The Whatcom Tea Party doesn't have a platform or endorse candidates, but it holds all politicians to the same standard.
It encourages citizens to ask them, "Which article of the Constitution gives you the authority to do that?"
"The Whatcom Tea Party ... is far more interested in promoting general principles about good constitutional government than taking positions on specific issues," said Ellen Baker, local tea party board secretary, in an email.
Baker and another prominent officer, board president Karl Uppiano, go a step further. They warn that local governments are pawns in a United Nations plan to take away individual freedoms in the name of environmentalism.
The U.N. plan, called "Agenda 21," came out in 1992 to promote "sustainable development" as a way to correct global environmental degradation.
"Those (in the tea party) who take an interest in issues like 'Agenda 21' do so because they feel 'sustainability' and communitarianism may over-reach and present a risk to democratic protections" such as privacy and lifestyle choice, Baker wrote.
The local tea party formed in 2009 partially in response to massive new spending programs by the federal government - the Troubled Asset Relief Program of 2008, to rescue banks; and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or economic stimulus package, of 2009.
The group maintained its momentum by focusing on issues and events closer to home, starting with its first rally, on Tax Day, April 15, 2009.
Crowd estimates at that rally on Meridian Street in Bellingham ranged from 1,500 to a few thousand.
"We didn't even have a name yet," Baker said. "We didn't know if more than 30 would come."
People active in the tea party, or who share its views - the group doesn't claim any formal members - can be found regularly at local government meetings, often trying to sway council members on land-use issues.
Baker spoke on Sept. 11 at a public hearing on a proposal to transfer 8,844 acres around Lake Whatcom from the state to the county, for use as a park. Recreationists and conservationists generally like the plan, but others question the need for such a large park or disapprove of the loss of commercial forestland.
Like several other opponents of the plan, Baker criticized what she considers a lack of public input. The county council's decision is still pending.
"The general public has never been given the full story, and that concerned me," Baker said at the hearing.
Baker includes among her influences Rosa Koire, the anti-Agenda 21 author of "Behind the Green Mask." Baker arranged for Koire to speak at Western Washington University in October.
Koire didn't pull any punches at her talk when she warned that Agenda 21 would limit people's decisions about where they live, what they eat and whether they own a car.
"It's a global totalitarian state, and it's happening now," Koire said. "It doesn't come with flashing lights. It's a stealth plan in plain sight."
Baker and board president Uppiano are aware this position is dismissed by some as a crackpot conspiracy theory. A February post on Uppiano's website, Kakistocracy Report, was titled, "Agenda (Tinfoil) 21 (Hat)."
"Part of the reason that the conspiracy theory attack seems to gain traction is that Agenda 21 is broken up into smaller pieces, like a jigsaw puzzle," Uppiano wrote on his blog on Feb. 19, "so the useful idiots on the ground who are actually busy putting together the corner pieces can't see the big picture until the whole thing is grandly moved into place, when it would be too late."
Baker speaks ambivalently about her position on the agenda, but the proposal to convert thousands of acres of commercial timberland into a park has a familiar ring to her.
"I'm not obsessed about Agenda 21," she said. But then she adds, "A lot of what (Koire) says does sound like what's being promoted here. I don't think she's a conspiracy theorist or paranoid."
Concern over Agenda 21 has been associated with tea parties nationally at least since after the 2010 elections. Although Baker takes great care to say her views and those of Uppiano don't stand for the group as a whole, that's still the impression held by some in the community. In an interview about the Whatcom Tea Party, left-leaning Bellingham blogger Riley Sweeney said the group's take on Agenda 21 amounted to an "unhinged conspiracy theory."
"That's not productive," said Sweeney, who pays as much attention to local governments as the tea party. "This sort of fear-mongering cranks up the volume and makes it hard to do business."
Futurewise also dismissed the anti-Agenda 21 line. The Seattle-based group advocates for containing growth within cities and preserving rural lands.
"Counties and cities are undertaking actions that are sometimes called 'sustainable development' because they make sense," said Tim Trohimovich, Futurewise director of planning and law. The policies are less expensive, Trohimovich said, and they reduce stormwater pollution and the risk of flood damage.
"They're not taking them because they read Agenda 21, and Agenda 21 told them to do it," he said.
"I've never heard anybody say that," Baker responded. "The tea party doesn't take a position about sustainability per se, or Agenda 21, that I know of. We want people to be aware that a taking (of private land) may or may not be justified."
Baker says the tea party includes all political types, from liberal to Libertarian, on its email list of 1,400 subscribers. However, a liberal ex-candidate for U.S. Senate who associated with the group says it has become less diverse.
"I would classify myself as a pretty far out-there progressive," said Bob Burr, who ran for Senate in 2010 as a Democrat who opposed large campaign contributions and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is now treasurer of the Whatcom County Green Party.
"When I checked out the local tea party's website, I found its mission statement was very much in tune with my values in that it emphasized the Bill of Rights, and it emphasizes the Constitution," Burr said.
Tea party subscribers polled weeks before the Nov. 6 election overwhelmingly selected Republican candidate Mitt Romney for president instead of candidates from the Constitution Party or Libertarian Party. The poll showed strong disapproval of marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage. People who wanted less government should have supported those measures, Burr said.
"I thought the tea party had lost its Libertarian element and as a result was no more than the Republican Party," Burr said.
A small number of tea party contacts responded to the poll, so it doesn't represent the views of the broader group, Baker responded.
Baker and Lorraine Newman, a new board member, took the election in stride.
"I didn't see it as a referendum" for Democrats, Baker said. "This has always been a blue state."
"Once the voting's done my concern is, whoever's down there in Olympia, will they be responsible?" Newman said.
In other words, can the government afford what it wants to spend?
That goes for the federal government, too. But tax increases are no longer off the table - not just for congressional Republicans, but for some within the Whatcom Tea Party.
"I would pay a tax to pay down the debt," Baker said. "I'm willing to bear a little pain, sure. I just didn't want to spend for nothing."
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