Sitting in the brand new headquarters of the First Coast Tea Party in Jacksonville, Florida, Billie Tucker took a moment to reflect on a whirlwind year. After having virtually no political involvement since she registered to vote at age 18, the mother of two is now helping lead a transformative grassroots movement in a battleground state.
“I consider myself a proud conservative,” Tucker said. “I registered to vote as a Republican because I only had two choices, but never really did anything political until recently.”
After a 20-year career as the Chief Operating Officer of TEC Florida, an international organization of CEOs, Tucker started her own consulting firm, CEO Service Bureau, Inc., shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As a successful entrepreneur with deep ties to the business community, the corporate facilitator’s political awakening began as the devastating economic crisis shocked the civilized world in September 2008.
“I started investigating and finding out what is going on,” Tucker said. “Where did all this money go? That bothered me a lot.”
Tucker began scouring the Internet for news and information about the root causes of the economic crisis, and quickly became outraged at the idea of using taxpayer money to bail out companies once branded by politicians and media pundits as “too big to fail.”
“A company or organization should be built around its mission and purpose, not its people,” the businesswoman explained. “Bailouts went exactly against who I am and everything I stand for.”
While Tucker was waking up at 4 a.m. almost every morning to dig for information on where billions in bailout funds were actually going, a now-famous February 2009 rant by CNBC host Rick Santelli against the Obama administration’s faulty economic logic brought her motivation to a boiling point. While enthusiastically jumping up and down as Santelli urged his audience to resist big government intrusion and misuse of taxpayer money, a politically-involved friend who was watching the same program called at just the right time.
“She yelled ‘let’s have a Tea Party’ and I immediately said yes,” Tucker recounted. “So six of us put in our own money for chairs, sound, and other event expenses, and 77 people showed up with just 24 hours notice.”
While the inaugural First Coast Tea Party event was relatively small, Tucker’s fiery passion and organizing innovation later paid off in ways she probably couldn’t have envisioned when she first cooked up the Tea Party idea with her friend. After an aggressive internet outreach campaign using social media, as well as some free advertising from a Florida talk radio station, an estimated 5,000 people turned out for an April 15, 2009, event to demand lower taxes, responsible spending, and smaller government. While frustrated with the lack of mainstream media coverage of the huge gathering, Tucker is very proud of its success.
“The media is completely biased and ignoring what’s really happening, which is a true grassroots conservative movement that’s changing this country,” she said. “Just because it’s not always shown on TV doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”
While forming the First Coast Tea Party, which operates through donations and seeks generous financial support, Tucker repeatedly came across policy analyses and articles published by The Heritage Foundation during her research. She was instantly struck by the wealth of information available online at Heritage.org, The Foundry, and The Heritage Foundation Facebook page.
“Heritage made sense: they talked like me, they thought like me, so I became enamored with them,” Tucker said. “I realized they’ve been around a long time, so I wondered where the heck I had been.”
After noticing a speech she gave in Washington, The Heritage Foundation asked the enthusiastic Tea Party guru to speak about her journey from business to politics at a Resource Bank event in Miami. In a 13-minute address filled with new ideas, humor, and honesty, Tucker inspired many in the crowd.
“We’ve got to learn how to work together and take our country back,” Tucker said to applause.
Billie Tucker and her co-founders have big plans for the First Coast Tea Party. With members doing everything from analyzing policy to sewing quilts for the military, the organization plans to become even more involved in local and national races. Considering Florida’s long history of importance in presidential contests, Tucker is also keenly aware of the major role her group could play in 2012. After taking a personal leap of faith into politics, she hopes people will reach out to the First Coast Tea Party and stay involved.
“You can call me a community organizer on the conservative side,” Tucker said. “That’s what I do.”
Tell us what you think of Billie’s story. What has motivated you to become more involved in the conservative movement?