using together an engaged membership, an extensive network of local chapters, and support from national organizations, the Tea Party movement in North Carolina has become bigger than the sum of its parts. Other studies, such as the Democracy North Carolina Annual Report Card on the legislature have done a superb job chronicling the breadth of Tea Party-backed legislation in the North Carolina General Assembly. Other studies have explored the influence of far-right legislative networks like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
What has been studied less, however, is the level of support the Tea Party actually has amongst North Carolina legislators.
Consider, for instance, an October 2013 Tea Party gathering in Concord, North Carolina. State Representative Larry Pittman addressed the crowd, relying on birther racism to engage the audience.
In response to a post on his Facebook wall calling Obama a traitor, Pittman said that he disagreed with the post, and that Obama has done nothing in office to betray his native country… of Kenya.
“Someone had posted something [on Facebook] with a picture of Barack Obama and across it said ‘traitor,’ ” Pittman said. “And, you know, I don’t always agree with the guy, I certainly didn’t vote for him but I gotta defend him on this one. I just don’t think it’s right at all to call Barack Obama a traitor. There’s a lot of things he’s done wrong but he is not a traitor. Not as far as I can tell. I haven’t come across any evidence yet that he has done one thing to harm Kenya.”
Pittman is a Tea Party die hard. In a legislature that passed nearly every part of the Tea Party agenda, how many more are Tea Party stalwarts, and how many just followed their lead? What is the level of opposition to the Tea Party in the General Assembly? In this section of the report, IREHR attempts to grapple with those important questions.
IREHR has conducted a non-partisan, data-driven examination of the extent of Tea Party influence and of opposition to the Tea Party in the North Carolina General Assembly. Using multiple data streams, it rated all the members in both the North Carolina House and Senate on a scale ranging from opposition to the Tea Party to strong Tea Party support.
Pulling together data from first-person accounts, field reports, interviews, material from national and local Tea Party groups, videos, North Carolina watchdog groups, social media (including Facebook and Twitter), press accounts, IREHR’s extensive archives, and numerous other sources, this study collected, and sorted data on General Assembly members into the following categories:
- Self-proclaimed membership in the Tea Party movement,
- Membership in one or more of the national Tea Party factions,
- Attendance and participation in Tea Party rallies, meetings and events,
- Tea Party endorsements,
- Campaign contribution from Tea Party groups,
- Show of support for Tea Party groups on social media,
- Participation in ALEC, the far-right American Legislative Exchange Council, and
- Other factors.
Once organized, points were assigned to each category, with a negative value assigned for opposition to the Tea Party and up to two points awarded in each category, based on the level of activity. As an example, if a legislator attended several different Tea Party rallies or events, that legislator would receive two points in the “Attended Tea Party Events” category. Total points across the data categories were then tallied for each legislator to attain a legislative score.
That score was then translated into a rating from “None” to “Strong Tea Party” support based on the following scale:
- “Opposition to the Tea Party” – Assembly members openly spoke out against the Tea Party, attended HKonJ or Moral Mondays events where opposition to the Tea Party agenda was expressed, or spoke positively about the Moral Mondays movement.
- “None” – Assembly members did not self-proclaim allegiance to the Tea Party, did not appear to have attended Tea Party events, were not endorsed by any Tea Party groups, did not receive campaign contributions from any Tea Party PACS, were not members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and did not express support for Tea party groups on social media. Members also did not express support for the Moral Mondays movement, or participate in HKonJ or Moral Mondays events.
- “ALEC Only” – Assembly members did not appear to have any Tea Party obvious ties, but they were active with the American Legislative Exchange Council.
- “Mild Tea Party” – Assembly members scored 1-2 points on the Tea Party support chart. They may have attended a Tea Party rally, or received a Tea Party PAC contribution, or voiced support for a local or national Tea Party group, but not much more.
- “Tea Party” – Assembly members of the legislature scored 3-5 points on the Tea Party support rating scale, with points coming in more than one category.
- “Strong Tea Party” – Assembly members with more than five points on the Tea Party supporting rating scale, with points registered in multiple categories.
Tea Party Support and Opposition in the NC House of Representatives
The North Carolina House of Representatives is dominated by Tea Party supporters, with nearly half (59 of 120 members) of its members having some level of support for the Tea Party. This includes twenty-one members categorized as Mild Tea Party supporters, twenty-three categorized as Tea Party supporters, and fifteen who are Strong Tea Party supporters.
A significant number (29) of House members are also active with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In fact, 23 of those 29 active with ALEC are also categorized as having some level of Tea Party support.
Of the remaining members of the North Carolina House of Representatives, thirty-one members have not expressed opposition to, or support for the Tea Party. The remaining twenty-four members have expressed some level of opposition to the Tea Party.
Table: NC House of Representatives Tea Party Support / Opposition Rating Totals
Number of Legislators
|Opposition To Tea Party
|Mild Tea Party
|Strong Tea Party
For a complete listing of North Carolina State Representatives and their Tea Party support / opposition rating, see Appendix A.