The Lake Wales News: “Fighting the system with TEA”

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Fighting the system with TEA
By TOM STAIK
Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
“The establishment has never liked me.”

Strong words – especially from a three-term county commissioner and current congressional hopeful.

But Randy Wilkinson says he stands by his words – and by his new political friends at the TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party.

“I was just fed up,” Wilkinson said of his new allegiance to the upstart TEA Party, a group the politico joined earlier this month as he abandoned his ties to the GOP.

“I saw the Democrat and Republican parties as two wings of the same bird of prey,” he added. “They both get their funding from Wall Street and the AIGs of the world …The house always wins: It’s rigged.”

Wilkinson’s jump into the political sack with the growing TEA party contingent earned a swift kick out the door by local Republican leaders who tossed the candidate from the Polk County Republican Executive Committee. Wilkinson’s registration as a TEA Party candidate in his bid to replace retiring U.S. Congressman Adam Putnam (leaving to run for Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture job) was an apparent violation of his written “loyalty oath” to the Republican Executive Committee. The oaths, not required for members of the more generalized “Republican” party in Polk County, are written, signed documents where members pledge allegiance to the party. Local Democrats have a similar pledge system.

Wilkinson, who organized a TEA Party rally in downtown Bartow last year, says he has had a growing fascination with the anti-taxation message of his new party.

“Well that was quite an experience for me in that for the first time I realized the power of a movement. Grassroots. From the ground up. People’s movement,” he said.

Wilkinson says he was introduced to the party through a friend from the Eagle Lake community who was heavily involved in Polk’s 9-12 tea group. “I didn’t even know what a 9-12 group was,” he recalled. (9-12 groups were formed after 9-11.)

“They are just hardworking people,” Wilkinson said. “A couple weeks passed and we were having our regular meeting. It was my third, and they were getting ready for a TEA Party in Lakeland. This guy that was leading this 9-12 group in his private home, he suggested having a TEA Party after work so people who work could attend. That was on Good Friday, and four days later we had the TEA Party in Bartow.”

“There were 400 people there,” Wilkinson said, “and I knew something’s up.”

“That’s how I got up. It is a very positive thing. I thought about getting involved, and I thought about running with no party like Charlie Crist did, but I hate to be a copycat,” he recalled.

Wilkinson’s decision to take a leap into the tea cup came as he was finalizing paperwork for the congressional race.

He was reading his son’s Bible, 1. Cor. 13 to be exact, when he got a call from a 9-12 member asking “Why don’t you run for us?”

“I work more by inspiration,” Wilkinson said. “It was a split second. It was inspiration … I didn’t have my arm twisted.”

Wilkinson’s decision to switch parties made national news.

“I didn’t know but I am the first elected official running for office as a TEA Party candidate,” Wilkinson said. “It made some news.”

The candidate says he hopes to keep his focus on helping people and lowering taxes through his work with the new party.

“It’s a people-oriented movement that wants fewer taxes,” he said. “I have a platform and I will be putting that forward … It’s not the same ‘same old’.”

Response to his decision to turn TEA has been “very good,” said Wilkinson who also has seen some criticism for the move seen by some as an attempt to dodge the primary – criticism with which the candidate doesn’t seem to entirely disagree.

“I do significantly better in the general election,” Wilkinson said. “I won by about 400 votes about four years ago.”

Wilkinson says his history of poor showings in election primaries has been hampered by his own party.

“They usually put someone up against me. I don’t usually do so well in the primary, but I do well in the general,” he said. “I get a lot of Democrat votes, and I expect to do even better now,” he added.

“I want people to suspend their disbelief and when the pollsters call tell them who they really want to win. Vote your conscience and vote your heart … Listen to all the arguments. Elections are not a horse race. It’s about debates and about substance. It annoys me about other politicians campaigning just for money. They should be campaigning for what they stand for.”

With no public platform as yet, Wilkinson has given some clues to potential hot-button issues – outside taxation – including the economy and immigration reform.

“Our country needs to be more like the Magic Kingdom,” he said. “Our borders need to be more like the secured gates of Disney World. We are having our freedom threatened. We shouldn’t be asked where are our papers. At Disney they don’t.”

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