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Tea Party movement evaporates in Will County

Gretchen Fritz (far right) with Will County Young Republicans displays sign beginning rally by Will County TeParty Will County Republicans

Gretchen Fritz (far right), with the Will County Young Republicans, displays a sign at the beginning of a rally by the Will County Tea Party and Will County Republicans outside the Will County Courthouse Monday, Sept. 10, 2012, at 17 W. Jefferson St. in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 19, 2012 12:55PM



Steve Balich said the Will County Tea Party movement he helped organize is disbanding in name, but not spirit, after gains by Democrats in the Nov. 6 election.

“We’re actually terminating it and calling ourselves ‘fiscal Republicans,’ ” Balich said of the local Tea Party, which took off in 2008 and sprouted branches in Joliet, Plainfield, New Lenox and Homer Township-Lockport.

Balich, of Homer Glen, blamed the movement’s demise on the media, which he said demonized the national Tea Party over social issues.

“People think of it as bad, but our message was just about fiscal conservatism,” he said.

When the local Tea Party movement started in 2008, people were fed up with the country’s trillion-dollar deficits and corporate bailouts, said Tim Kraulidis, who co-founded the Joliet Tea Party.

In September 2009, an estimated 5,000 people attended a New Lenox event featuring the national Tea Party Express, which was targeting “out-of-control tax-and-spend policies of Congress.”

In 2010, local Tea Party members hosted a “Done With Debbie” event that criticized then-U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, D-Crete, who lost her bid for re-election that year to Republican challenger Adam Kinzinger.

Also in 2010, hundreds attended the Tea Party’s “Crunch Time” event at the Homer Megaplex featuring Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Tea Party organizers hosted candidate forums, rallies and press conferences throughout the 2010 and 2012 election cycles.

“We were just regular citizens going, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” Kraulidis said.

The grass-roots movement was composed of a wide range of people including Christians, blue collar workers, Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians, Kraulidis said.

But in recent years, the movement’s popularity plummeted, he acknowledged, and the group’s membership was painted as racist “wingnuts.”

“I don’t understand what taxes have to do with racism,” he said.

Kraulidis believes the taint was intentional.

“If they can’t beat you with an idea, they marginalize you,” he said.

Balich said when the national media started highlighting some Tea Party member’s stands on abortion and gay rights, that caused other people to think, “Oh, these people are kooks,” Balich said. “But we’re not kooks.”

The Tea Party plan all along was to move on from rallies and to get involved with government, Kraulidis said.

Balich, the Homer Township clerk, won a seat on the Will County Board in the Nov. 6 election. He said he will resign as clerk once he is sworn in as a board member because of his opposition to double dipping.

Kraulidis lost his county board race, but he was elected vice chairman of the Plainfield Township Republican Party. Other Tea Party members became precinct committeemen.

“I realized you can only stay outside and throw rocks as an activist for so long,” Kraulidis said of his role with the Republican Party.

The local groups will no longer use the Tea Party name to rally the troops but the work will continue, he added.

“I feel comfortable with the fact that we challenged a lot of people to get involved with government,” Kraulidis said. “In the end, that’s all we could do. Because we were not going to save the world.”



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