ROCKFORD – Colin McGroarty says he isn’t a tea party candidate, but he does sound like one.
McGroarty, 43, of Rockford, on Thursday declared his intention to run in the 16th Congressional District, where incumbent Republican Adam Kinzinger is expected to seek a fourth term.
McGroarty said he isn’t hung up on party labels, and he considered running as an independent, but thought he’d have a better chance declaring as a Republican.
“I want to get people to think about issues instead of parties,” the technology consultant said, “and logistically, the system is stacked against independent candidates.”
Kinzinger, 37, from Channahon, is an Air Force pilot who was first elected to Congress from the 11th District in 2010. He defeated incumbent Democrat Deborah Halvorson that year during the tea party wave that saw Republicans take control of the U.S. House.
Two years later, after redistricting combined parts of the 11th and 16th districts, Kinzinger ousted longtime incumbent Don Manzullo in the Republican primary election. He easily won election that year and re-election in 2014, when he faced a tea party challenger in the primary.
McGroarty made his announcement at a meeting of the Northern Illinois Tea Party in Rockton, his core beliefs are textbook tea party, and he admires former Texas Congressman Ron Paul. But he maintains that he doesn’t identify as a tea party candidate.
“I consider myself more of a Jeffersonian Democrat in that I believe in the country that the Founding Fathers envisioned,” McGroarty said.
He fears that issues get lost in party affiliations when dealing with an electorate that is becoming increasingly disillusioned by the political process.
“I want to avoid those gut reactions people often have to party labels,” McGroarty said. “It can cause voters to make a lot of inaccurate assumptions.”
A key component of his political leanings is that decentralization of government is the best way to protect individual freedom. That belief is also at the root of tea party ideology.
“We’ve moved too far in empowering the federal government,” McGroarty said. “As we move power back to the states and local government, we also bring it to the people.”
The Northern Illinois Tea Party said it is just getting to know McGroarty, and it’s not a problem if he wants to ditch the party affiliation.
“He’s only just announcing, and we’re just getting familiar with his politics,” said Jane Carrell, a board member and past president of the organization. “We don’t demand that he carry a tea party sign.”
The tea party is disenchanted with many Republicans in Washington, Carrell said, and members are ready to listen to alternatives.
“We don’t think the current congressman in the 16th District is interested in the tea party, and we want to hear more from Colin,” Carrell said. “If he’s for smaller government, he’ll keep drawing tea party support.”
Locally, the Sauk Valley Tea Party disbanded when time constraints took President Amanda Norris out of its leadership mix.
“I tried to hand off the baton, but we had a lot of elderly people in our group,” Norris said. “A lot of them weren’t comfortable with doing the communications work involved, and we eventually stopped meeting.”
Norris said she wasn’t familiar with the new 16th District hopeful.
David Hale, founder of the Rockford Tea Party, lost to Kinzinger in the 2014 primary. Kinzinger took 78 percent of the vote before drawing 71 percent of the vote in turning back Democrat Randall Olsen in the general election.
Hale, who said he will not run this time, knows McGroarty, but doesn’t really consider him a tea party candidate.
“My decision to not run isn’t based on what Colin’s doing, but I have known him for a number of years,” Hale said. “I wouldn’t really consider Colin a tea party candidate; he’s never really been active in the party.”
Hale said he has encouraged McGroarty to put himself out there and get some name recognition.
“I cut my teeth on some hardcore political ideas,” Hale said. “I think he should have run for lower office first, but more power to him.”
McGroarty served in the Army Special Forces for more than 5 years, and his military experiences have helped to shape many of his beliefs. He admits that some of his views might paint him as an extremist in many political circles.
“There is nothing more honorable than dedicating your life to a cause you believe in and be willing to lay down your life for those beliefs,” McGroarty said. “But we now have more than 1 million who were critically injured in Iraq, and others who committed suicide for a war fought on false pretenses.”
McGroarty said those protecting our country are being misled for political and economic gain.
“We just keep spending money to support the military-industrial complex,” he said, “and we don’t take care of our veterans when they get home.”
McGroarty still flashes the patriotism that embroiled him in controversy in January 2013. While volunteering at his children’s elementary school in Geneva, he voiced his displeasure over the way students recited the Pledge of Allegiance. The kindergarten class moved from that pledge to a school creed while facing the flag with hands over hearts.
Not even a month after the school shootings at Sandy Hook, the situation quickly escalated. A written statement from McGroarty was perceived to be threatening, resulting in police involvement and a no-trespassing order being placed on him.
McGroarty made a public apology, but still feels strongly about what he saw in the classroom.
“It was too reminiscent of pre-World War II Germany and Russia,” he said. “These kids were too young to recite things they don’t understand.”
McGroarty also takes issue with the way the situation was reported in the media.
“There were quotes attributed to me that never came out of my mouth, but I guess the timing played a role,” he said. “Sandy Hook was just weeks before, and unfortunately, we are conditioned to live in a world of fear.”
McGroarty is also not averse to acts of civil disobedience. He cites his refusal to pay federal income taxes for the past few years as an example.
“You can call me a tax cheat if you want,” McGroarty said, “but as a Christian, I can’t sign on to the government using tax dollars to fund things I don’t believe in.”
McGroarty, who will kick off a multimedia campaign next week, is booked for an appearance with the LaSalle County Tea Party at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Ottawa.