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The tea party must avoid getting co-oped by the Republican Party establishment if it hopes to stay relevant in years to come, the keynote speaker of a July 4 tea party rally said Friday.

"There is no question the GOP establishment is trying to take over the tea party as to dilute the message," said Chuck Baldwin, a former presidential candidate for the Constitution Party who now lives in the Flathead Valley. "Fortunately, they have not succeeded."

Baldwin will be the keynote speaker of the Bozeman Tea Party's July 4 rally in Bogert Park. Baldwin ran for president in 2008 on the Constitution Party ticket, making the ballot in 40 states and receiving about 200,000 votes.

Baldwin said he moved to Montana after the 2008 campaign, saying that when he traveled to the state he "found a spirit of independence here that I found nowhere else."

"If there is going to be a revival of ... liberty principles in the United States, it is going to come from here, this part of the country," he said.

Baldwin said he plans to focus on the spirit of Independence Day during his speech.

"I want to speak about what Independence Day is all about," he said. "I want to get back to the principles of constitutional government, independence, separation of power, state sovereignty."

And, he said, those are the principles the tea party must stick to if it hopes to have influence in American politics.

He was critical of candidates such as Newt Gingrich, who has taken up the tea party banner despite what Baldwin sees as anti-conservative politics.

"If the tea party leaders become enamored with people such as Gingrich, that's how they would be, what I call, neo-conned," he said. "They would lose their power and their effectiveness."

Baldwin has been criticized by human rights groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center for his "radical right" stances. The law center cites Baldwin's statement that Islam is a "bloody, murderous religion" and critical remarks he's made about Martin Luther King Jr.

Baldwin brushed off the criticism, saying the law center and similar groups have a big-government agenda.

"They impugn anyone who wants to return America to a constitutional government," he said.

If you go

What: Third annual July 4 Independence Day Tea Party. Free burgers and hot dogs, family fun activities, student essay contest winners, live music and a keynote address by Chuck Baldwin.

When: Monday 4 p.m. - 8 p.m.

Where: Bogert Park Band Shell.

 

Daniel Person can be reached at dperson@dailychronicle.com or 582-2665.

 

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