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The QueQue

Incendiary local Tea Party president George Rodriguez lays out his go-local approach

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

San Antonio Tea Party president George Rodriguez: fiery instigator or quiet lobbyist?

The mostly elderly, mostly white Tea Partiers inside the Northside sports bar sit with eyes trained on the wall of TV screens as a conference call organized by right-wing lobbying group the American Action Network is spinning rebuttals by an assortment of GOP all-stars and conservative thought-leaders to President Obama's "liberal tax-and-spend agenda" over the bar's loud speakers. Guffaws, exaggerated sighs, and "bullshit"s start as soon as cameras fix on Obama. Seconds into the State of the Union Address an elderly gentleman saunters up to my table and snickers, "You know everyone's gonna give him a standing ovation. How 'bout we give him a mooning ovation." He turns around and mimes the gesture.

George Rodriguez, the San Antonio Tea Party president, isn't so animated. Shaking his head with an occasional grimace as Obama talks energy policy, environmental protection, immigration, and taxes, Rodriguez is furiously scribbling notes onto a stack of bar napkins. "My goal really is to attack grassroots liberalism," he tells me. "Here, at the local level, that's where you see it start. Then you get some politician that grows into an Obama," he says, pointing up to the glowing TVs. "That's what we want to stop."

To achieve that in San Antonio, Rodriguez and his Tea Party have changed course. No longer are they preaching the gospel of budget cuts, low taxes and no regulation at raucous Alamo Plaza protests with "Don't Tread on Me" flags and pocket-size Constitutions. Instead, Rodriguez hopes to "elevate" and "mature the conversation," putting many of the national Tea Party staples, like the national debt and Obama's birth certificate (which Rodriguez says he still has "questions" about) on the back-burner to dive into local politics and policymaking. He wants to craft a quiet, grassroots lobbying apparatus to push over a dozen local Tea Party "cells," as he calls them, across Bexar County to meet with neighborhood associations, school board members, council members, and county commissioners, all in hopes of shaping the discussion on everything that touches the local taxpayer dollar.

Rodriguez made a splash last year when he became the first Hispanic to lead a major Tea Party chapter, seen as someone who could supposedly transcend race and draw Hispanics to conservatism. Born into public housing in Laredo, Rodriguez's parents moved the family to San Antonio after his father got booted from a job at the Laredo Morning Times for trying to unionize workers running the presses. "Illegals were getting hired over citizens. … American citizens were not getting a fair deal, so my father fought that," Rodriguez told me proudly over lunch last week.

Long before his Tea Party days, Rodriguez was an activist of a different stripe. In college, he became deeply involved with the Chicano movement and La Raza Unida. Eventually, though, he got fed up with the cause. Racial inequality was on the decline, he felt, and he began to view the fight for economic equality as "something more akin to socialism" — something he couldn't square

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