Republican U.S. House candidate Drew Turiano

Republican U.S. House candidate Drew Turiano.

BOB ZELLAR/Billings Gazette

HELENA – The Montana Tea Party Coalition denies any affiliation with U.S. House candidate Drew Turiano, who calls himself a “tea party Republican.”

The coalition surveyed its 17 member organizations and said that none had met Turiano or seen him at one of their events or meetings.

What’s more, the coalition as well as individual tea party groups as a matter of policy do not endorse or oppose any candidates for public office or any political party, the coalition said in a statement.

“We encourage people who believe in our values of constitutionally limited government, free markets and fiscal accountability to get involved in the political process,” said Jay Anderson of Helena, a member of the Montana Tea Party Coalition media committee. “To some members, it may mean running for office, for others it means playing a supportive role, going door-to-door or phone calling, but they do so as individuals, not as representative of any tea party.”

Anderson said many tea party leaders and members are upset with Turiano proclaiming himself as the “tea party candidate” and strongly disagree with his views.

“We also find it alarming that the media made no effort to substantiate his claim,” Anderson said.

Progressives and left-leaning media have used Turiano’s misleading connection to the tea party to disparage the party and wrongly associate it with his views, the statement said.

In response, Turiano told the State Bureau, “I just call myself a tea party Republican. I just believe in their philosophy. I guess they’re trying to distance themselves from me. I’m the only guy running as a tea party Republican.”

The Yellowstone County Republican Party wouldn’t allow Turiano, a Helena real estate investor, to speak at its Lincoln-Reagan Dinner on Saturday night. The county Republican chairwoman, Jennifer Owen, said the party asked Turiano not to attend the event “because we have no intention of allowing him a platform to spread hate and intolerance.”

Turiano told the Billings Gazette he was turned away from the dinner because he is a self-described member of the tea party, a group that he believes mainstream Republicans want to purge.

He also told the Gazette that the county chairwoman may have been offended by his support for “Operation Wetback,” a plan to round up and deport all undocumented immigrants and their American-born children.

Turiano also had expressed concern that white Americans will become a small minority in coming decades and possibly could face extermination by the nonwhite majority.

On Tuesday, Turiano issued a statement Tuesday thanking Owen and Republican Party constituents “for causing me to become more aware of the direction I unwittingly paved.

“Let me say that I appreciate your message,” Turiano said, referring to Owen. “I got it loud and clear!”

When announcing his candidacy, Turiano said he was wearing his passion on his sleeve and was fired up and “I came on too strong.” He said his statements were misunderstood.

Meanwhile, in its statement to the media Tuesday, the Montana Tea Party Coalition also said it was perplexed by news stories that have said tea party candidates are running in Democratic legislative primaries. After surveying its member organizations, the coalition said no one in the coalition knew of any active tea party members who are running in Democratic primaries.

The one exception was Mike Comstock, previously involved with the Bozeman Tea Party, has twice run as a Democrat.

“We welcome people of all political persuasions to take up our issues of fiscal accountability and, if inspired, run for office as individuals in the party of their choice,” Anderson said. “However, being a candidate and in agreement with some of our principles is a far cry from being a ‘tea party’ candidate.”

Chuck Johnson is chief of the Lee Newspapers State Bureau in Helena. He can be reached by email at chuck.johnson@lee.net or by phone at (406) 447-4066 or (800) 525-4920.

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