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.

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Mitt Romney and the Tea Party: It's Complicated

| Fri Feb. 11, 2011 4:06 PM EST

Does Mitt Romney think tea partiers are nuts? It seems like a reasonable question to ask the potential presidential contender. While most of the other candidates hoping to run for the White House in 2012 have gone out of their way to prove their tea party bona fides, Romney has kept his distance, perhaps for good reason. Lots of tea partiers won't forgive him for paving the way for the Obama health care reform plan with RomneyCare, as it's dubbed, when he was governor of Massachusetts. But Romney's speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Friday was extremely well-received by an audience that included a healthy number of self-declared tea partiers. Indeed, he offered a lot a tea partier could love: talk of job creation, American exceptionalism, and a plug for the Constitution. He also has business credentials to die for, his health care record not withstanding.

But at least one tea party activist who's been in contact with Romney's campaign says that he has been reluctant to take one important move that would solidify his standing with the grassroots conservative movement: signing its "Contract from America."

Last year, Ryan Hecker from the Houston Tea Party Society helped create a crowdsourced agenda that tea partiers wanted to see enacted in Washington. It emphasized limited government, fiscal responsibility and individual liberty, and asked signers to pledge to support a balance budget, tax reform, repeal of ObamaCare, a ban on earmarks, and to oppose cap and trade, among other things. The earmark ban scared off a fair number of candidates and members of Congress. But as Hecker says, "There's nothing in there that a guy who doesn't write legislation couldn't support." One of the first signers was Newt Gingrich. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) was also an early endorser. But when Hecker, who appeared on a CPAC panel right before Romney took the stage, asked Romney to sign the contract, he "took a pass," says Hecker, without explaining exactly why.

Hecker thinks Romney is an impressive candidate, who heroically turned around the Salt Lake Olympics, and is a "great businessman." But Romney's failure to sign the contract, says Hecker, hurts his standing with tea partiers, who are going to be critical to the 2012 election and who could potentially help Romney compensate for his problems with evangelicals who refuse to support his campaign. (They don't like his Mormonism and still believe that he's secretly pro-choice.) "I think it's important that he sign the Contract with America," Hecker says. "He needs to show that he's listening to the tea party and that he's going to be a leader who represents true conservatives."

Will Palin Announce Presidential Bid at Tea Party Conference?

| Fri Feb. 11, 2011 10:41 AM EST

The Tea Party Patriots, arguably the nation's largest tea party umbrella group, is holding a "policy summit" in Phoenix at the end of the month to help educate tea partiers on various issues. Headlining the event will be potential GOP presidential contenders Herman Cain and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), right-wing provocateur Andrew Breitbart, talking heads Dick Morris and John Fund, and other conservative luminaries and elected officials. But lately the group has been floating rumors that Sarah Palin may show up at the confab to make an important announcement: that she's running for president.

Earlier this month, TPP started circulating emails with a prominent endorsement for their event from Palin, who says in the promo material that the summit "offers a terrific opportunity for true American Patriots to hear from experts on issues like lowering taxes, balancing the budget and repealing Obamacare." Then on Thursday, Everett Wilkinson, a TPP coordinator in Florida, wrote on his site Tea Party Wire, "I just heard a rumor that Sarah Palin is going to make a surprise visit and announcement" at the conference. He included a link to the registration page for the summit, and also circulated emails with the rumor to tea party activists.

Is this a "real" rumor—or just a crass marketing ploy designed to entice tea partiers to the $75 per-person gathering? It would not be the first time that a tea party group tried to capitalize on Palin's name recognition to boost attendance at a conference. Last year, Tea Party Nation, a Nashville-based group headed by Judson Philips, created a convention almost exclusively promoted around a speech by Palin, for which TPN paid her $100,000.

A spokesman for Tea Party Patriots says the group is not paying any of the speakers at its event (and that it didn't pay Palin for her endorsement of the summit). But the Internet rumor smacks of traffic-driving scheme, an attempt to generate interest and potentially donations for the summit, or at least traffic for Wilkinson's Tea Party Wire site. TPP is trying to raise a boatload of money to pull off the event, and there are signs that it's not meeting its targets.

On its website, TPP indicates that it's trying to generate more than $800,000 in sponsorships for the event. The primary summit sponsorship comes with a price tag of $250,000—an amount they're not likely to squeeze out of a bunch of rural tea party activists. Booths in the exhibit hall run as high as $4,000. The group has been advertising heavily on Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity's radio shows, and sources say that TPP has not raised enough money to fly many of its own regional and state coordinators to Phoenix for the summit as promised.

TPP wouldn't be the first group to try to hold a national tea party convention and flop. Tea Party Nation attempted to hold another convention in Las Vegas this past summer. It was postponed at the last minute, rescheduled for a few months later, and canceled again. Tea partiers, it seems, have had their fill of conventions, a phenomenon that makes the rumors about a Palin cameo highly suspicious. The Tea Party Nation's Nashville event appears only to have succeeded with the help of Palin. Without her, the Tea Party Patriots may find themselves in the same boat as Phillips' group.

UPDATE: Randy Lewis, a spokesman for TPP says, "Palin was approached for availability for the weekend of our conference and we were told that she was unable to consider due to a previous commitment. She is not attending."

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