Bud Kennedy

Is ‘Tea Party’ name going flat? Texas group chooses ‘Freedom’

At the first local Tea Party in 2009, protesters signed petitions opposing recent government bailouts.
At the first local Tea Party in 2009, protesters signed petitions opposing recent government bailouts. Star-Telegram archives

Eight years after the first raucous Tea Party rallies against a new president, some movement conservative groups are done with the Tea Party name.

The South Texas Tea Party Network changed its social media brand last week to the South Texas Freedom Network, declaring support for the U.S. House’s Freedom Caucus and opposition to President Donald Trump’s healthcare bill.

Understand, no two local Tea Party groups were ever alike. The label “Tea Party” was launched in early 2009 by secular libertarian groups, but within weeks was pirated by Republican grassroots organizers campaigning on social issues along with fiscal conservatism.

In the Texas House, a new 11-member Texas Freedom Caucus seems more active this year than the larger Texas Tea Party Caucus founded in 2010 by then-state Sen. Dan Patrick, now lieutenant governor and Trump’s Texas campaign chair.

“Frankly, a lot of Tea Party Republicans were RINOs [Republicans In Name Only].” said Terri Hall, an anti-toll-road activist from San Antonio often aligned with Tea Party activists.

“I think the Tea Party’s gotten a bad rap. But a lot of them feel like ‘Freedom’ is a better model,” she said.

On Facebook, the South Texas group announced: “The House Freedom Caucus just proved the tea party/freedom/constitution movement is not dead. Let’s roll!”

In many ways, the split over healthcare in the U.S. House reflected last year’s split between Trump Republicans and those who supported U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz for the nomination.

The Burleson-based Texas Patriots Tea Party involved staunch Cruz campaigners.

“It got a little testy there for a while,” said Barry Schlech, a co-founder of the Burleson group but no longer on that board: “People drew a line, and you had to be on one side or the other. I think the groups are coming back together a little, even though the party is in dire straits right now.”

The Burleson group has discussed changing its name, he said. Some 9/12 Project groups also changed their names last year to separate from founder and video host Glenn Beck, a local Constitution Party voter.

In a McClatchy Washington Bureau report Thursday, Tyler grassroots activist Jo Ann Fleming said she sides with the Freedom Caucus, even if Trump finances an opponent to U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert.

“We don’t look to anybody in Washington to tell us how to vote,” she said.

Whatever Washington’s for, Texas is probably against it.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.