Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer


Stephanie works in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. A Utah native and graduate of a crappy public university not worth mentioning, she has spent several years 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.

Tea Party Takes On Utah's Last Congressional Dem

| Mon Sep. 5, 2011 5:23 AM EDT

Utah is one of the nation's most conservative states. Barack Obama won only 34 percent of the vote there in 2008. The Mormon-dominated western outpost, which also happens to be my home state, hasn't had a Democratic senator in about 40 years. It hasn't had a Democratic governor since 1985. So in that climate, Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson is a bit of an outlier. He has had a few things going for him—mainly his name. In a state with few Democratic scions, the Matheson family is practically synonymous with Democrat in Utah; Jim's father Scott Matheson, served as the state's last Democratic governor. But for the past decade, Republicans have been trying hard to oust the younger Matheson, namely by redistricting him out of office.

In 2002, Republicans redrew the boundary of Matheson's 2nd district, which had been mostly confined to the more liberal Salt Lake City area, and extended it so that it was glued to some ultra-right wing rural counties in far southern Utah near the Nevada border. The change made him famous as the Democrat representing the most Republican district in the country. (To see how bad this is, take a look at the map of his district here.) Republicans are targeting his district again this year for another boundary change.

So far, Matheson, a member of the Dem's centrist Blue Dog contingent, has managed to survive the gerrymandering and stay in office for a remarkable 12 years,calibrating his votes carefully to acknowledge the precariousness of his situation. He was one of a handful of Democrats, for instance, who voted against Obama's health care bill and raising the debt ceiling.

But even those sorts of hedges may not save him in the next election. Things have changed significantly in a state that I didn't think could get any more conservative. Last year, angry tea party activists managed to bump off Republican establishment figure Sen. Robert Bennett, whose father also represented the state in the Senate. Bennett was a rockribbed, popular Republican, but still not conservative enough for the tea partiers, who ended up electing tea partier Sen. Mike Lee (R).

Two weeks ago, one of the tea party candidates who was among those challenging Bennett in the GOP primary last year, Cherilyn Eagar, threw her hat into the ring and announced that she planned to challenge Matheson. Eagar is an example of the marriage of the tea party with traditional evangelical political groups. She's a longtime activist with Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, where she serves as the national chairman for constitutional studies. Schlafly has endorsed her, along with immigration foe Tom Tancredo (Eagar cut her anti-immigration chops working for Pat Buchannan in 1992.) She's also been active with and endorsed by the founder of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, the kooky doctor's group that opposes vaccinations, thinks it's immoral for doctors to participate in Medicare, believes abortion causes breast cancer but that HIV does not cause AIDS, and has speculated that Obama may have won the presidency by hypnotizing voters through "neurolinguistic programming." AAPS gained notoriety in 2009 after one of its members circulated a photo of Obama dressed in tribal gear with a bone through his nose. 

A graduate of Brigham Young University, Eagar has worked with the school as a parent adviser to its academic freedom committee after she helped root out "pornographic" masters theses, and she's been an outspoken anti-gay activist (despite having a drama degree and having run a musical theater program in New York for a while). Sorry Jim, but with that kind of record in Utah, she's probably a shoe-in.

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Tea Party Leaders Write Book

| Tue Aug. 23, 2011 10:58 AM EDT

Looks like Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin, the leaders of the Tea Party Patriots, one of the nation's largest tea party groups, have a book in the works. Rumors have been flying for a while that the duo cashed in on their tea party status to win a lucrative book contract. Now it's clear the part about the book deal, at least, is true (there's no word yet on how lucrative it is). Tea Party Patriots: The Rise of Open Source Politics and the Second American Revolution, which is due out in January, promises to be the "definitive history of one of the most radical, revolutionary movements the country has ever seen, from those who started it all." From the blurb:

In 2009, an unemployed mother of two and a politically inexperienced northern California attorney met on a conference call that would end up starting one of the largest grassroots political organizations in American history, the Tea Party Patriots. Fueled by the fires of passion and patriotism, Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin have become the faces of the most powerful political movement in the country, empowering their more than twenty million members by using both high-tech advances and the time-tested American tradition of rallying in public. Promoting the basic principles of the Tea Party Movement—free market, limited government, and fiscal responsibilty—the Tea Party Patriots have become the largest tea party organization in the world. With unparalleled access to the inner workings of the movement, Meckler and Martin hope to explain how the Tea Party came to be, what it is and is not, and perhaps most important, provide the first comprehensive, forward-looking document outlining a plan to restore America to its prior greatness.

Never before has there been such an audience for this material. Americans of all political stripes have been waiting for a thorough and informative account of this movement. Straight from the co-founders themselves, Tea Party Patriots promises to be the definitive source for a political revolution.

The book's Amazon listing doesn't mention whether Meckler will be including a discussion of his years with Herbalife, a company described by government regulators as a pyramid scheme, or mention how he grafted many of Herbalife's "direct marketing" tactics on to an organization many local tea party activists have disavowed thanks to its litigiousness and secretive operations. We can only hope, though, that the Tea Party Patriots' rich friends will loan Meckler and Martin another private jet for their book tour so we can post more videos like this one:

The House GOP Jobs Plan, Again

| Wed Aug. 3, 2011 12:17 PM EDT
Joined by House Republican leaders outside the Cannon Caucus Room, Speaker Boehner discusses the Republicans' jobs plan.

As soon as the ink was dry on the new debt-ceiling deal, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was on Twitter pushing the GOP's "blueprint" for creating jobs and fixing the economy. There's a special new jobs website set up to promote the Republican plan. I was pretty sure that I knew what it was even before I looked at it, but Boehner's tweets were pretty insistent, so I decided to check out the plan. As it turned out, the fancy new website simply promoted the same old "jobs" plan my colleague Andy Kroll wrote about back in May. But since that was a lifetime ago in Washington, here's a refresher on what the GOP wants to do now that the debt fight is over:

Number one on the list of "pro-growth" policies House Republicans intend to push is reducing "regulatory burdens" on small businesses. The GOP plan highlights a number of regulations that hurt "job creators," including the EPA's efforts to regulate greenhouse gasses; the FCC's net neutrality proposal, which is hated by the nation's biggest telecom monopolies; and "burdensome pesticide regulation."

Next on the list is.... lower taxes. House Republicans are promising to lower the tax rate for individuals and businesses to 25 percent, down from the current 35 percent. How that squares with the other GOP proposal to tackle the national debt isn't laid out in the plan. Presumably the big tax reduction will spur so much growth that the revenue will magically appear in the federal treasury, just the way it did, uh, with the Bush tax cuts. (It didn't.)

The GOP's other ideas include patent reform (which Congress actually passed since the last version of the plan was released) and "expediting" the drug approval process at the FDA. And no GOP jobs plan would be complete without a proposal to drill, baby, drill, to increase domestic energy production.

Critics can laugh all they want about Obama going on a bus tour to focus on job creation, but even if all he does is wrangle up some money to fix a few falling-down bridges, it's likely to put more average people to work than anything the GOP has in mind.

Tea Party "Leaders" The GOP Should Ignore

| Thu Jul. 28, 2011 1:50 PM EDT

The Washington media was buzzing Wednesday after the leaders of the Tea Party Patriots came to town and announced that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) deserved a primary challenge, along with any other Republican who voted to raise the debt ceiling. Mark Meckler, a national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, told the Daily Beast that Boehner's deficit plan was "an embarrassment." At a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, Meckler declared Boehner's numbers "fake" and "phantom."

It was an interesting choice of words, since they might also describe the number of tea partiers Meckler and his co-coordinator, Jenny Beth Martin, claim to represent. In the news coverage, Tea Party Patriots has been consistently identified has having at least 3,500 local chapters, making it one of the largest tea party organizations in the country. But many of those chapters are, to use Meckler's term, phantom, which raises the question of whether the GOP House leadership should really be paying quite so much attention to the noise coming from the tea party leaders working the media circuit right now.

Last fall, the Washington Post’s Amy Gardner tried to verify the TPP’s numbers. She attempted to run down every one of its local chapters. Out of the 2,300 chapters TPP then claimed to have, Gardner could only identify 1,400; of those, she was only able to make contact with 647. Most had fewer than 50 members, and some consisted of a single person. That's a fraction of the 15 million people TPP's leaders often claim to represent when they're on the Hill demanding that Republicans refuse to increase the debt ceiling. Which raises the question of why, exactly, Republicans are taking them so seriously.

There are other reasons to question the wisdom of Republicans taking economic advice from national leaders of the Tea Party Patriots and other top tea partiers in the news this week. Consider the fact that before riding the tea party movement to national fame, Meckler was a high-ranking distributor for Herbalife, a company considered by many consumer groups and regulatory agencies to be a pyramid scheme. After that, he got into "affiliate marketing," an industry responsible for all of those "tiny belly" ads haunting the Internet that the FTC says are a scam. His colleague, Jenny Beth Martin, also doesn't have a great track financial record. In 2007, she and husband lost their house and ended up owing the IRS more than $500,000 in back taxes.

In print and TV interviews this week, Martin claimed that the majority of her members thought Boehner should be replaced as House speaker. The comments went viral and led to plenty of media coverage about tea party intransigence. It also prompted an outcry from tea party leaders working at the state level in the trenches, many of whom have disassociated with TPP because of displeasure with their tactics. Billie Tucker, the founder of the First Coast Tea Party and an influential tea party activist in Florida, fired off an email to Martin expressing her dismay at Martin's claim to represent the entire movement when talking about Boehner. She wrote:

Jenny Beth: Who the heck is giving you guys advice and pr help?

Calling for Boehner to resign did nothing but create more chaos in a chaotic time in our country. The media will and has run with it as if the entire tea party "membership" thinks Boehner should resign.

Boehner may not be doing the best job BUT…the timing of your statement caused me to have to answer to the press for it. Next time you plan to make such a big, hairy, audacious statement, why not let us in on it beforehand so we can prepare for the attacks and maybe your highly paid PR firm could give us talking points too.

Martin's comments didn’t even dovetail with those of activists at a tea party rally held on the Hill yesterday during the debt ceiling negotiations. Most of the speakers, from a variety of tea party groups, were calling on the Senate to get behind the Boehner plan and also to push the speaker to call for larger cuts.

The Republicans should also not be too concerned about the saber rattling of Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips, despite his landing a coveted spot on the Washington Post's op-ed page on Thursday bashing Boehner. The Tennessee-based Phillips is essentially a tea party of one. He is a prodigious blogger and occasional radio host who's advocated such things as limiting voting to property owners and warning that WASPs are on the verge of extinction

Few of the real tea party groups in his state will work with him because they see him as an opportunist. Last February, he borrowed $50,000 from a local businessman to help front the six-figure speaking fee for Sarah Palin to headline a tea party convention he organized in Nashville. Phillips charged attendees more than $500, prompting most of the larger tea party groups and even many within the state to boycott the event.

Last July Phillips tried again to host a tea party convention, this time in Las Vegas at the Palazzo Hotel. The event was first postponed to October and unltimately canceled entirely for lack of interest. Last week, the hotel sued Tea Party Nation for stiffing the hotel on more than $500,000 for the unused rooms he booked. Phillips, you could say, knows something about not paying the bills, but that doesn’t necessarily make him the kind of expert the GOP ought to be making policy around.

All of this is not to say there might not be a tea party movement out there poised to seek retribution should Republicans should they raise the debt ceiling. It's just that these particular folks you see on Fox News threatening to primary Boehner don't necessarily represent them.

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