I love crass generalizations as much as the next person, but we ought to be wary in making them about the so-called ‘tea party.’
[Because they’ve all got guns! See! I love crass generalizations as much as you do! - Editorial Bear]
It’s easy to lump the whole ‘tea party’ movement in with the nutjobs who scream that Obama is a Kenyan/socialist/Muslim/the Anti-Christ (delete as applicable.)
However, since the movement claims to represent 30% of Americans, such stereotypes ultimately don't stand up to scrutiny.
In fact, when you look past the loudmouths and lunatics in the tea party fringe, even the most liberal-minded of us might be presented with an appalling realization – that some of the stuff the tea party are going on about actually makes sense.
As an example, one of the more pragmatic tea party projects I’ve learned about is the grassroots movement to ‘Clear the Bench Colorado.’
Doing exactly what it says on the tin, Clear the Bench Colorado is a campaign to oust three State Supreme Justices when they come up for reelection in November (in Colorado, Supreme Justices are elected to run 10-year terms, so opportunities like this don’t come around very often.)
The reason being that Clear the Bench Colorado believes these judges - Michael Bender, Alex Martinez and Nancy Rice - have been 'legislating from the bench' for years; undermining democracy in Colorado and exploiting the electorate.
The leader of Clear the Bench Colorado, Matt Arnold, puts forward four examples of rulings in which he believes violate the spirit, if not the letter, of Colorado law.
The first, Mesa County Board of County Commissioners v. State of Colorado, saw the justices side with Mesa County in ‘freezing’ property taxes – effectively linking them directly to climbing house prices. This had the effect of violating one of Colorado’s most celebrated laws; the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) which demands that the electorate be allowed to vote on any net tax revenue gain beyond the rate of inflation.
The second ruling, Barber v. Ritter, also saw the justices allow a violation of TABOR, albeit in a different way. They ruled that ‘fees’ were different from ‘taxes’ and not subject to voter approval. As a result, Colorado massively increased a number of ‘fees’ that sounded suspiciously like taxes to me – like the Colorado Car Tax (which sounds exactly, not just suspiciously, like a tax to me!)
The next, Town of Telluride v. San Miguel Valley Corporation, concerned eminent domain. In England, this is called ‘compulsory purchase’ and involves the right of an authority (in this example, the Colorado township of Telluride) to force a landowner to sell them their property. Logically enough, the township of Telluride only had authority to make compulsory purchases within the town limits.
In this case, the Supreme Justices ruled that the township could force a local company to sell them 570-acres even though it was outside the town limits – in fact, they ruled that any municipality could push any eminent domain anywhere in the state (which sounds daft.)
Finally, Matt Arnold brings up Salazar v. Davidson, one of the earliest cases for the supreme court justices currently up for reelection.
In 2001, they ruled that the Colorado Supreme Court was part of the Colorado General Assembly - and used that to weigh in on congressional redistricting (which might explain Colorado’s significant congressional shift from Republican to Democrat.)
The problem here is that this ruling clearly violates the most fundamental facet of the American democracy – the ‘checks and balances’ of separating the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.
With these four examples, Clear the Bench Colorado raises some totally legitimate concerns that even a socially liberal person like myself is angered by. What's more, Matt Arnold, although a conservative himself, gained my support by wisely sidestepping judicial rulings regarding the traditionally ‘conservative’ agenda of gay rights, abortion and other social issues.
Clear the Bench Colorado wants to jettison the justices because of how they’ve ruled regarding the taxpayer and voter – not how they might rule on issues like gay marriage, or the controversial Amendment 62 (a push to have personhood extended to unborn babies, right from the moment of conception.)
This means even people like myself, who support same-sex marriage and think banning abortion would be a disaster, can support his campaign.
So there we have it - a tea party I wouldn't mind an invite to. Clear the Bench Colorado suffers from association with a movement of characterized by extremists and kooks - but theirs is ultimately an admirable cause.
In fact, it’s perhaps the best example of the what the tea party would like to identify itself as – a true grassroots movement standing up to an abusive authority. In many ways, the aim of Clear the Bench Colorado does resemble what the original ‘Sons of Liberty’ were trying to accomplish when they jettisoned all that tea into Boston Harbor.
You can find out more about Clear the Bench Colorado at their website – and if you’re a Colorado resident, don’t forget to vote to oust Michael Bender, Alex Martinez and Nancy Rice this November 2nd.