Pam Stout's first brush with fame came in the spring of 2010 when, after appearing in a New York Times story about the rise of the Tea Party, David Letterman invited her on his show to explain the movement. "I know nothing about the Tea Party," he said at the outset of the interview. Stout went on to explain -- in a calm, mild manner, to the dismay of some liberals -- that she and fellow activists were out to combat wasteful spending. To do that in her hometown of Sandpoint, Idaho, she said, "we're trying locally to take over the Republican party." She added, "in Sandpoint, it's not so much of an issue -- it's fairly conservative."
Some people in the region of deep lakes, evergreen trees and snowcapped mountains sandwiched between Washington state and Montana ... fear its work could have a chilling effect on county employees trying to uphold local, state and federal laws, particularly those protecting the environment.
(The council's) first tasks include figuring out how to jettison the historical society, extension agency and county fairgrounds from taxpayer support, Stout said. (Note: The AP later clarified that the council will attempt to replace taxpayer support with user fees.)
On Oct. 6, they initiated an investigation of how the county might intervene in a dispute between a couple and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after the agency declared their property near Priest Lake a wetland.
Much of the media to-do about the Tea Party has focused on its national influence. But some of its factions, like Stout's in northern Idaho, are aiming lower. The Tea Party Patriots of Nevada County, in northern California, encourage their members to make their voices heard at city council and school district meetings. And on at least one front, that group has been working to ensure federal law is strictly followed: On Constitution Day, schools must teach some lesson about the Constitution. They also distribute pocket Constitutions and their own educational materials to willing teachers and parents. In Arizona, this year marked "the first Phoenix election in which the Tea Party is endorsing candidates, pushing agendas and shaping leadership," according to the Arizona Republic. Their mayoral favorite was unsuccessful. The final mix of the city council will be decided by a November runoff; among non-incumbents, only one of the Tea Party's favored candidates is still alive.
Whether the tax-allergic movement will have an enduring influence at the national, state or local levels remains to be seen. Still, the local push could be something to watch, particularly in the West, where many communities have a predisposed distaste for all things federal -- whether the debt ceiling rises or not. As in Sandpoint, local takeovers which push the political dial further rightward might not be so difficult -- especially if there are more Art Popes out there.
Cally Carswell is HCN's assistant editor.
Photo: Tea Partiers rally in Albuquerque on tax day, licensed under Creative Commons from Flickr user nmfbihop.