Virginia tea party aims to put General Assembly lessons into practice

Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, March 6, 2011; 10:15 PM

RICHMOND - If half the battle of politics is just showing up, activists with the Virginia tea party won the day during this year's General Assembly session.

But if the other half is actually winning the day, the political movement came up short in its first significant foray into state legislative action.

Citizen activists, largely novices to Virginia's legislative practice, roamed the halls of the Capitol each day of the 47-day session, lobbying for an ambitious 10-bill agenda.

But of those bills, lawmakers passed just one during the session that concluded Feb. 27, a bill that would start the process of adding new protections for private property to the state constitution.

Some measures were approved by the GOP-held House of Delegates and killed by the Democratic-led Senate, strengthening the resolve of activists who say they hope to play a major role in legislative elections in November and knock off the Democrats and moderate Republicans who they think stood in the way.

But other tea party priorities were killed by Republicans in the House, raising questions about whether the movement is being fully embraced even by those who say they agree with its aims.

"It is a painful reality for the tea party movement both in Richmond and Washington," said Stephen J. Farnsworth, a political analyst at George Mason University. "They would be surprised to learn the process of governing is more difficult than campaigning. There is a certain 'welcome to the show' mentality."

Lawmakers defeated a tea party-supported proposal calling for a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution to give states power over the federal government. They also did not support a proposal that would ban Washington from regulating goods manufactured and sold in Virginia, and other bills dealing with illegal immigration.

And they approved proposals the tea party opposed, including one to borrow nearly $3 billion for roads and another to require companies to provide insurance for families with autistic children.

"Did we get everything we wanted? No," said Mark Kevin Lloyd, chairman of the Virginia Federation of Tea Party Patriots, a statewide umbrella group. "But what I tell people is, we're a movement that's just two years old."

Activists insist they learned important lessons this year that they will put into practice later - how outsized the influence of paid lobbyists is in Richmond, how little input from activists is taken before bills are acted upon, how quickly the process works in a state with one of the shortest legislative sessions.

They vow to be more aggressive in 2012 by focusing on fewer bills, speaking more often at committee hearings and approaching legislators before the session starts like other activists do.

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