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Faces of the Tea Party (revisited): Views on the election and the 'Occupy' movement

In 2010, msnbc.com profiled nearly two dozen Tea Party activists in Indiana to learn about their concerns and motivations. At the time, many were getting involved in politics for the first time -- organizing groups, attending rallies, working phone banks and canvassing neighborhoods. We recently checked in with them to hear their thoughts on the GOP candidates for president and the newest protest movement in the neighborhood, Occupy Wall Street. 

James Cheng / msnbc.com

Lenn "Curley" Gapinski, aka George Washington pose for a portrait at his vineyard in Monticello, Ind. Friday, October 15, 2010

Lenn “Curley” Gapinski, 59, is a retired mechanical engineer who owns a vineyard and winery outside Monticello, Ind., with his wife, Cheryl. He is a member of the White County Tea Party Patriots and teaches classes on the U.S. Constitution.

What he’s doing now:
Gapinski remains fiercely independent and deeply religious.
“My involvement is — first choice — with Jesus Christ and getting people involved with their churches. The Tea Party, part of it, comes along with it -- the conservative values,” he says. “I still do the Bill of Rights (classes). But I’m more concerned in increasing membership with the church than with the Tea Party.”
In his reading of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the founding fathers did not seek to eliminate religion from government, merely to prevent domination by one stripe of Christianity over another.
Gapinski aligns with conservatives who want replace Sen. Richard Lugar. Among Lugar’s offenses, Gapinski says, was a vote that favored restrictions on carrying concealed weapons.
On the Tea Party now
Gapinski is part of a rural Tea Party group that has balked at state and national Tea Party organizations’ efforts to merge into a larger organization.
He says the group “wanted to remain strictly grassroots” andavoid being controlled, even by groups with which they are politically allied.
“(Members) didn’t want a president of the Tea Party,” says Gapinski. “Everyone in the Republican Party wants to hijack the Tea Party, and the libertarians would like to hijack the Tea Party. They can’t. We’re just a bunch of independent individuals.”
On the 2012 presidential election:
In coming elections, Gapinski says he would vote for any one of the Republican candidates — except one.
“I’m not totally committed to say anybody but Barack Obama… I have a problem with Jon Huntsman. I don’t feel that he is conservative. I would rather continue with Barack Obama if Jon Huntsman received the (GOP) nomination.”
Then, according to his reasoning, the pendulum would swing with more force back to the right.
“We had a very conservative president (Ronald Reagan) who followed Jimmy Carter. You would not have had a strong conservative if you did not have a liberal first. I would rather continue with Barack Obama until we had a full-fledged conservative choice.
“There are a lot of people who say you just have to take it a step at a time, but I’m with the group that will say you can’t sacrifice your values and principles… whether you think (a candidate) will win or not. You’re not going to a horse race, you voting on the future of the country.”
On the Occupy Wall Street Movement:
What does the Tea Party movement have in common with the Occupy movement?
“Not a damn thing,” says Gapinski.
“The Tea Party, when we had our meetings … we left our facilities in a cleaner state than when we came. ... There were no incidents of rape, we did not camp out, we did not urinate on vehicles. We actually paid to hold our rallies, we paid for police protection, we had to provide porta-potties.
"What does OWS stand for? They've come up with dozens of things: They’re against big corporate interests, big banks, against criminality of drugs. … Their main purpose — if you look at what’s happening in Oakland -- is anarchy. It isn’t a good thing and its turning violent. It’s turning into the late 1960s all over again.”

James Cheng / msnbc.com

Faith Jones near by her home in Valparaiso, Ind., Oct. 14, 2010.

Faith Taylor, nee Faith Jones, 59, did not respond to requests for an update interview. The Northwest Indiana Patriots, which she co-founded in 2009 in Valparaiso, Ind. has been disbanded.
What she’s doing now:
Jones' Facebook page indicates she is still the fiery defender of Tea Party causes we met a year ago. Taylor’s profile image shows her carrying a sign that reads, “Repeal, Reduce, Restore.”
On the 2012 presidential elections:
According to her Facebook page, Taylor has jumped on the “Cain train.”
As of Monday, the day that a woman went public with her sexual harassment accusations against GOP presidential nominee Herman Cain,  Taylor apparently remained convinced that the harassment claims against the candidate are part of a smear campaign.
Elsewhere in her postings, she describes Cain and Newt Gingrich as “the two best candidates.”
On the Occupy Wall Street movement:
Taylor is clearly not a fan of the emerging mass protest movement. Her Facebook page documents the arrests, allegations of violence, litter and behavior she considers offensive. One post features a photograph of an effigy of President Barack Obama being carried by Occupy Wall Street Protesters on Nov. 5.
Taylor’s comment: “The TEA PARTY never did this!! This kind of stuff is PATHETIC.”

James Cheng / msnbc.com

Christine Murdoch pose for a portrait in front of her home Thursday, October 14, 2010, in South Bend, Ind.

Christine Murdock, 87, South Bend, Ind., a former PE teacher, private pilot, longtime Republican activist and a member of the St. Joseph County Tea Party Patriots in South Bend. Her husband, Rawson, is a retired printing company executive.
What she’s doing:

“Right now I am involved with the local South Bend city election. I am taking around signs for our mayoral candidate, who is a great person and has held his own in all the debates. However, he doesn't stand a chance.  Also I am co-chairing a spaghetti dinner fund raiser for Richard Mourdock.”
Like many Indiana Tea Party conservatives, she hopes Mourdock (no relation), the state treasurer, will unseat Lugar in the GOP primary. She believes the six-term senator has become too liberal.
“Lugar has held the U.S. Senate seat for 35 years," she says. "How about term limits?  He will be 80 next year and if he should win he would be 86 at the end of that term. I know how it feels to be 80 plus 6 and it is definitely time for a younger person.”
On the Tea Party now:
“I am still active with the Tea Party and feel they are just as strong if not stronger than before. We always have new people coming to the meetings. The Tea Party has changed directions and is not gathering in protest groups as they did. They are working behind the scenes for candidates. They don't just look at the headlines but do research in depth and report back. … I think the TP has come a long way learning how things work is the 'real world' of politics and will do a lot better than before.
“I think the thing that is helping us most and is raising our image somewhat is the comparison with the Occupy Movement. We compare so favorably.”
On Occupy Wall Street:
“The only similarity (between the two movements) is that we gather in groups and protest. In my opinion there is no need to get involved with these other groups.  I think the Occupy movement is partly financed by various liberal people and is really a 2011 Woodstock. These people are really angry, just as we, are but express it so differently!”
On the 2012 presidential election:
“We take straw votes at our meeting and the vote swings all around, constantly changing. I favor (Mitt) Romney as I think he has the best chance of winning. I like Cain too. Maybe they could run together.”

James Cheng / msnbc.com

Kent Hizer at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 360 in Mishawaka, Ind. on Oct. 14, 2010. Hizer is running for the township board in Penn Township of St. Joseph County.

Kent Hizer, 50, a mechanical engineer from Mishawaka, Ind., who works in industrial product sales and as a volunteer police officer. When we met him, he was at a Tea Party meeting, while running for Penn Township Board as a Republican.

What he’s doing now
Hizer was elected president of the Penn Township Board, in a part of Indiana that is traditionally a Democratic stronghold.
One reason for the upset was that Hizer used the Freedom of Information Act to access documents that exposed an alleged  spending scandal in local government. The township trustee and his assistant have been indicted on seven felony counts, and go on trial in April.
“My only goal was to hold my elected officials accountable,” says Hizer. “I feel I have already accomplished that for the most part.”
Now in office, Hizer is preparing a website where he will post all Penn Township financial documents, budgets, meeting minutes, and meeting times so they can be viewed by the public.
On the Tea Party now:
“My association with the Tea Party is I’m conservative in my political views -- more of that is fiscal than social. ... Our government and both parties are responsible for spending us into oblivion. Eventually something had to be done.
“What we’re seeing (with the Tea Party) — and we’re also seeing it with 'Occupy Wall Street' — is there doesn’t seem to be a real solidified mission sometimes, and certainly not any centralized leadership. The farther the Tea Party goes along this, the more it seems to be fractured — from community to community, state to state. ... People seem to really be in flux.”
On the Occupy Wall Street movement:
“They have stolen the thunder (of the Tea Party) in that they are the protest group du jour in the media,” he says.
Tea Party activists often assert they have nothing in common with the Occupy Wall Street movement, but Hizer disagrees.
“What they have in common is their concern about the direction of the country. The other thing they share is the way they are structured they are not focused in one particular direction. … It gets a little hard if you want to effect change.
“It seems a lot of people who are in (Occupy Wall Street) movement have gone to college, and gone in debt to do it, and now they can’t get a job to pay for it. … I do have empathy for them, even though I would say most lean on the other end of the political spectrum from me.
“Regardless if I agree with their methods. … I’m encouraged that people have gotten to the level of frustration that they have gone out there to get engaged.”
On the 2012 presidential election:
“Early on, I was supporting Michele Bachmann. I’ve moved away … because sometimes I think she can’t think quickly enough on her feet. Sometimes, she says things that are quite far out there.
“In the last few weeks I’ve found myself favoring Cain.
“Number one, he seems to have kept a sense of humor. What I like about him is that… he says what is on his mind. I’d rather have someone come out unpolished than come out with some kind of spin… I like the fact that he’s run corporations and knows what kind of challenges businesses face.”?
 
More views from Faces of the Tea Party (revisited)

See the original Faces of the Tea Party slideshow or Tea Party PhotoBlog


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