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California Tea Party Activists Work to Pass Proposition 23

Tea party activists across the
state are rallying in support of Proposition 23, a measure on the Nov. 2
ballot that would suspend California's landmark global warming
legislation, known as AB 32.

With energy and climate change
legislation stalled in Congress, the national fight over global warming
and what to do about it is centered on California, which is moving ahead
with ambitious plans to curb greenhouse gases, diversify the state's
energy supply and reduce its use of fossil fuels.

The Yes on 23
campaign is financed primarily by Valero Energy and Tesoro, two
Texas-based oil refiners. The campaign also received a $1 million
donation from Flint Hill Resources, a Kansas petrochemical company that
is a subsidiary
of Koch Industries. Brothers Charles and David Koch
fund a complex web of tea party organizations, detailed in a recent
article in The New Yorker magazine.

The tea party is an amorphous
movement with many offshoots and splinter groups whose efforts
nationally have had surprising success, but the scope of its support for
Proposition 23 is hard to quantify.

However, Joe Wierzbicki, an
executive at the Sacramento public relations firm Russo Marsh &
Rogers who is also a coordinator with the group Tea Party Express, says
that tea party activists in California have coalesced around Proposition
23 because they are not enthusiastic about the governor's race, and
their preferred candidate for the U.S. Senate, Chuck DeVore, lost the Republican primary to Carly Fiorina.

"There's
energetic backing for Prop. 23 among the tea party networks in the
state," said Wierzbicki. "With polls showing a dead heat for Prop. 23, I
think you'll see the difference being made up by the intensity and
passion among the electorate. Right now the passion is with Prop. 23
supporters. That bodes well for the measure."

A recent Los Angeles
Times/USC poll found voters equally for and against Proposition 23, but
one-fifth of likely voters
were undecided. A Sept. 26 Field Poll found that
opponents of Proposition 23 led by 45 to 34 percent, with support for
Proposition 23 strongest among Republicans.

Last week, tea party
activists gathered to back the proposition at the Fresno offices of
Pacific Gas & Electric, where Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis
Taxpayers Association, co-chairman of the Yes on 23 campaign, was one of
the speakers. The event focused on PG&E because the utility, which
is unpopular with many Central Valley customers, has come out against
the ballot initiative.

"Someone from Yes on 23 asked if we could
help them with an event and we said sure," said Brad Roltgen, chairman
of the Central Valley Tea Party, who said about 60 to 65 people
attended.
"We're open to working with anyone who supports our
key values of limited government, fiscal responsibility and free
markets."

The tea party is often characterized as a grass-roots
movement. But some consumer advocates say the involvement of tea party
activists in the Yes on 23 campaign appears to be highly orchestrated.

"When
I see senior citizens out on the street corner holding 'Thank You
Valero' signs, it just doesn't jibe," said Jamie Court, president of
Consumer Watchdog. "Clearly the tea party is being used, and they are
becoming the ground army for the oil refineries. Senior citizens would
not come out to defend Valero unless there's some formal structure to
get them out there."

Shirlee Pierce, a tea party activist
in Solano County, says she contacted the Yes on 23
campaign on her own after doing research about the ballot initiative on
the Internet. She's now organizing people to hand out Yes on 23 fliers
at a Fairfield Safeway.

"To begin with, nobody knows if there
really is global warming or if it is just a big scam to enrich the solar
companies," said Pierce, who is retired. "And if the oil companies are
fined for polluting, guess whose gas prices will go up?"

AB 32,
the Global Warming Solutions Act, was passed by the Legislature and
signed into law four years ago by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger,
one of Proposition 23's most passionate opponents. AB 32 lays out a
plan to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse
gases to 1990 levels by 2020, and advocates say the
law has helped spur the creation of cleantech jobs in a state struggling
with a 12.4 percent unemployment rate.

Anita Mangels, the Yes on 23 spokeswoman, said she doesn't have a lot of direct involvement with the tea party.

"The
tea party has a life of its own," Mangels said. "They are very
supportive of Prop. 23, and we're grateful to have that support."

Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706 or dhull@mercurynews.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.