Nearly three years after a wave of anti-federal government sentiment spawned a national movement, Tea Party groups in Tennessee are still popping up.
The latest is the Nashville Tea Party, launched earlier this month, marking the first Tea Party organization to use Tennessee’s capital city in its title.
Ben Cunningham, who heads the Nashville-based Tennessee Tax Revolt, is the lead founder of the Nashville Tea Party, which made its entry into the local political scene through social media, adopting Twitter and Facebook pages in recent weeks.
“We’re just in the very formative stages,” Cunningham told The City Paper Tuesday. “So, we don’t have a whole lot we can say about the structure. We’ll have many more details coming out over the next few weeks and months.”
The new group’s website, nashvilleteaparty.com, lists three core values: “limited constitutional government, fiscal responsibility and free markets.”
Cunningham, known best for his 2006 petition drive allowing Nashvillians to vote on future property tax increases, said Nashville Tea Party would announce members of its advisory board at a later time. The plan is to make inroads in Metro government, which has received little attention from Tea Party activists.
“We will be focusing on issues related to Metro government and the [Metro] Council,” Cunningham said.
The Nashville Tea Party’s formation also comes four months before Tennessee’s Republican presidential primary in March, and predates state legislative races in November 2012.
According to a list found on the Tennessee Tea Party’s website, nearly 70 Tea Party groups have formed in Tennessee since February 2009, when CNBC commentator Rick Santelli delivered a now-legendary rant, recognized as the launching point for the conservative Tea Party movement.
In Nashville, the Tea Party’s most recent foray into politics came in the form of a fall rally for Gibson Guitar CEO Henry Juszkiewicz following the federal raid of his company for allegedly importing illegal wood. Cunningham alluded to the Gibson protest as a driving force behind the Nashville Tea Party.
“Really, the impetus for the formation was the need to have a legal entity to conduct rallies and events like the Gibson rally,” Cunningham said. “We didn’t have a good entity that we could use for events like that.
“There are also some projects that just don’t naturally fit into the Tennessee Tax Revolt sphere that we’re going to be involved with,” he added.
Though the group “is still putting the nuts and bolts together,” as Cunningham says, the Nashville Tea Party has already garnered attention from some area liberals.
Chris Sanders, an organizer of the gay rights organization Tennessee Equality Project, released a YouTube video Tuesday in which he said he expects the Nashville Party to “take a slightly different approach and tone” than the Tennessee Tea Party. He said he believes the new group will focus less on social issues.
The Tennessee Tea Party was roundly criticized in November for how the organization weighed in on the resignation of Massachusetts U.S Rep. Barney Frank, a Democrat who is openly gay. “Good riddance you perverted sodomite POS!!,” the Tennessee Tea Party wrote on its Twitter account.
“Only time will tell how they will get involved, but I would expect a different tone coming out of this group than we’ve seen from the Tennessee Tea Party,” Sanders said. “As with any group of citizens that gets engaged, I wish them well.”