Six months after helping tea party-backed candidates sweep to power in the House on a single-minded platform of cutting government spending, FreedomWorks has shifted its focus to the states, where the group is using its considerable clout to push a fresh crop of Republican lawmakers to back a number of long-sought conservative causes.
The goal for FreedomWorks is two-fold: to keep activists engaged enough to enter 2012 with a grassroots network at least as strong as the one that played so dramatic a role last year; and to use that network right now to push newly elected conservatives to accomplish something while in power.
In addition to the school-choice bill in Pennsylvania, FreedomWorks has helped push for dramatic curtailments of collective bargaining rights for unions in a number of states , including Ohio and Wisconsin.
A Washington-based free-market advocacy group that’s been around for more than a quarter-century, FreedomWorks was one of the first national groups to recognize the potential power of the tea party in early 2009 — and to jump at the chance to help shape it into a political force.
Today, not only do a small crop of freshmen lawmakers in Washington owe much of their political success to FreedomWorks, but so do a vast army of activists across the country whom FreedomWorks courted, trained and supplied with campaign materials throughout 2010. Keeping both groups intact and engaged is the priority now.
“If we don’t win in the next two years, if we don’t win in the states, we will grievously undermine our ability to win at the national level,” Armey told the crowd of activists in Pittsburgh. “We have to be able to demonstrate to legislators at all levels of government that we are a force of commitment and conviction, and we’re going to stay on the job.”
A historic opportunity
The day after his speech in Pittsburgh, Armey drove to Harrisburg, where he breezed through the hallways of the state Capitol, cowboy hat in hand, visiting with senior Republican lawmakers and even not-so-senior ones to let them know why the school-choice bill is important to him and thousands of Pennsylvania voters.
Armey buttonholed Rep. Brian Ellis, a Republican from a suburban district in Butler County, as he strode up the steps of the state Capitol. Armey had met many dozens of Ellis’s constituents at the conference the day before, he said — and they all wanted Ellis to vote for school choice.