Del. Anderson leaves tea party after fellow Democrats complain

Under pressure from fellow Democrats, Del. Curt Anderson quit the otherwise solidly Republican tea party caucus Wednesday, a day after he had been named the new group's vice chairman.

Members of the city delegation told the Baltimore Democrat at a hastily called delegation meeting that he had "embarrassed" and "hurt" them by joining a group that one called "a subset of the Republican Party."

They demanded that Anderson quit the caucus or step down as leader of the delegation. He apologized and told them he had resigned from the caucus.

"It's almost like I joined the Ku Klux Klan," Anderson, who is African-American, said of reactions to his brief tenure to with the tea party. Some of the delegates nodded.

Del. Cheryl Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat, called the tea party "the Antichrist to the Democratic Party." She said she could not believe Anderson had wanted to join a group that has targeted President Barack Obama for defeat in 2012. Anderson campaigned hard for the president in 2008.

Charles Lollar, director of the Maryland chapter of the tea party-associated Americans for Prosperity, said he was "deeply disturbed" by how Anderson was treated after he'd "made the courageous move to step forward."

"I'm very concerned that the political pressures of partisan politics are once again getting in the way of what is right for the constituents of this of this country and the citizens of Maryland," Lollar said. "These slick-wit politicians that are only concerned about their party position and power are going to get a big dose of a climate change in our state."

Anderson said that when he knocked on doors in Northeast Baltimore during his re-election campaign last fall, nearly everyone greeted him with this message: Stop raising taxes.

He heard the same refrain this week in Annapolis when he stumbled across a group of Republican delegates organizing their tea party caucus.

So he joined the group — and got himself elected vice chairman.

"Their constituency may be conservative," Anderson said Tuesday, "but just as mine … they feel that taxes are already too high."

Anderson, a lawmaker for the past eight years, has been considering a run for City Council president. Every citywide candidate, he said this week, has run on a promise to cut property taxes.

The fiscally conservative tea party movement, which grew after Obama took office, helped Republicans take control of the House of Representatives, narrow the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate and win a majority of gubernatorial races last fall.

But it has yet to find similar success in Maryland. Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley defeated Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in November by a wider margin than in 2006, and Democrats gained two seats in the state Senate.

Several tea-party-backed Republicans did win seats in the House of Delegates, but Democrats still hold a greater than 2-1 majority in the lower chamber.

About one-quarter of Maryland voters polled in October by The Washington Post had a favorable view of the tea party, compared with 40 percent nationally. Almost half of those polled in Maryland had an unfavorable view of the movement.

Lollar said he has met Marylanders from both parties who identify with the tea party. He said there are tea party members who support Obama.

The chairman of the House tea party caucus, conservative Eastern Shore Del. Mike Smigiel, has insisted that his group will be focused only on fiscal issues, not divisive social policies.

Smigiel said about 20 Republicans have joined. He had hoped to attract Democrats to the caucus, he said, but feared "no one will join after what they did to Curt."

Democratic leaders, Smigiel said, "have quashed the freedom of a delegate to do what he believes."

Maryland Republican Party Chairman Alex X. Mooney said the episode "points to the problem with Maryland's one-party system."

"There's a lot of talk among Democrats about being fiscally conservative," Mooney said. "But when one of them joins a fiscally conservative group, he gets threatened."

Democrats in Annapolis argued that there's no way to disentangle the House caucus from the national movement, which they say runs contrary to Democratic principles.

Some Baltimore lawmakers said they were willing to forgive Anderson's "huge mistake." But they also wanted to give him a piece of their mind.

"Where's the coffee?" Del. Nathaniel Oaks asked as he entered the emergency delegation meeting Wednesday morning. "There's no tea in this party!"

Del. Melvin Stukes, who sought the meeting, said he was "ticked" at Anderson when he learned about his tea party involvement. "You've disrespected the city delegation," he said. "I don't forgive you. It hurts."

Glenn advised Anderson to "be more careful."

"You can't violate the philosophy of the Democratic party," she said. "We can disagree, but let's keep it in-house."

Del. Maggie McIntosh warned that the House tea party caucus should not be treated as "some different little group."

"It is a subset of the Republican Party," she said. "It's highly organized. We should take them seriously."

Anderson said he felt appropriately admonished. He will remain chairman of the delegation, though several colleagues warned they wanted him out in the long run.

"The president wants us to reach across party lines," he said. "Maybe I reached too far."