Al Gerhart, co-founder of the Oklahoma City-based Sooner Tea Party group and founder of the (formerly) state-wide Oklahoma Constitutional Alliance, is a controversial figure, even within Tea Party circles. Now it appears that his own actions have come back to bite him -- again.
Gerhart formed the Oklahoma Constitutional Alliance last year, to coordinate legislative lobbying efforts among the many Tea Party groups in the state of Oklahoma. At its height, over 35 groups made up the Alliance. That's when Gerhart started a media firestorm by suggesting that Oklahoma needed to form a new state militia, and mentioned that he had talked to state legislators about it. His statements and the ensuing negative attention prompted many groups in the OCA to leave, including organizations such as the Muskogee Tea Party, and the Oklahoma chapters of Americans for Prosperity and American Majority.
Bereft of the respectability lent to the Alliance by the large groups that had left, the OCA lost a lot of steam and publicity. However, Gerhart still remained in charge, and the coalition continued to remain active throughout the 2010 election cycle (and claims sole responsibility for freshman Republican State Rep. John Bennett's defeat of Glen Bud Smithson (D-Sallisaw) - which is an absurd claim, but aside from the topic at hand).
In recent months, Gerhart has attacked members of the Oklahoma Legislature, and the State House in particular. He sent out robocalls into districts of members who voted at the beginning of session against House Rules changes that the OCA supported, and has threatened to use his coalition to take out members that oppose the OCA's legislative agenda.
On Tuesday, Gerhart and the OCA was dealt yet another big blow when Tulsa metro-based OKforTea, perhaps Oklahoma's largest and most active Tea Party group, notified Gerhart of their immediate withdrawal from the Oklahoma Constitutional Alliance. Their email, signed by each of OKforTea's organizers, stated "Though OKforTEA has enjoyed being a member of the OCA and though we understand and appreciate its mission, we must withdraw from membership as of March 15, 2011. Please remove the name of our organization from the list of members and any printed materials or websites, immediately."
This action relegates the Oklahoma Constitutional Alliance to a largely Central Oklahoma organization, and one increasingly alienated by the Tea Party movement here in Oklahoma.
As evidenced by the mass exodus from Gerhart's coalition, many Tea Party leaders and conservative activists across the state view Gerhart as a liability, a loose cannon, and a radical who is hurting the Tea Party's standing in Oklahoma.
As a Tea Party organizer and former OCA member myself, let me conclude with this note: as Gerhart and his shrinking group continue to implode and lash out, please remember that they are on the extreme fringe, and do not represent the Tea Party movement, here in Oklahoma or nationally.