chip tarbutton greg aldridge

Chip Tarbutton (left) and Greg Aldridge, the former president and current president of the Roanoke Tea Party.

There’s an old metaphorical expression about unflappable optimism. A person who always looks on the bright side of something — such as a felony arrest, or getting bounced from a job, or losing an election — is said to have the ability “to sew a silk purse from a sow’s ear.”

You’ve got to love those folks. Their glass is always half full, even if that’s with battery acid rather than fine wine.

The most recent example comes from the Roanoke Tea Party. Consider statements by its president, Greg Aldridge, in a story by my colleague Alicia Petska on Thursday. It was about incumbent Del. Chris Head’s GOP primary win over tea party-endorsed challenger Harry Griego.

“Harry’s primary was a testament to what a small amount of money and a handful of volunteers who care deeply and are willing to work hard can do when facing Goliath,” Aldridge said. “I think this demonstrates there is a significant tea party presence and popularity in our area.”

Let’s take a pause while you laugh your heads off. Recovered yet? OK, we shall proceed.

Griego’s loss was “a testament” that demonstrated “significant tea party presence and popularity?” Chris Head is a political “Goliath?” What is Aldridge smoking? In what dimension does he live?

Griego was handily beaten in a low-turnout primary, which is about the easiest way for ideological extremists to knock off an incumbent. Still, the Roanoke Tea Party couldn’t flex enough political muscle to manage that. It was yet another defeat at the ballot box.

For the past five years, they’ve been on a nearly unbroken streak of those. Candidates formally endorsed by the Roanoke Tea Party are zero for three. When you consider other candidates tea party members supported, worked for or gave money to, the record is even feebler. Let us take stock.

The first was Mike Powell, who won the Roanoke Tea Party endorsement when he ran for Roanoke City Council in 2010. He won two precincts — out of 33 in the city.

The next was Tripp Godsey, a genial insurance man and right-wing political neophyte from Raleigh Court. In 2011, Godsey got the Roanoke Tea Party endorsement for the GOP nomination in the 21st Senate District. Even though the heart of that is Roanoke, Godsey was trounced 2-1 by Dave Nutter, a state delegate from Montgomery County, in the Republican primary.

The third was E.W. Jackson, who in 2012 ran fourth in a four-candidate race for the GOP’s U.S. Senate nomination. Undeterred by Jackson’s 4.7 percent showing in that primary, Roanoke Tea Party members helped him win the nod for lieutenant governor at the Republicans’ ill-fated nominating convention in 2013.

Who was Jackson’s campaign manager in that 2013 race? Current Roanoke Tea Party President Greg Aldridge. Who was his communications manager? Former Roanoke Tea Party President Chip Tarbutton (who resigned his tea party gig last year to take a government job).

Tea partyers from around the state were front and center at that convention. And for the first time in more than 40 years, all the Republican nominees lost their races. Jackson got killed the worst, 55 percent to 45 percent, by former state Sen. Ralph Northam.

Then there was Roxanne Christley. She was a Roanoke Tea Party member who got high marks on the group’s website, if not a formal endorsement, when in 2013 she ran for the GOP nomination for Roanoke County supervisor from Windsor Hills. One of her campaign issues was backyard chickens. Another was support for sectarian prayer at supervisors’ meetings. Joe McNamara beat her by five votes. True, that was no blowout. But election outcomes have a black-and-white quality. It was still a loss.

In 2014, former tea party board member Hank Benson ran for Roanoke City Council and finished seventh in a 10-way race for three seats. The slate he ran on got help and money from fellow tea partyers — including $810 from Chip Tarbutton.

After that loss Benson moved to Hawaii. It turned out he had been negotiating for a job there at the same time he was running for office in Roanoke. He was selling his possessions on Facebook in the run-up to Election Day.

This year, tea party member Brian Velkoff ran for the GOP nomination for supervisor in the Cave Spring magisterial district. He’s a relatively well-spoken guy and a spending hawk. Though the tea party didn’t formally endorse Velkoff, on their website they encouraged their members to show up and vote for him in the Republican primary.

Perhaps that’s why Velkoff lost. Or maybe Velkoff couldn’t rally enough tea party members around him because he doesn’t seem to cotton to the strange conspiracy theory that the United Nations is trying to take over land use planning in Roanoke County. That’s a bedrock belief of the Roanoke Tea Party faithful.

The fact is, the Roanoke Tea Party’s singular political “victory” was the 2013 election of Roanoke County Supervisor Al Bedrosian. They promoted him on their website but did not formally endorse him. He won a GOP firehouse primary on a coin flip and was elected by a plurality in the general election.

In other words, Bedrosian won the nomination by chance, and if the general election hadn’t been a three-way race, he likely would have lost. Ever since, he’s been in a neck-and-neck race with Butch Church for the title of “Biggest Fool on the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors.”

All of which is to say that the big-picture view of the Roanoke Tea Party’s elections efforts is more a testament to fringe-conservative failure than to anything else.

Nevertheless, the always-optimistic Aldridge told Petska his group is continuing to look for “quality” candidates.

Attention, politicians who care about winning elections: You should run as far away as you can from the Roanoke Tea Party. In the best possible light, their record is one for eight.

And the one has a big fat asterisk.


Note: Tuesday’s column on the efficacy of the Roanoke Tea Party’s election efforts referenced Roxanne Christley’s candidacy. In response, she says she’s never been a member of the Roanoke Tea Party, although the group reported on its website on June 8, 2013, that she was a member. Christley also disputes she campaigned on the issues of sectarian prayer at board meetings, and backyard chickens, in her unsuccessful bid for Roanoke County supervisor in 2013. I, however, recall her discussing both at a Roanoke Tea Party candidates’ forum in 2013.

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Dan Casey knows a little bit about a lot of things but not a heck of a lot about most things. That doesn't keep him from writing about them, however. So keep him honest!

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