WARREN, Maine — After a year of organizing, knocking on doors, handing out fliers and talking with local politicians, the Conservative Patriot Tea Party of Midcoast Maine celebrated its one-year anniversary Thursday.
Eden Spear, 63, of Nobleboro set out pies, cookies and mixed the punch at the anniversary celebration of the group of tea party members from Knox and Lincoln counties.
“I feel like the country is in trouble. We’ve been sitting on the sidelines. Now we’re engaged,” said Spear, who wore a teakettle pin decorated with Stars and Stripes.
Spear was motivated into political action when President Barack Obama was elected.
“That’s what did it for me. I couldn’t sit around and do nothing,” Spear said.
This is what the tea party is particularly effective at, according to University of Maine political science associate professor Mark Brewer.
“They clearly motivated some people to political participation and involvement — people who had been irregular participants or people who hadn’t participated at all,” he said.
Chuck Flemming, 73, of Thomaston got motivated last year.
“I have to take money out of my 401(k). I pay taxes to take it out and I pay property taxes. I don’t use it for me. I pay one government agency or another and I’m running out of money,” Flemming said. “We always voted, then we complained about the results. We said, wait a minute, we got to do something about this.”
So Flemming helped his group get its message out. The impact of tea party groups like this across Maine arguably has affected which candidates were elected to the Legislature and helped support Gov. Paul LePage’s campaign for the Blaine House.
“I think it has moved the overall political climate in Maine to the right,” Brewer said. “I don’t think there is any doubt about that. I think a lot of people, myself included, didn’t think the conservative party was as big as it turned out to be. I think the tea party was responsible for that to a degree.
“It would be very hard to see the Republicans in charge of the Maine Legislature without the tea party movement,” he added.
Wesley Richardson, R-Warren, attended Thursday night’s meeting. He is in his fourth term in the Legislature.
“This is common people getting together, finding problems and finding people to help them,” he said. “The Republicans have a majority. That hasn’t happened since the ’60s, I think. The tea party had a lot to do with that.”
The Knox and Lincoln counties group is informal, but leader Gordon Colby said meeting attendance stays at about 70 people. About that many people ate beans, casseroles, pies and more at the anniversary party at the Masonic Hall in Warren.
Guest speaker Mary Adams congratulated the group.
“Nobody knew last May what victory would look like. You guys made it happen. You are so important in the state of Maine now. People who hadn’t been involved in politics got involved,” Adams said. “Because of your hard work, new people came into the system last November.”
In 1977 Adams and a group of Waldo County activists fought to force a vote to repeal a proposal that would have added a state property tax in Maine.
“You’re just absolutely wonderful, and you’re an example to other groups. You changed the complexion of Augusta,” Adams said.
The group’s leader, Colby, said he isn’t sure what’s next for the local tea party group, but when asked what he is most proud of, he answers, “We turned the state red.”
The next meeting of the Conservative Patriot Tea Party of Midcoast Maine will be 6:30 p.m. June 2 at the Masonic Hall in Warren.