By NICHOLAS L. DEAN
OBSERVER Mayville Bureau
People are not asked their party affiliation at local Tea Party events.
Carl Paladino was endorsed by the Southern?Tier Tea Party.
All are invited to attend, according to Mel McGinnis, temporary president of the Southern Tier Tea Party Patriots.
The reason is similarly why McGinnis doesn't want the movement to morph into a third party itself. It should be open to everyone, he believes, regardless of how they vote.
"All people are asked is to come and see if the issues we're talking about resonate with them," McGinnis said.
Specifically, McGinnis pointed to such areas of concern as spending policies, balanced budgets, fair taxation, decreased regulation and border security.
"I think we in the Tea Party see the triangle of power inverted," McGinnis said, "meaning that power now resides in Albany and Washington, not with we the people and our own county. We want to turn that triangle right-side up."
Like much of the movement, the county's local Tea Party grew out of the 2009 Tax Day protests. According to McGinnis, the Southern Tier Tea Party Patriots was born April 15 of last year. Though members didn't drop tea bags into any waterways, they did gather at Tracy Plaza to protest the level of taxation at all levels of government.
From that event, McGinnis said a group of like-minded people discovered they could band together to confront overspending, taxation and other issues. Not only are the issues those which are straining the average citizen, McGinnis said, but the movement is one which such citizens are easily able to participate in.
"I really feel like it generates a level of enthusiasm so that people do not feel like an island," McGinnis said. "Since there's a group out there where people feel like they do, that can be very welcoming no matter what political party they are in. We have Independence Party members, we have Republicans, we have Conservatives and I know for sure that there is at least one Democrat who is very much a part of a Tea Party.
"And again," McGinnis continued, "these people don't really hear the label Republican or Democrat as much as they do hear about the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, state rights and those kinds of things which I think are very unifying in bringing people together so that they feel like they're beginning to get their voice back."
When asked about the local group's relationship to the larger movement, McGinnis explained that the Southern Tier Tea Party Patriots are "a very independent group." Though the local group does have contact with people in the state Tea Party, McGinnis said that the local members govern themselves and address issues important to them - not ones handed down from any top-level organization.
"This is something that we do on our own initiative," McGinnis said.
As such, McGinnis repeated that he does not intend for the local movement to ever become a third party - and he hopes the same is true on the larger level.
"We do not want to be like the Reform Party was back in the '90s," McGinnis said. "We just really want to be a conscience to government locally, statewide and nationally. I think that's the general feeling throughout the U.S."
The Tea Party is not alone in its feelings locally, McGinnis pointed out. Like the Tea Party but different is local group TARA, True Americans Restoring America.
According to TARA member Pat Lydell, the group is interested in taking issues to the public. In the past, the group has held Meet the Candidates events and debates as well as forums on specific local political issues.
"We came together for the purpose of education of the public to try to assure that when a person walks into a voting booth to vote on anything, local state or national, they have the facts," Lydell said earlier this year. "We try to be non-partisan and always present two points of view. We like to bring in people from both sides and be non-partisan, even though we have been associated with some of the Tea Party activities in town."
According to McGinnis, TARA has been instrumental in educating people on the constitution and other issues.
"It's just been wonderful to associate with the people," McGinnis said of those involved with both groups. "I don't think I ever would have met any of them had I not gotten involved in the Tea Party or TARA."