READ the rants of Al Gerhart and it's easy to understand why the Sooner Tea Party has been such a failure.
Gerhart is co-founder of the local group, which was spawned when the tea party movement began nationwide a few years ago. But unlike that movement, which was conservative in nature but included Americans from across the political spectrum who were fed up with antics in Washington, D.C., the Gerhart-led Sooner Tea Party is a fringe group that considers those who don't share their views as fools or worse.
So no one who's followed Gerhart or the Sooner Tea Party should be surprised that Gerhart recently sent an email to state Sen. Cliff Branan, R-Oklahoma City, threatening to make Branan “the laughing stock of the Senate” if a bill in Branan's committee wasn't heard. The bill, which was approved in the House, would prohibit communities in Oklahoma from having anything to do with the United Nation's Agenda 21 plan. Agenda 21 is a nonbinding, voluntary action plan that deals with sustainable development. Gerhart sees this as the U.N.'s effort to strip away personal property rights.
“Get that bill heard or I will make sure you regret not doing it,” Gerhart said in his email last week. He added that “We will dig into your past, yoru (sic) family, your associates and once we start on you there will be no end to it. This is a promise.”
Branan, with good reason, turned the email over to authorities. Gerhart, naturally, categorized a subsequent visit to his workplace by law enforcement as harassment promulgated by politicians. In an interview Monday with The Oklahoman's Nolan Clay, Gerhart said his group wants to know if Branan's wife “has got a criminal history. We want to know everything about him.” Perhaps we can save Gerhart a little time regarding Branan's wife: She was named National Young Mother of the Year in 2006.
Gerhart sees boogeymen around every corner. Last year in his online newsletter, he questioned whether one of Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel's reserve deputies — an Edmond dentist of Lebanese descent — had terrorist ties. If you're a Republican politician who doesn't see things precisely as Gerhart does, then you're a RINO (Republican In Name Only) or worse. A newsletter from a couple years ago promoting a Sooner Tea Party visit to the Capitol said attendees would get a brief tutorial that “will prepare you for just how these slimy weasels will try to confuse you.” It promised that legislators “will be soiling their drawers when they have to face you.”
Tea party-backed candidates have enjoyed little success here, in part because most Republicans are already fiscally and socially conservative. U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, rode tea party support to victory in November, but otherwise the list of failed challengers is extensive. That's particularly true of the most hard-line candidates.
Gerhart's tactics and poisonous rhetoric render the Sooner Tea Party illegitimate and only hurt the tea party's cause in Oklahoma. Indeed most of what he says and does would be laughable except that, as evidenced by his email to Branan, it's not the least bit funny.