Still brewing: The tea party hasn't gone away

At a Heritage Foundation luncheon for activists and bloggers in July, Heritage President Ed Feulner asked, "What's up with the tea party …? We're not hearing much right now." This question, in one form or another, is cropping up with increasing frequency.

Where has all that tea party energy gone? Has the movement dissipated?

The absence of public protests and rallies should not be mistaken for sleep, death or attention deficit syndrome. The tea party has simply become focused. Like any maturing organism, it is evolving, with members' strengths emerging and functions differentiating in a synergistic way.

Much of what the tea party is now up to is local and goes on unnoticed. Here are just a few examples:

•Maryland Republicans: Tea party members who became engaged in politics starting in 2009 were horrified to discover that many Republican precinct chairs were vacant. Tea partiers flocked to become precinct heads. Many county central committees have also loaded up with tea partiers.

Montgomery County's Republican Legislative District 15 is a great case in point. After years of neglect, the district has become highly organized and active, exercising the initiative to create an email database (which the state and local party has failed to do). Precinct heads remain in frequent contact with Republican voters through the District 15 newsletter, emails, phone contacts and social events. After a decade or more of being abandoned, the district is now run with military precision.

•Local and state politics: Maryland, one of the bluest states in the nation, is perhaps a harbinger of future conservative success in blue states. Maryland conservatives had grown accustomed to accepting defeat as their lot in life. No more. During this past year, the people of Maryland have delivered stunning defeats to the Democratic-led government in Annapolis: This spring, a petition drive was launched to halt Maryland's version of the Dream Act, a new law passed by our Democrat-controlled House and Senate that would provide in-state tuition for qualifying illegal immigrants in Maryland. The effort was wildly successful, generating more than twice the number of required certified signatures. Thirty percent of the signatories were registered Democrats. The shelving of the same-sex marriage bill by the House of Delegates earlier this year was also a stunning defeat for Democrats in Annapolis.

When a special joint session was called in October to vote on the governor's redistricting plan, the Fannie Lou Hamer PAC based in Prince George's County was supported by tea party groups against the Democratic power structure in Annapolis, which sought to gerrymander voting districts, limiting racial and political minority votes through diffusion.

•Maryland conservatives organize: Newly formed in 2010, the Maryland Conservative Action Network (MD CAN) has successfully brought together and supported the efforts of grass-roots activists from all parts of the Free State. At its most recent conference last October in Annapolis, noted national and international speakers ran discussions on a wide variety of topics, including the possibility of Sharia law's influence in Maryland (Frank Gaffney, Fred and Catherine Grandy, and John Guandolo); man-made global warming as the pretense for Gov. Martin O'Malley's PlanMaryland initiative (Lord Monckton and Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild); combating voter fraud (J. Christian Adams); and organizing petition drives, just to name a few. There was even a session on how to become a conservative blogger. The MD CAN network is in regular communication, giving voice to conservatives (regardless of party affiliation).

•Election integrity: Recognizing that free and fair elections depend upon citizen involvement, organizations have been formed in Maryland and Virginia to ensure that voter registration rolls are accurate and in compliance with federal and state election laws; to encourage citizens to be active participants in the electoral process by volunteering to be election judges and poll watchers; and to offer poll watcher training to registered voters.

Were it not for space limitations, much more could be said. The tea party has not abated; it has gone to work. As Thomas Jefferson said, "The people are the only sure reliance for the preservation of liberty," a sentiment being proved today through the tea party movement.

Doug Mainwaring, a resident of Potomac, is a cofounder of National Capital Tea Party Patriots. His email is dougmainwaring@yahoo.com.