritated some influential party regulars.

“We’re here to look at the house,” Munzing said. And it’s provoking a reaction. “I’m already getting nasty grams,” he said. “Heavy push back.”

Munzing has been in the mortgage industry for more than two decades, and admires the Fox television commentator Glenn Beck (in fact heading to Washington, D.C. in August for a Beck revival).

“We’ve become Democrats light,” Munzing said of the Republican Party. “(President G.W.) Bush was big government.”

“We’ve got some tough decisions coming. And I can’t ask others to make changes if I’m not walking the walk.”

Yet walking the walk is in the eye of the beholder.

“Who is a tea party person?” said Jon Fleischman, a vice chairman of the state Republican Party who also was elected to the OC Central Committee this week. “I consider myself to be a tea party person.”

Fleischman acknowledged the waves some tea party newcomers are making but noted that such activists have been welcomed in the past. And with the state’s most conservative central committee, the new folks should fit right in, he said.

“I welcome them with open arms,” he said.

But he also noted a warning that many other party leaders echo. “The most important thing to remember is what’s the purpose of a central committee?”

For Fleischman, that’s “driving an agenda and being the conscience of the party.”

That’s the “blocking and tackling” of registering voters, turning out regulars, fundraising and manning events. Not exactly sexy stuff.

Other regulars predict that when these types of activists show up, they’re always more interested in adopting meaningless resolutions rather than the hard, plodding work of political organizing. Many activists show up for a bit and then never return.

Yet other committee members say the tea party folks are exactly what they have been waiting for.

“I think it is maybe time for some change. Or at least a shakeup that modifies the approach,” said Bruce Whitaker, who also was reelected this week to the central committee.

“It’s a wake up call.”


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