IRS case gets Ohio tea party movement steamed up
Written by DAN SEWELL, Associated Press   
Sunday, 02 June 2013 06:32

CINCINNATI (AP) — While it's clear that Ohio tea party activists are fired up over recent disclosures that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups, what that will mean to politics in the pivotal swing state is still a little hazy.

The investigation into IRS actions has given people opposed to big government and high taxes a rallying focus in recent weeks. The case has extra significance in Ohio because the key IRS office involved is in Cincinnati, and organizations such as the Ohio Liberty Coalition, Dayton tea party and several other state tea party groups and activists are among those who complained about being subjected to burdensome extra scrutiny in their efforts to gain tax-exempt status.

"The (Barack) Obama administration should have let sleeping dogs lie," said George Brunemann, a Cincinnati tea party leader who helped organize a town hall-style forum Wednesday night that brought out hundreds of activists and had an online audience. "They have given people a new reason to be engaged. They were using the IRS as a hammer against us, and they got caught."

The White House has said none of its senior officials was involved in the targeting, which came during 2010-12. After helping Republicans win big in Ohio in 2010, including the governorship, the tea party saw a Democratic president carry their state in 2012 while GOP Treasurer Josh Mandel fell to Democrat Sherrod Brown in the U.S. Senate race.

"Disappointment can lead to a decline in activity; this happens to a lot of groups," said University of Akron political scientist John C. Green, who closely follows conservative groups in the state as he analyzes religion and politics. The IRS case has led to "a revival," Green said, but he added there had already been renewed activity in Ohio by tea party leaders over other issues — aimed at state Republican leaders.

Some tea party leaders and other activists are unhappy about GOP Gov. John Kasich's support for expansion of Medicaid coverage and a severance tax on the oil and gas industry. They are also upset over Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman's change of heart for same-sex marriage after he learned one of his sons is gay. Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio has at times drawn tea party criticism on federal budget and debt issues.

Tom Zawistowski, leader of the Portage County tea party in northeast Ohio, ran unsuccessfully in April against the Kasich-backed candidate for the Ohio Republican Party chairmanship. He said Kasich wouldn't have unseated Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland in 2010 without tea party help, and he said tea party activists think Kasich should be working to scuttle the Affordable Care Act instead of backing the Medicaid expansion.

"People are angry," Zawistowski said. "If you don't think we can go elsewhere, wait and see."

If Kasich doesn't bend, Zawistowski warned, he will oppose his re-election next year even "if the Democrats run Barack Obama for Ohio governor."

Kasich has explained that although he opposed the Obama health care overhaul, expanding Medicaid is the best way to make sure Ohio gets back federal tax dollars to help its needy.

"This governor has never allowed political considerations to impact our policies," Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said Friday.

Green said tea party activists are often more focused on issues than on electoral politics, and they could exert influence in different ways: publicly pressuring Kasich and legislators for policy changes, running their own candidates in GOP primaries, backing independent or third-party candidates, or simply staying on the sidelines for the next election.

In the southwest Ohio region that's been a tea party hotbed since the movement took off in 2009, Brunemann said Kasich "is not helping the cause at all right now." But he added that being practical, he doesn't see a viable candidate emerging to oppose the governor in a 2014 primary.

"I think we're going to have to play the hand we've been dealt," Brunemann said.

Also, while some are displeased with Portman's change on gay marriage, his fiscal conservatism should trump the concern over the social issue, Brunemann said. Portman appeared to be welcomed by the tea party crowd Wednesday night when he spoke about the IRS targeting and federal investigations that are underway.

He said in an interview afterward that despite differences on some issues, they all share concerns about big government and protecting free enterprise.

"I think there are probably people in the room who aren't happy with any of us on a particular thing," Portman said afterward. "We are conservative Republicans — (Reps.) Steve Chabot, Brad Wenstrup, me, Speaker Boehner and John Kasich. And I think at the end of the day, we will be earning their support."

A GOP strategist, Bob Clegg of Midwest Communications and Media in Columbus, said despite tea party critics, Kasich is likely to benefit from renewed vigor among grassroots conservatives.

"I think it's actually going to help him," Clegg said. "I think they will want to make 2014 a statement on Obama. In that kind of atmosphere, it's going to help Republicans."

Clegg said in the coming gubernatorial campaign, he expects Kasich to emphasize his differences with Obama, his efforts to cut taxes, and Ohio's improved jobs picture during his governorship.

Tom Hentz, a retired engineer in Delhi Township near Cincinnati, said the priority should be pushing for change in Washington.

"Washington is in bad shape," Hentz said. "I don't have any problems with the state of Ohio."


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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.


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