Tea party sparks fresh debate and enthusiasm among UI students

The Tea Party, a national conservative movement in favor of less government spending and reduced taxation, is seeing support on a local level in the community and at the University.

The Champaign Tea Party sprung up the same year that the national party began to gain momentum — in 2009.

Despite its local presence, Frank Barham, the local organization’s chair, said the Tea Party tends to have a hard time reaching out to the University because of the largely liberal atmosphere that is typical to college campuses.

“Basically most college campuses are a hostile environment for Tea Parties,” Barham said.

However, Mike Kozlowski, president of the University of Illinois College Republicans and senior in LAS, said he sees similarities between his organization’s views and the views of the Tea Party followers. Kozlowski said he agrees with the party’s stance on taxes and smaller government.

“Both groups are very big on individual liberty and individual freedom,” he said.

He added that the Tea Party has been an important catalyst for political participation.

Hannah Ihms, graduate student and member of the Illini Conservative Union, said she has also noticed increased interest on campus for the Tea Party.

She said the organization saw eight times as much interest from students on Quad Day from last year.

“We are the Tea Party group on campus,” Ihms said. “It was kind of cool when students were coming up and asking us if we were that group. (Students) were so excited that we were here on campus, and I can see that there is a huge difference in one year.”

The Tea Party is often cited as a grassroots movement, although Joseph Hinchliffe, professor of political science, said that it can be described as more of an “astroturf movement” instead because of high levels of financial support coming in from wealthy donors within the Republican party.

Though, there are some grassroots aspects of the movement, he said.

“The voluntary participation and excitement (and) the lack of central control on issues,” he said. “That starts to look more grassroots to me.”

On a national level, the party served as a motivator during the 2010 congressional elections, raking in a lot of support for the Republican party, said Peter Nardulli, professor of political science and law.

In the upcoming Republican primaries, the Tea Party has the potential to have an influential foothold that could lead to a candidate that lacks broader appeal, Nardulli said.

He said Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann, potential Republican presidential nominee, meets more of the “purist” demands of the Tea Party, although her approval ratings haven’t been high recently, which could hurt her chances for nomination.

“You look at a guy like Mitt Romney, maybe the strongest Republican candidate in the general election, and (the Tea Party) hasn’t been very supportive of him,” Nardulli said.

“If they throw weight behind a Rick Perry, that might hurt the Republicans in the long run.”