Tea party leaders have been insisting all along that they're not in the tank for the GOP, and now they'll have a chance to prove it: The first Democrat who also counts himself a member of the tea party movement is announcing his candidacy Friday to serve Florida's 11th Congressional District in Congress.
It is believed to mark the first time that a Democrat, who is also a member of the grass-roots movement that has made its growing presence known for more than a year now, has stepped forward to run for national office.
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Newsmax reached Democrat Tim Curtis, 52, for an interview Thursday while he was on the other line with the IRS, trying to obtain the taxpayer ID number he needs to open an account for his campaign. Curtis confirmed he will be challenging incumbent Democrat Kathy Castor, a strong supporter of healthcare reform, in the Democratic primary.
A member of both the Tampa Tea Party and the 9-12 Project organizations, Curtis expects serious opposition from entrenched elements of the Democratic base. But he maintains that voters will look at him and evaluate his candidacy as an individual, rather than in the context of political stereotypes.
"I'm not running as a member of a tea party group," Curtis told Newsmax in the exclusive interview "I'm running as a Democrat, I'm running as a constitutional Democrat. What I see is a shredding of the Constitution. And it's been done by Republicans and it's being done by Democrats now. I'm just not going to stand by idly any longer and watch it happen."
Curtis' background is an intriguing amalgam of political influences that crisscross political boundaries — something of a rarity in a political environment that is increasingly characterized by a wide partisan divide.
He was born in Pennsylvania, and his family moved to Florida when he was about 5. He attended and graduated from high school in the southwest Florida area, joined the Marine Corps, and served in the U.S. military "for 20 years and two days." He retired from military service as a chief warrant officer in 1995 and returned to the Tampa Bay area where he grew up.
For the past 11 years, Curtis has been a small business owner, operating a UPS store and venturing into the mortgage business. He prefers to call himself a "constitutional Democrat" rather than a tea partyer, and says what finally drove him off the sidelines and into the political playing field was a healthcare reform process that he believes ran roughshod over the U.S. Constitution.
"I'd hoped there would be enough representation in Washington to uphold the Constitution," Curtis tells Newsmax. "And Sunday evening showed me that's not the case."
Curtis says the healthcare reforms Castor and other Democrats pushed through actually exacerbate the nation's healthcare problems.
"I think the polls say something like 60 or 70 percent of the folks polled want something done with our healthcare insurance system. Something needs to be done," he says. "Clearly, the costs are out of control. But what was done Sunday evening does not address that in any way shape, manner, and form. In fact, in my opinion, and based on the information we look at, it exacerbates the problem."
Curtis describes the federal requirement that citizens buy healthcare insurance as "unconstitutional."
"The one area that the Congress cites for their authority to impose this individual mandate is the Commerce Clause," Curtis says. "There are regulations in place now that proscribe, that prohibit, the selling of insurance across state lines. Well, that's specifically what our Founding Fathers didn't want to have happen. That's why they wrote in the Commerce Clause. So they're using the constitutional basis, citing as their constitutional basis, the antithesis to what it was intended to be."
Healthcare reform isn't Curtis' only position likely to raise the hackles of the hard-core left. Although he supports the option of abortion when a mother's life is at risk, or in the case of rape or incest, he maintains the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision was wrong because it established a federal right that does not exist in the Constitution.
"It is a state's right issue, to be decided at the state level," he says, "because again, that's what the Founding Fathers envisioned. There were only a few things that were specifically assigned to the federal government for them to do. The Founding Fathers were prescient in that they knew the federal government couldn't do much outside that scope very well. And our federal government proves that every day … It's clearly not in the Constitution."
Curtis knows that he may face an uphill struggle to get his message across against an established Democratic incumbent in a Democratic primary.
"There are those within the tea party/9-12 movement who will be skeptical, and untrusting, that anyone with a D behind their name could actually subscribe to and support and defend, the Founding Fathers' views and principles of the Constitution. And then there will be those from the other side, from my own party, who will be skeptical. But worse than that, they'll deny that I'm even a real Democrat."
One reason Curtis' Democratic credentials are sure to be questioned is his diverse party identification in the past. For the first 20 years of his adult life, he was a registered Democrat. But after he left the military, from 1995 to 2009, he was a registered Republican.
About midway through 2009, however, Curtis decided to resume his affiliation with the Democratic Party in order to help change its direction, he says.
"The reason why was because I realized my principles hadn't changed. The principles and the values that I stood for never changed from the time that I was 18, and even before then. And I'm just as sickened by what the Republicans have done, and George Bush spending us into near oblivion. And listening to the campaigns, to candidate Obama talk about 'We've got to get the deficit spending under control,' and then him walking into office, and not only did he not do that, he accelerated our decline. And so I said, 'I want to make a change in our party, where I grew up."
Regardless of his party affiliation, Curtis may find many tea party followers supporting his campaign. Although the Florida Tea Party does not currently plan to make candidate endorsements in the midterms, it is preparing voter guides for its members to communicate candidates' positions on the issues.
"We will make sure the public and our members know which candidates support our objectives," Florida Tea Party Chairman Everett Wilkinson tells Newsmax.
How candidates fare in those evaluations will not hinge on their party affiliation, Wilkinson says.
He tells Newsmax that he's hoping to avoid being branded with a label during the primary – whether it's a Glenn Beck label, a tea party label, or any other political pigeonhole. Rather, he says his focus is on restoring the integrity of the Constitution, which he feels both parties often ignore.
"It is my heartfelt belief that our Founding Fathers laid aside some petty disagreements to achieve a greater good," he says. "And I believe that's still the principle that ought to be operational today. And I also believe there are more Americans who believe that way, irrespective of their party affiliation. Otherwise I wouldn't do this."
He's also betting that voters in the Democratic Party will prove open to hearing his message.
"I wasn't aware that there was an orthodoxy that you had to subscribe to in order to be a Democrat," Curtis says. "I always thought the Democratic Party was the party of the really big tent where you could have all sorts of views."
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