Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer

Reporter

Stephanie works in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. A Utah native and graduate of a crappy public university not worth mentioning, she has spent the last year hanging out with angry white people who occasionally don tricorne hats and come to lunch meetings heavily armed.

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Stephanie covers legal affairs and domestic policy in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She is the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue. A contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, a former investigative reporter at the Washington Post, and a senior writer at the Washington City Paper, she was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2004 for a Washington Monthly article about myths surrounding the medical malpractice system. In 2000, she won the Harry Chapin Media award for reporting on poverty and hunger, and her 2010 story in Mother Jones of the collapse of the welfare system in Georgia and elsewhere won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.

Wisconsin: Tea Partiers, Breitbart Coming To Fight Unions

| Fri Feb. 18, 2011 1:50 PM EST

After several days of union protests in Madison, Wisconsin, opposing Republican Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to end collective bargaining rights for many state employees, tea party activists are mobilizing their own foot soldiers to converge on Madison on Saturday, February 19. Tea partiers are arranging for buses to the state Capitol, with the help of a local talk radio host. They're promising a massive counter-demonstration to all those angry teachers. And this effort is being spearheaded by the conservative group American Majority, which has been training activists to become candidates at the state level.

American Majority has set up an "I Stand With Scott Walker Rally" Facebook page to spread the word, and by 1 o'clock Friday, 1100 people had replied and said they were planning to descend on Madison. And if they and others do flock to the state capital, Madison could well become a media circus. Conservative provocateur Andrew Breitbart will be headlining the tea party rally, along with Gateway Pundit blogger Jim Hoft, who recently scoffed at the Egyptian pro-democracy uprising. (Hoft also blamed CBS News reporter Lara Logan's "liberal belief system" for her sexual assault in Egypt.) Recently added: potential GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain. And there may also be a cameo appearance by Joe "The Plumber" Wurtzelbacher, who tweeted Friday morning that he was headed to Madison to "do some interviews."

Many tea partiers across the country have complained on their websites that Walker and other conservative leaders haven't responded forcefully enough to the unions. They were ticked off that Walker was not organizing a street-level counter-protest. And this void, they said, needed filling. Breitbart, for one, has been circulating a video purportedly showing a single tea party activist harassing fugitive Wisconsin legislators, who fled the state to prevent the GOP-dominated state legislature from voting on Walker's bill to gut the public-sector unions. Given that the tea party has previously held sizable demonstrations in Madison, the prospects are good that it can produce a crowd this weekend—which could lead to an ugly confrontation between the union supporters and the conservative activists.

As with so many tea party events, the pro-Walker rally in Wisconsin is not just a product of grassroots citizen spontaneity. American Majority was founded and is run by Ned Ryun. He is a former speechwriter for George W. Bush and the son of former Kansas Rep. Jim Ryun (R), who was tainted by the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Ned's twin brother Drew was the deputy director of grassroots for the Republican National Committee in 2004. Drew Ryun also works for American Majority, an outfit run by established GOP operatives. The group gets most of its money from the Sam Adams Alliance, and the alliance's funding is not publicly known. But the director of the alliance once worked with the Citizens for a Sound Economy, a group funded by the infamous right-wing Koch brothers. (The Koch brothers were major donors to Walker's gubernatorial campaign.) Vicki McKenna, a Wisconsin talk show host who has headlined state events for the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, has also been helping to put on the counter-demonstration. Once again, this is an instance of tea party activism fueled by funding and logistical support from the conservative establishment.

The organizers of this anti-union protest do have the resources and know-how to stage a big rally; American Majority had a budget of nearly $2 million in 2009, according to its tax filings, and that was before the tea party movement really got going. But more important, the scheduled protest appears to be resonating with tea party activists across the country, who have been praising Walker for taking on unions. There are plenty of tea partiers who seem happy to get on the bus to Madison—and to shout down the union protesters.

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Santorum Acknowledges Anal Sex Problem

| Thu Feb. 17, 2011 2:44 PM EST

Well, it's about time. Back in September, I wrote a story about former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who was jetting around to Iowa and New Hampshire laying the obvious groundwork for a presidential run in 2012. But as I noted back then, getting voters to take him seriously is going to be a little challenging given that if you Google his name, one of the first search results is this site, created by Seattle Stranger editorial director and syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage. In revenge for some nasty homophobic comments Santorum made back in 2003, Savage successfully used the web to turn Santorum's name into a sexual neologism that means "the frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex." The site is often credited with contributing to Santorum's defeat in his 2006 re-election bid.

Years later, Santorum's Google problem is still significant. I tried to ask him about it last year for my story, but he and his consultants refused to return my calls. But this week, Roll Call managed to put the question to Santorum and he actually answered! Here's what he said:

It's one guy. You know who it is. The Internet allows for this type of vulgarity to circulate. It’s unfortunate that we have someone who obviously has some issues. But he has an opportunity to speak.

Santorum advisers told Roll Call that burying Savage's site on Google was virtually impossible. The reporter suggested that Santorum might consider getting his supporters to fight back with blog posts and Internet traffic directed at his own sites. But his advisers wrote this effort off as too expensive. Of course, what they didn't say is that the homophobes Santorum panders to—he's a frequent fundraiser for the anti-gay marriage group National Organization for Marriage—aren't nearly as many or as motivated as the pissed off gay people and their friends, relatives, and sympathizers who were outraged by the comments he made equating homosexuality with bestiality. The fact that Santorum can't generate enough web traffic to bury the Savage's seven-year-old site in the Google rankings suggests that winning the bigot vote won't be enough to put him in the White House. But of course, we knew that. After all, it wasn't even enough to keep him in the Senate.

Meanwhile, note to the Santorum campaign: Roll Call didn't mention this, but here is one really easy way the future candidate can solve his Google problem. Last year Savage told me that if Santorum would donate $5 million to the gay marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry, he'd take down his site all together. Considering the alternatives, Santorum might consider that something of a bargain.

Tea Party Nation: Mother Jones Is Right!

| Thu Feb. 17, 2011 11:30 AM EST

It's rare that a tea party group ever has good things to say about Mother Jones, which most grassroots conservatives seem to view as the leading voice of pot-smoking godless communists. But Wednesday, the founder of the Nashville-based Tea Party Nation, Judson Phillips, sent out an email responding to a 3-part Mother Jones investigation of a rival tea party group, Tea Party Patriots, noting that we had uncovered some "unpleasant details" about TPP's financial management. While many other conservative outfits and TPP loyalists have dismissed the allegations raised in the story as the work of the liberal media, Phillips takes them seriously, saying, "Just because they are liberal does not mean they are not right." That's about as close to a compliment as we're ever likely to get from him.

The reason for the semi-kind words is that Phillips has also heard some of the "rumblings of dissatisfaction" from local tea party activists about problems with TPP management and has found them to be legitimate. He acknowledges that there is no love lost between the two groups, writing, "We have never appreciated their arrogance, their claim they are the 'official home of the Tea Party movement', nor the way they have treated people." Phillips says that his group decided initially not to create its own local chapters for fear of causing more dissension in the movement by competing with TPP, suspecting that the tea party movement could only handle so many local grassroots groups. Instead, Tea Party Nation has stuck to holding (unsuccessful) conventions and managing a website. Meanwhile, Phillips writes, "we have watched Tea Party Patriots move from being a grass roots organization to being a slick, inside the beltway organization, indistinguishable from groups like Freedomworks."

Phillips has been complaining for a while now that the tea party movement was going mainstream and turning into "Big Tea." But now that it looks like TPP could be in trouble, Phillips has decided to jump into the fray and start some competing local tea party organizations to give local activists an alternative to TPP. The first one has already gotten off the ground at Brandeis University. And in these new groups, Phillips notes, Tea Party Nation's national leaders will never ask for them to turn over their email lists—a direct jab at TPP's unpopular practice of trying to vacuum up the contact lists of its local affiliates for its own fundraising purposes. Of course, he doesn't mention that it's virtually impossible to read anything on the Tea Party Nation website without logging in with an email address. But still, Phillips isn't pulling any punches. Let the tea party civil war begin!

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