Huffpost Politics
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Jonathan Hutson Headshot

Don't Be April Fooled by Far-Right Activists Dressed Up as Democratic Candidates

Posted: Updated:
Print
ASSOCIATED PRESS
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Maryland Tea Party activist and State Delegate Don Dwyer (R) is a well-known character who once enacted an Annapolis version of the Boston Tea Party -- donning a tricorner hat and Colonial breeches to dump floating boxes labeled "tea" into the Annapolis harbor. He was once named Legislator of the Year by the far-right Gun Owners of America, headed by Larry Pratt.

Dwyer also floated an idea, Operation DINO (Democrats In Name Only), in March 2013, calling on Republican gun owners to become Democrats in order to vote out progressives in the 2014 Democratic primaries. And while he did not do the switcheroo he urged others to do, some of his political soulmates have switched parties and dressed up as Democratic candidates. While the motives and possible level of coordination of these party-switching candidates is not yet clear, what we do know is that conservative Republicans in at least three states are quietly switching to the Democratic Party to run for offices from County Council to Congress.

This April Fool's Day is a good time to check any unfamiliar names on Democratic primary ballots to make sure that Trojan horse candidates don't sneak votes away from candidates who support real Democratic values.

Party Switchers Aim to Oust 'Hard Left Liberals' in Maryland

Dwyer explained his reason for launching Operation DINO:

"What we have been doing is NOT working. We are losing the war on our Inalienable Rights. Its [sic] time we fight back strategacally [sic] and quickly. I am considering changing my voter registration to Democrat in order that I may vote in the Democrat primary to VOTE OUT the hard left liberals who are hell bent on taking away our right to KEEP AND BEAR ARMS!!"

Whatever credibility Dwyer may have had, sank along with his 26-foot Baja boat when he was arrested in August 2012 for getting drunk at a bar and then crashing the boat, named "The Legislator," into another boat. The crash sent seven people to the hospital, including three children, one of whom was a 5-year-old girl with a skull fracture. A witness reported that "a couple of the kids asked if they were dying."

Nevertheless, Dwyer's passenger in the drunken boat crash -- Baltimore Police Officer John E. Moran IV, who has run unsuccessfully for Anne Arundel County Sheriff and for a seat on the county's Republican Central Committee -- has switched parties to run as a Democrat for state delegate.

Dwyer is a former Executive Director of the theocratic Institute on the Constitution (IOTC), founded by Michael Peroutka, the Constitution Party's 2004 presidential candidate. Peroutka became a Republican in February to run for Anne Arundel County Council and a seat on the county's Republican Central Committee.

Meanwhile, the IOTC's lead instructor, Pastor David Whitney, who once ran as a Constitution Party candidate against Democratic House Speaker Michael Busch, became a Democrat to run for County Council and a seat on the county's Democratic Central Committee.

These former Constitution Party leaders are clearly in cahoots, essentially running on a ticket to move both the Republican and Democratic parties to the right during the primary season. Some GOP leaders had considered drafting the wealthy Peroutka as their party's nominee for Maryland attorney general, before he backed out in favor of paying his dues and mending political fences by running for local office instead.

However, the party-switching does not appear to signal a change in political views. Peroutka and Whitney both remain active and influential in the League of the South, an organization that advocates for secession, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as a Neo-Confederate hate group. Whitney has called for churches to arm their members and organize them into militias. He has preached that "Biblically justifiable homicide" might be necessary to save the lives of innocents, including, as he describes it, "millions of babies murdered" by abortion. Political Research Associates has the audiotape of him preaching on homicide:
As recently as February 2014, Whitney advocated that citizenship be restricted to Christians of the right sort. Dwyer has become "a theocrat in Democrat's clothing," according to Frederick Clarkson, author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy.

Two other Republicans have recently switched parties to run as Democrats in Anne Arundel County. Mark Chang, who served on the Republican Central Committee, is running for the House of Delegates, and Tom Angelis, who has lost a race as a Republican for County Executive, is now running as a Democrat for the House of Delegates. The Maryland Democratic primary is June 24.

Mississippi Tea Party Supporter Suits Up as Democrat to Run for U.S. Senate

Former police officer Bill Marcy said he was changing party labels, but not his beliefs, when he became a Democrat in January 2014 to run in the Party primary for the U.S. Senate. Marcy, who had previously been a Democrat, courted Tea Party voters when he became a Republican and ran unsuccessful Congressional campaigns in 2010 and 2012 against Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson.

Indeed, during his last failed campaign as a Republican, a Mississippi Tea Party leader lauded Marcy for support for the Tea Party movement:

"My interest in his campaign was particularly strong because of several reasons, not the least of which was that he was one of the earliest supporters of the Tea Party movement and he attended all of the early meetings of MeridianTeaParty.com. Bill and I had several conversations during the early days of the campaign that were frank and sometimes brutally honest. Bill's conservative beliefs run deep though contrary to many within his own family."

Marcy's 2012 Congressional campaign website boasted: "Bill Marcy recently completed a candidate survey for The Central Mississippi Tea Party and got a rating of 100% for his answers." He affirmed, among other things, that he would "introduce and support legislation to stop funding Planned Parenthood."

Marcy will face former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, former gubernatorial candidate William Bond Compton, Jr., and newcomer candidate Jonathan Rawl in the Mississippi Democratic primary on June 3 with a run-off date on June 24.

Montana Tea Partiers and a Militia Member Run as Democrats

Montana's Cowgirl Blog and the Great Falls Tribune have exposed at least eight Tea Partiers in Montana who reregistered as Democrats to run for office in 2014. This includes three Congressional candidates, as well as campaigns for state and local offices.

Montana Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee Director Lauren Caldwell said:

"It appears there's an organized effort to file tea party Republicans as Democrats. It is sort of dirty politics at its worst. The goal appears to be to deceive voters."

Self-described "Tea Party extremist" Mike Comstock is running as a Democrat for State Senate, although he won a Republican primary in 2010.

Three Gallatin County Tea Party compatriots - Henry Pennington, Dane Peeples, and Laura Springer - have stated they were changing parties but not their views. According to the Cowgirl Blog, Peeples is active in the militia group known as the "Irregulars". However, Pennington and Springer reportedly will not appear on the ballot since they missed the filing deadline for disclosing their addresses and phone numbers.

Springer told reporters that she was "between homes" and living in a motel, while Pennington was homeless and unable to afford a phone. Pennington, Peeples, and Springer had filed campaign paperwork with the Secretary of State using the same Bozeman address. The Secretary of State's website declares that the names of Pennington and Springer have been "removed" from the ballot.

Meanwhile, the six other Tea Party candidates move forward under the banner of the Democratic Party, even though they don't advance its values.

Former Sanders County Republican Central Committee Vice Chairman Gerald Joseph Cuvillier filed to run for a State House seat against Democrat Weylin Achatz. Cuvillier said he left the Republican Party because it wasn't conservative enough.

The Great Falls Tribune reports:

"I'm running as a conservative Democrat," Cuvillier said. "I believe we need to get back to our constitutional principles."

Cuvillier, who could not name a single plank in the Democratic Party platform he supports, said the Democratic Party is "too liberal." In fact, Cuvillier said, the Republican Party has become too liberal for his tastes as well.

Montana's Democratic primary is June 3.

Democratic voters will see some new names on their Democratic primary ballots this year. Some may be Tea Partiers in disguise, rather than party-switchers who've had an epiphany. So voters who want to avoid being April fooled in June and November - or whenever there is a party primary - need to research the backgrounds of unfamiliar candidates and their current stances on the issues -- to make sure that the candidates actually embody Democratic values.