According to their website, the tea party’s core beliefs include eliminating special interests, reducing government spending and intrusion and supporting traditional family values.
As their numbers declined on a national level, they shifted their emphasis to local politics and achieved some successes in Orange County, particularly Lake Forest where they’ve held the mayorship for the last two years and where they hold the majority on the council.
Yet since tea party stalwarts took over we’ve seen them transform into “tax and spend” politicians they campaigned against, recalling the POGO warning – “We have met the enemy and they are us.”
In December 2013 they voted themselves luxurious iPads at taxpayer’s expense but failed to eliminate the use of paper council packages which would have offset the iPad costs. In January 2014 they voted themselves the luxury of electronic filing of state mandated campaign forms at a cost to taxpayers of $14K annually. This will save council members time and expense, but no one could justify the extra spending in terms of savings of staff time manually processing the forms.
Spending this extra money to make their lives easier didn’t go unnoticed, so the tea party advocates came up with a plan to increase revenue by taxing people – in this case, it will be in the form of ticketing hundreds of people who asked that their streets be better swept. Many cities have restricted parking on days that sweepers operate but don’t ticket cars for failing to move. Apparently this works in smaller cities, and Lake Forest qualifies, especially since it is merely two streets that will be impacted.
In March, they voted the biggest increase in trash hauling fees in the city’s history, with an average 25% increase for businesses and 47% for small businesses.
These types of “tax and spend” programs stand in violent opposition to tea party dogma, but it’s not the first time they deviated from the party line. In 2013 the so-called “business-friendly” council presided over the greatest drop in spending on people and businesses in Lake Forest than ever before. According to public records, spending in the city averaged less than 2% for the last four months of 2013 – an all-time low. Perhaps this explains why according to city documents, sales tax revenue for Lake Forest is expected to grow at only 2% while official estimates for Mission Viejo (3.7%), Irvine (5%) and Orange County as a whole (4.9% according to Chapman and UCLA) are substantially higher.
Since assuming the mantle of power, the tea party majority in Lake Forest have accepted more special-interest money in the past three years than in any previous period, driving the costs of elections to more than $200,000, a price so high that 2010 and 2012 exceeded all previous elections combined.
As far as traditional family values, they allowed a gambling den to open and voted to increase the number of stores selling alcohol, all in the interests of being business friendly, but hardly family friendly. Then they refused to set up a nonprofit city foundation that could support needy families, something which virtually every other city in Orange County has.
The tea party asked for a chance to show what they can achieve. They got that chance, and the results are not impressive. This year being a campaign year, they will trot out their promises to be fiscally conservative, business and family friendly, but three years into the experiment the data is pretty clear: “We have met the enemy, and they are them.”
Dr. Jim Gardner is a Lake Forest resident and serves on the Voice of OC Community Editorial Board.