Maryland's tea party movement has welcomed a recent Republican congressional candidate and a Baltimore Democrat to its leadership ranks.
Del. Curt Anderson, the Democrat who leads the Baltimore delegation, was the surprise pick for vice chairman of the otherwise solidly Republican new House tea party caucus.
"Their constituency may be conservative," Anderson said, "but just as mine in Northeast Baltimore, they feel that taxes are already too high."
Charles Lollar, meanwhile, has been named director of the Maryland chapter of Americans for Prosperity. Lollar, the Republican activist who challenged Democratic Rep. Steny H. Hoyer in November, said the tea party organization aims to find "nonpartisan solutions," primarily on spending issues.
Americans for Prosperity officials said last fall that they have counted 23,000 members in Maryland. Lollar said about 500 are active volunteers.
Lollar, 39, has been involved with several business and leadership groups. He said he is on leave as an executive with Cintas Corp., a uniform and business services company. He is also an officer in the Marine Corps Reserve.
Lollar succeeds David Schwartz, a former aide to Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Schwartz was hired last month to serve as communications director for Republican Rep. Andy Harris. Schwartz said Lollar will take the organization "to the next level."
"Charles is a charismatic guy," he said. "His philosophy fits right in line with Americans for Prosperity."
Lollar said that the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, which as a nonprofit cannot back political candidates, "looks to unite people behind right types of legislation in Maryland." He said he will spend time talking with state lawmakers in Annapolis and their federal counterparts in Washington.
Lollar praised delegates for forming a tea party caucus and said more lawmakers should "seek constitutional solutions to maintain the nation's Jeffersonian democracy."
Del. Mike Smigiel, the Eastern Shore Republican who will chair the caucus, said he is "very pleased" to have a Democrat in its leadership. He said other Democrats might join.
Smigiel and other House tea partiers said they plan to focus on fiscal issues and stay away from potentially divisive social issues.
Other caucus officials include Carroll County Del. Justin Ready and Eastern Shore Del. Michael McDermott, both new Republican House members. Washington County Del. Neil Parrott, another Republican newcomer, is drafting the mission statement for the group.
Anderson, who served as a delegate from 1983 to 1995 and again for the past eight years, said he agrees "100 percent" with the group's approach to holding the line on taxes and reducing the size of government.
"Those who are in leadership need to know that Marylanders can't afford to pay more taxes," he said. "Maybe if they hear it from the rank and file, that might color the way they consider the budget."
He said he thinks Baltimore residents agree with the tea party philosophy of reducing the size of government instead of raising taxes. He said he hopes his membership in the tea party caucus will send a signal to his fellow Democrats.
Anderson said he plans to vote against any hike in the gasoline tax. Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola has called for a 10-cent-per-gallon increase.
But Anderson said he "probably" would vote for higher alcohol taxes, saying they haven't been raised in decades and "don't affect the scope of people" that the gas tax does.
Before the election, Anderson told Progressive Maryland that he would support an increase in the alcohol tax if the revenue were tied to expanding health coverage.
Anderson also recently told The Baltimore Sun that he might run for City Council president. As for how his tea-party participation could affect a bid for office in heavily Democratic Baltimore, Anderson said all candidates for citywide office run on a platform of reducing property taxes.
"The government should be a helpful entity," he said, "not just something that is constantly trying to find new ways to tax citizens."