The Florida Tea Party, the actual political party, not the movement, has been the subject of much debate over the last week. The controversy regarding the legitimacy or duplicity of the party and its candidates has been covered by many newspapers and popular political websites. The Buzz blog at the St. Petersburg Times reports on the controversy/conspiracy theory:
As election qualifying ended Friday, the dust settled with a dozen or more tea party candidates challenging state lawmakers in contested races.
Republicans see a conspiracy theory: a number of the tea party candidates are former Democrats, some appear financially strapped to pay the $1,800 filing and others are filing to run in districts far away from their listed address. A number of the seats are also targeted by Democrats for takeover.
“The recent flurry of last minute filings by so –called “tea party candidates” looks awfully suspicious,” said GOP Chairman John Thrasher in a statement. “While a few tea-party candidates across the state do have ties to the tea party movement, in the majority of instances, it appears that the Democrats have coordinated a dishonest attempt to hide phony candidates behind the name “tea party” and to confuse voters who may be supportive of the tea party movement, effectively stealing votes from true conservative candidates and injuring the grassroots tea party movement as a whole.”
A number of the tea party candidates we called referred us to Fred O’Neal, the head of the party. (Though remember there is a dispute about this, too.) O’Neal, a registered Democrat before becoming a tea party member, said the GOP theory is ridiculous. He said he is just following through on his promise to recruit challengers for Republican lawmakers who supported the SunRail project in the December special session.
Meanwhile, there is an additional third party connection too. The former Constitution Party candidate for U.S. Senate in Florida, Marshall DeRosa, quit that race in order to join the Tea Party and run locally.
Though the party said it did not systematically recruit candidates, TEA operatives did entice Marshall DeRosa, a Florida Atlantic University law professor, to run for the state Senate District 30 seat being vacated by Ted Deutch. DeRosa will face Democrat Maria Lorts Sachs and Republican Jeff Shapiro.
Debunking the notion that TEA candidates are Democrats in disguise, Guetzloe said the majority of the party hopefuls are former Republicans, with a few independents thrown in. DeRosa, a constitutional scholar, previously was considering a run for U.S. Senate on the Constitution Party ticket.
When DeRosa quit the race for U.S. Senate as a Constitution Party candidate, he was replaced by Bernie DeCastro.