Al Gerhart And Charlie Meadows Buddies? Not!
But today, there's evidence of a rift that some speculate could erupt as time passes.
To some, it appears there's a battle between the two over which is the bearer of the ultra-conservative label and the perceived power that might accrue to the one with that label.
Meadows has held that title for years, railing against liberals and "RINOs," or "Republicans In Name Only." Meadows often is unpleasant in his attacks on those with whom he disagrees, but there's uniform agreement that he's become the de facto leader of a group of dedicated conservatives who belong to OCPAC. And love him or hate him, Meadows, longtime member of the John Birch Society, has become a force in GOP politics and the group's endorsement has carried weight in some GOP primaries. Meadows, unlike Gerhart, has been a GOP activist for many years.
Gerhart is a relative newcomer to the public political wars, and to the Republican Party. Until December 2009, he was a registered Independent. He's parlayed his dominance of the Sooner Tea Party into some degree of public awareness and relentlessly pounds those who don't measure up to his "standard" of conservative thought, including some fellow Tea Party activists.
Unlike Gerhart, Meadows doesn't label virtually every Republican legislator a RINO. Gerhart puts about three-fourths of GOP legislators in that category, targeting some for special scorn.
And now, it appears Meadows and the venerable The Oklahoma Constitution are among his latest targets.
"This isn't about conservatism," said one observer, a GOP official known as a conservative. "It's about power. Charlie has it, Al doesn't and he wants it. This is part of the schism in the arch-conservative ranks over 'how conservative is conservative?' and who decides the answer."
A second long-time GOP activist and worker said The Oklahoma Constitution has been the "benchmark" for conservatives for more than 30 years. "It's been around as long as The McCarville Report," she quipped.
She said she's mystified by Gerhart's attack on Meadows and The Constitution, edited and managed since shortly after its inception by Steve Byas of Norman.
"We've thought that 2012 would see the continuing battle between the arch conservatives and those they label as RINOs, which is the House leadership. Now, it looks like the battle's going to be among the arch conservatives. Al Gerhart may have started something he can't finish. In the long run, Charlie will have him for lunch."
Meadows may have provided the spark that set Gerhart off; writing in his regular email newsletter, Meadows calmly discussed the Tea Party and wrote that while it is most viable in rural areas, it's not much of a force in the state's two largest cities. If that was meant as a put-down of Gerhart, it was low-key and much kinder than Gerhart's subsequent attack on Meadows.
This isn't Gerhart's first public battle. His penchant for promoting a militia through the Tea Party and attacking then-GOP Chairman Gary Jones caused several groups that had affiliated with him to cut their ties. Gerhart's been described by some as a bully using the Tea Party label to further his personal agenda.
Gerhart's latest diatribe against Meadows and The Constitution alleges "Charlie dropped the ball this session when the Index was corrupted, allowing RINO legislators to claim conservative values for the upcoming 2012 elections, and harming some good solid conservatives by labeling them as RINOs."
He then goes on to tout his own rating system, the prelude to which indicates Gerhart has input from a member, or members, of the Legislature. The knowledge displayed of bills obviously comes from an insider in the legislative process.
In presenting its Index, The Constitution reported, "This issue of The Oklahoma Constitution presents the 33rd annual Oklahoma Conservative Index, rating our state legislators. Members of each house of the Oklahoma Legislature were rated on ten key votes. A favorable vote on these issues represents a belief in limited government, individual liberty, free enterprise, constitutional government, and traditional standards.
"After taking suggestions from many conservative leaders, the staff of the Oklahoma Constitution submitted bills to a vote of the membership of the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee (OCPAC) for recommendations of the ten key votes."
Gerhart's scorn isn't restricted to Meadows.
In the newsletter, he excoriates Rep. "Amnesty George" Faught; Faught's son, Jamison, Muskogee blogger and Muskogee Tea Party leader; and Rep. Glen Mulready, who's just drawn an opponent touted by Gerhart.