Florida Tea Party Network Loses Key Chapter over Solar Power Advocacy

Published July 7, 2015

One of Florida’s most influential Tea Party chapters has pulled out of the so-called Tea Party Network, putting on notice people who claim Florida Tea Party groups support a proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution that would give the solar power industry monopoly rights to sell electricity to consumers from on-site electricity generation equipment. 

Since Floridians for Solar Choice (FSC), a front group of the Tennessee-based solar power advocacy group Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, unveiled the proposed constitutional amendment earlier this year, two prominent grassroots organizations have hosted public debates on the topic. After the Tampa 912 Project hosted a debate between FSC chairman Tory Perfetti and Heartland Institute vice president of external relations James Taylor, the Tampa 912 Project’s board of directors voted unanimously to oppose the amendment. After

The Villages Tea Party hosted a debate between Taylor and Alexander Snitker, representing the Libertarian Party of Florida, audience members voted 70-1 to oppose the amendment. 

During the debate at The Villages, Taylor presented a transcript of a National Public Radio interview in which the president of a group calling itself The Tea Party Network said she supports the amendment and claimed she represents more than 80 Florida Tea Party groups. The clear implication, Taylor observed, was Tea Party Network president Catherine Baer claimed more than 80 Tea Party groups – including The Villages Tea Party and the Tampa 912 Project – had come out in support of the amendment. 

Chapter Withdraws

The Villages Tea Party president Aileen Milton was outraged at Baer’s assertion. In an email written to Baer after the debate and shared with Taylor, Milton wrote, “Please remove The Villages Tea Party’s name from your member groups. Immediately.” 

Milton emphasized The Villages Tea Party had never authorized The Tea Party Network to claim it represented its member groups on substantive issues. Instead, The Villages Tea Party had merely consented to allow the group calling itself The Tea Party Network to link to its website on a directory page of Florida Tea Party groups.

“The Villages Tea Party’s name is not to be used in any manner or media statements as a tool to support the issues you have declared as part of the Tea Party Network. The Villages Tea Party is an Independent Organization and is not directly or indirectly affiliated or a supporting member of The Tea Party Network and our listing was only meant to be there as a Tea Party group in Florida,” wrote Milton.  

“You have no authorization to say The Villages Tea Party supports the concept of changing/amending the Florida State Constitution by adding a ballot issue in 2016 on the Solar Energy issue,” Milton explained. “The Villages Tea Party has had no verbal or written communication with your organization on this issue.”

Chapters Independent of Network

“You do not represent The Villages Tea Party’s opinion on any issue,” Milton added. “We may agree on principles but TVTP [The Villages Tea Party] remains free and independent and very capable of making our own decisions on issues we support or do not support. And I will tell you Catherine we do not support the Solar Energy Amendment. TVTP had a debate on June 15th on this issue and only one audience person who is not a member of the Villages Tea Party voted in favor of this Amendment.” 

Milton expressed particular outrage that Baer made such a public pronouncement of support without first soliciting the opinions of the Tea Party chapters she claimed to represent. Milton also chastised Baer for not informing her group of her statements after she made them on National Public Radio. 

“You did not even share this [National Public Radio] article. First time I saw it was today,” wrote Milton. “We do not support the group called Floridians for Solar Choice or Van Jones.” 

Milton was referring to anti-capitalism activist Van Jones being in the news during the week of The Villages Tea Party debate for making public appearances with Florida solar power amendment supporter Debbie Dooley. 

Solar Money Subverts Free Market Groups

“Unfortunately, this is exactly what the enemies of free markets and Tea Party groups – such as billionaire liberal activist Tom Steyer – had in mind when they began funding strawmen for the solar power industry and leftist political activists who claimed to support limited government,” noted Heartland Institute vice president for external relations James Taylor. “By accepting solar power activist money and then claiming to speak for free-market principles, Floridians for Solar Choice and others have misled a few groups such as The Tea Party Network to believe government-created solar power monopolies are consistent with free markets and limited government. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

“The actions of real Tea Party leaders, such as those in The Villages Tea Party, The Highlands Tea Party, the Tampa 912 Project, and many other grassroots groups throughout the state, irrefutably show Tea Party groups do not support the creation of solar power monopolies, whether by amending the Florida Constitution or any other means,” Taylor explained.

“When the liberal media publish their never-ending claims of broad Florida Tea Party support for a solar power monopoly, I hope – though far from expect – they will note Tea Party groups have affirmatively opposed such a solar power monopoly after getting a chance to learn about the issue and hear both sides of the debate,” Taylor added.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute.