As we sat outside the Oakley Community Center, the first decision was whether or not to use our real names. My two companions leaned toward ‘no’ but I was a firm ‘yes.’ It wasn’t a moral decision. I was pretty sure I’d see a familiar face or two, and knew I’d be calmer and more focused if I wasn’t thinking about what story I’d have to tell about my name tag.
I didn’t know anyone after all, but with only 25 people in the room it would have been tough to hide. The host knew everyone but us. He couldn’t have been warmer as he said hello and asked what brought us to the meeting.
“My party left me behind and I’m checking you out.” Basically true. “And I also want to know what happened to you guys. I barely heard “Tea Party” during the election, and now all I hear is “Freedom Caucus.” Is there a difference?”
The smile never left his face as he danced around my question: “Those guys in Washington love what we’re doing. They love us. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup come to our meetings all the time.” In fact, neither of the HR reps he mentioned (OH-1 and OH-2) are listed as members of the Freedom Caucus although both vote as if they were.
The host introduced a handful of local politicians and asked one to share his view from the trenches now that he is in the minority on the 3-person Hamilton County Commission. He candidly said most of the news is not good, although he always tries to deliver a Positive Sandwich. His good-news-in-the-middle? Hamilton County finally moved the Board of Elections out of downtown Cincinnati, and with (only) 2 bus lines serving the new facility, this is “very helpful for us.” Audience murmurs and nods confirmed his meaning: city residents and early voters will have a harder time getting to the BOE.
But it was the keynote topic, voter fraud, really got the crowd excited. We learned that “voter fraud is the #1 concern on people’s minds.” Two women whose credentials I must have missed regaled the crowd with at least a dozen examples like this: “Ben in Fresno reported 3 Hispanics who voted.” “In one precinct in Ohio, 44 out of 436 voters were dead.” “Japanese who work at a Honda plant voted.” They also told us of homeless voters casting ballots – people who, by the way, can register and vote in all 50 states.
The meeting took place a few days after DJT signed an executive order to establish a Election Integrity Commission. In praising this news, the speaker noted the Commission would investigate voter suppression as well as voter fraud. She said with a laugh, “Great for them if they can find it. If they can, I’m for them too.”
I left the meeting early, but during for my 2 hours I didn’t hear a single person ask a question.
We went into the meeting pledging not to judge in advance, not to assume that the people we’d meet have malice in their hearts. We weren’t especially optimistic afterward, but more overwhelming was the sense that the Tea Party members we met sure don’t have much interest in actual facts.