A prominent Florida Tea Party chapter has split with the self-styled Tea Party Network of Florida, a result of the widening rift over a proposed solar power amendment to the state Constitution in 2016.
According to H. Sterling Burnett of Heartland.org, The Villages Tea Party has put “on notice” those who believe Tea Party groups in Florida support the “solar power industry monopoly rights to sell electricity to consumers from on-site electricity generation equipment.”
The Tea Party Network is a statewide alliance covering nine regions to promote communication between like-minded conservative groups.
Florida is currently one of four states that prohibit citizens from buying electricity from anyone other than utilities; the amendment would allow homes and businesses to generate solar electricity, without relying on the power grid.
Floridians for Solar Choice (FSC), an organization tied to the Tennessee-based Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, introduced the planned constitutional amendment earlier this year. In that time, two leading grassroots organizations held public debates on the issue.
One debate, hosted by Tampa 912 Project, featured FSC chair Tory Perfetti and James Taylor, Heartland Institute vice president of external relations. Afterward, a unanimous vote by the Tampa 912 Project board of directors opposed the amendment.
The Villages Tea Party hosted a debate between Taylor and Libertarian Party of Florida representative Alexander Snitker. Audience members polled after the event also opposed the amendment 70-1.
During the Villages debate, however, Taylor presented a National Public Radio interview transcript with Tea Party Network of Florida President Catherine Baer, a supporter of the solar amendment, claiming she has backing of over 80 Florida Tea Party groups – including that from both The Villages Tea Party and the Tampa 912 Project.
Burnett writes that Villages Tea Party President Aileen Milton, outraged by Baer’s allegations, demanded in an email to “Please remove The Villages Tea Party’s name from your member groups. Immediately.”
Milton stressed that The Villages Tea Party never permitted The Tea Party Network to use its name in promoting substantive issues to member groups. Milton said The Villages Tea Party only allowed the so-called Tea Party Network to link to its web page and use its name on a directory of Florida Tea Party groups.
Burnett reports that Milton’s email emphasized: “The Villages Tea Party’s name is not to be used in any manner or media statements as a tool to support the issues you have declared as part of the Tea Party Network. The Villages Tea Party is an Independent Organization and is not directly or indirectly affiliated or a supporting member of The Tea Party Network and our listing was only meant to be there as a Tea Party group in Florida.”
Many Florida Tea Party leaders – such as The Villages Tea Party, Tampa 912 Project and the Highlands Tea Party – believe that some “faux” Tea Party groups supporting the solar amendment are, in reality, fronts for anti-free market activists such as billionaire liberal Tom Steyer, who advocate the creation of solar power monopolies either through amending the Florida Constitution or other means.
“When the liberal media publish their never-ending claims of broad Florida Tea Party support for a solar power monopoly,” Taylor said in Heartland.org, “I hope – though far from expect – they will note Tea Party groups have affirmatively opposed such a solar power monopoly after getting a chance to learn about the issue and hear both sides of the debate.”