Three candidates for City Council, one of whom is an incumbent, are getting local tea party backing in their campaigns.
Ward 5 Councilman Brian Walters, along with Ward 6 candidate Adrian Van Manen and Ward 8 candidate Cliff Hearron, have all received endorsements from the Sooner Tea Party, and the organization’s co-founder Al Gerhart said the group plans to aid the three candidates in their campaign.
While Walters said he appreciates the endorsement and will accept the support, he is not a full-fledged tea party candidate.
“I would not say I’m a tea party candidate,” Walters said. “I believe certain things, some of those things are a little gray, then there are some that are black and white. I am a conservative obviously, and the tea party movement and the things I believe are going to line up. ... I like the movement in general because what I think has happened is it brought people originally not in the fold into the process. It’s a hard thing to nail down, and that’s a good thing. We don’t have enough people in the process of governing — that’s the problem.”
Van Manen and Hearron actively display tea party affiliation on their websites, which are similarly designed.
Although tea party groups were active in state and national elections during 2010, this is the Sooner Tea Party’s first foray into local politics, Gerhart said. The group is also backing school board candidates in Tulsa and Edmond, he said.
Four of the eight City Council seats, not counting the mayor’s seat, are up for grabs this election cycle. The primary election is set for March 1 and, if needed, the general election will be held April 5.
“I don’t believe it’s ever been partisan in Oklahoma City,” said City Manager Jim Couch. “You’ll see local governments that are partisan and nonpartisan across the state, though. … In Tulsa, they are partisan.”
Although the city’s local elections are nonpartisan, candidates have toed the line in the past. In 2009, the Oklahoma County Democratic Party backed school board candidate Angela Monson, while in 2004 the state Republican Party actively supported Mick Cornett.
In the current election cycle, Ward 2 candidate Charles Swinton was taken to task editorially by The Oklahoman for hosting a fundraiser at Democratic state Rep. Al McAffrey’s house.
Swinton told the Oklahoma Gazette that he has been friends with McAffrey for some time, and has also been endorsed by a Republican state representative.
“It depends on the eye of the beholder whether it’s partisan,” Swinton said, adding that he views his support as bipartisan, rather than coming from a single party or ideology. “I’m putting together a bipartisan coalition, not a partisan coalition.”
I would not say I’m a tea party candidate.
The nonpartisan nature of Oklahoma City elections reflects the nature of the items that the council regularly deals with, Couch said.
“We don’t get into a lot of left and right issues at City Council. We get into a couple, but generally not a lot,” Couch said. “It’s zoning cases, it’s budgeting, it’s contracts and moving the city forward.”
While there are sometimes divisions on City Council votes, they are mostly based on the merits of an issue, rather than ideology, and there are no consistent voting blocs on the council, Couch said.
Hearron and Van Manen, who both attend Windsor Hills Baptist Church and work at the church’s Oklahoma Baptist College, scheduled interviews with the Gazette. However, after learning that Windsor Hills pastor Tom Vineyard had been interviewed by the Gazette for a separate story about the pastor’s call for Police Chief Bill Citty’s resignation following Citty’s comments on gun control, Hearron cancelled the interview.
When contacted about the cancellation, Hearron said he was offended the Gazette asked Vineyard if Citty’s comments had been one of the reasons Hearron and Van Manen decided to run for council. Van Manen did not return a subsequent phone message.
In a statement on his website regarding partisanship, Hearron states: “Just timidly getting along for the sake of an unproductive tranquility among the council members is not my idea of a city council. My idea of a city council is a policy and budget making group that struggles to facilitate the greater work of private enterprise and its hard working families. If it wasn’t for you citizens and your collective profit-based enterprise of working together in this city, there would be no need for a city council. City council exists only to protect your right to and necessity for a safe place to be industrious and to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I have the intelligent faith to believe that’s what you want, too. As your Ward 8 councilman I will strive to further that idea regardless whom it offends.”
Gerhart, co-founder of the Sooner Tea Party, said the group chose to become involved in local politics to fight frivolous spending and too much focus on downtown development at the cost of expansion of services and infrastructure in other areas of the city.
“If we want true reform, we’ve got to start out at the bottom,” Gerhart said. “Discipline begins at home. We’ve got a City Council spending nearly $1 billion on downtown, and you’ve got other parts of the city where the roads and infrastructure are falling into tatters.”
Gerhart said his group will use its e-mail lists to drum up support for the three candidates, as well as fundraise through its political action committee. Gerhart said the group endorsed Walters because he’s “a good man” and “one of the only guys down there doing his job.”
Walters said he appreciates the Sooner Tea Party endorsement, but his campaign will be run independently.
“I was all those things prior to the whole tea party movement getting started. We’re going to run this campaign the way it needs to be run regardless of outside forces,” Walters said. “If what we’re planning on lines up with them and they want to help, we would gladly accept that help. We’re going to do what we’re going to do because it’s the right thing to do.”
Just prior to the candidate filing period, a poll conducted by SoonerPoll. com and sponsored by the Gazette showed an overwhelming majority of OKC’s likely voters believe the municipality is on the right track and has done a good job handling the MAPS funds across the political spectrum, from very liberal to very conservative.