“We have been accused by the liberals of being coordinated and organized and, up until now, that has been completely false,” reads a tongue-in-cheek message on the Federation of Virginia Tea Party Patriots' website.
The reason things have changed? Jamie Radtke.
When it was founded, the Richmond Tea Party was small and loosely organized, membership committee chairwoman Debbie Agliano says. After Radtke was named president in late 2009, she immediately installed some much-needed structure to channel the grass-roots energy. “We got our marching orders from her,” Agliano says. Radtke hands the credit right back to the group's many leaders.
The group now has 15 active committees, somewhere around 300 volunteers and a supporter base of about 8,000, Radtke says. Last October Radtke formed the Virginia federation, a coalition of more than 30 tea party and patriot groups, and one year later helped organize the first-ever Virginia tea party convention, held last weekend.
The Richmond Tea Party isn't an official political party. Instead, Radtke says, it's an issue-oriented group that seeks to inform voters. Nationally the group is fast gaining influence. Tea-party supporters make up one-third of the voters most likely to cast ballots in November's midterm elections, a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found.
Radtke, who has a master's degree in public policy from the College of William and Mary, spent 10 years as a political activist, often supporting Republican underdogs in local primaries.
She says she's never before seen the volume of ardent volunteers the tea party has attracted. To organize and unify them, the group holds monthly “Richmond Tea Party 101” orientation sessions. The official volunteer handbook lays out in clear language its five values: constitutional adherence, limited government, fiscal responsibility, free markets, and virtue and accountability.
“That's actually my favorite,” Radtke says of the last. “If we don't have virtuous leaders, then we have no leadership at all.”