Tea party activists voice concerns over Williams, pledge support for Moffett despite fund-raising woes

04/05/2011 04:30 PM

(UPDATED 11:34 p.m., April 5) Some tea party groups and supporters are threatening to withhold their support during the fall governor’s race if Senate President David Williams wins the Republican primary in May.

The groups plan to make their concerns public at the Republican Party of Kentucky’s statewide Lincoln Day Dinner this Saturday. Organizers have planned a rally and news conference starting at 6 p.m. outside the Galt House Hotel in Louisville where the dinner will be.

“Most of the tea party members are sick of picking the lesser of two evils,” Randy Walters, president of the Eastern Kentucky Tea Party told Pure Politics in a phone interview. “And I don’t know who would be worse between David Williams and Steve Beshear.”

Many tea party organizers around the state — at least some of whom were vocal in Rand Paul’s successful run for U.S. Senate last year — have aligned themselves with Republican candidate for governor Phil Moffett.

Such supporters ramped up their rhetoric even as Moffett’s fund-raising efforts continued to struggle. A two-day “money bomb” — an online tactic used by Paul’s campaign in 2010 — yielded $10,000 by mid-day Tuesday, according to a post on the Moffett campaign’s Facebook page. By the end of the day, Moffett’s total fund-raising to date stood at $81,873, according to a count on Moffett’s campaign site.

Walters said tea party groups are remaining loyal.

“What I’m saying is, there won’t be any excitement or tea party support if Phil Moffett doesn’t win,” Walters said. “For me, the problem is, would you rather point your finger at (Gov. Steve) Beshear or explain your support for David Williams for four years?”

Moffett, a Louisville businessman, is the political newcomer in the primary and announced his bid in July as the tea party candidate. Williams, whose running mate is Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, has been the perceived front-runner because of his leadership position in the Senate and a substantial fund-raising lead in January. Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw is the third contender running in the May 17 Republican primary.

Dawn Cloyd, a Moffett supporter and grassroots tea party organizer from Lexington, said many tea party activists she knows do not want to see Williams in the governor’s mansion.

“We don’t want (Williams) to win,” Cloyd said. “We would rather have Beshear up there screwing things up than David Williams because I believe Williams is more dangerous.”

Specifically, she said she believes Williams is more concerned with being “a power broker” than guiding the state by a firm set of principles.

Scott Jennings, Williams’ campaign manager, said Williams has a record of cutting taxes and curbing out-of-control spending while in the state legislature.

“We look forward to uniting all conservatives from all parties behind the Williams-Farmer ticket after the May primary in our shared goal of making Steve Beshear a one-term governor,” Jennings said in a statement. “I doubt anyone truly interested in fiscally conservative governance would rather have four more years of Obama buddies Beshear and Abramson over David Williams and Richie Farmer.”

But the tea party rally and news conference could fuel perception of a rift between Williams and tea party groups, several of which have openly endorsed Moffett recently.

Walters said the rally wasn’t organized to start “any trouble.” Instead, it’s meant to highlight support for Moffett, whom tea party groups feel isn’t getting enough respect from the Republican party structure, he said.

Williams, meanwhile, had made several overtures to tea party groups since announcing his bid for the governor’s office last fall.

He told a group of University of Kentucky law students in November that his views are often in line with the tea party. Williams also testified in a Senate committee about his resolution for a balanced federal budget with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. And he pushed for cuts across government to balance the Medicaid budget instead of moving money forward.

But the tea party activists say they remain uncomfortable with parts of Williams’ voting record over the quarter-century he has served in the legislature.

Recent legislative initiatives aren’t enough to overcome skepticism about some of the trends Williams has voted to support, including increasing Kentucky’s debt through selling bonds to cover construction of roads and buildings.

A second problem, tea party members said, is that many believe Williams has given lip service to the groups.

Wendy Caswell, president of the Louisville Tea Party, said Williams publicly says he believes what tea party members believe but then turns down invitations to appear at the groups’ forums and events:

_UPDATE (6:50 p.m.): In response to Caswell’s comments, Jennings, Williams’ campaign manager, said Williams has attended multiple tea party events, forums, straw polls and other functions during the primary season. He offered to provide a list of all the tea party events the campaign has attended as proof. _

“Since the beginning of 2011, when he wasn’t working as Senate President promoting conservative legislation or fighting to cut government spending in Frankfort, David Williams has kept a busy campaign schedule that included numerous tea party events,” Jennings said in a statement in response to Caswell. “He has participated in meetings, forums and even garnered nearly 50% of the vote at a tea party straw poll in Northern Kentucky. In fact, on one occasion at the height of David’s efforts to cut state spending, he used Skype to participate in a tea party meeting in Hardin County because the legislative schedule didn’t permit him to make the trip in time to appear in person.”

Not all tea party groups say they’re taking a Moffett-or-nothing approach.

Caswell said the Louisville Tea Party plans to attend the Saturday rally to show their support for Moffett — not to bash Williams.

The Louisville Tea Party endorsed Moffett last week, as did the Bowling Green Tea Party.

Walters said tea party activists who say they’re for Moffett also mean they won’t work for Williams if he is the nominee.

“Most of the tea party groups are on the same page about this,” Walters said. “They may not be willing to go on the record about it, but it’s how it is.”

One tea party organizer in Williams’ corner is David Dickerson, a member of the Barren County Patriots.

Dickerson has been involved in Barren County and Kentucky politics for more than 30 years. And he said one of the early political lessons he learned after losing a primary for the state House to Steve Nunn was that it is counterproductive to stay on the sidelines for his party.

“I don’t think if anyone sits on their hands it productive for anyone,” Dickerson said in a phone interview. “I support David Williams, but whoever the nominee is on May 18, I’ll support them, even if it’s Phil Moffett or Bobbie Holsclaw.”

Dickerson said he believes Moffett would be a good candidate but that Williams is better. He said he hopes other tea party groups back off “blanket statements” about potentially not supporting Williams if he is the Republican nominee.

But for certain tea party members, the fact that Williams is running at all is demeaning to them, Cloyd said.

“There is no way I can support David Williams under any circumstance,” Cloyd said. “I want to tell the Republican Party it’s not OK to run a candidate like that. I find it offensive they would ask me to support Williams. I’m baffled.”

Instead, if Williams does win the gubernatorial Republican primary, Cloyd said she and many other tea party members will stay home or vote for independent candidate Gatewood Galbraith. But Cloyd said she usually doesn’t vote for a candidate who is her second choice.

“I guarantee you that anyone who is a true tea party, liberty-minded person, they will not support David Williams,” Cloyd said.

- Kenny Colston


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.