January 16th, 2014 | City

Tea Party protest at Owl Shop

Approximately 30 Tea Party protestors gathered across the street from a Connecticut Republican Party fundraiser at The Owl Shop on Thursday night, decrying what they viewed as the Connecticut Republicans’ collaboration with Democrats in the State Legislature on a gun regulation bill, as well as mainstream Republican disdain for the Tea Party in general.

The protest was an expose of the divisions besetting today’s Republican Party – protestors dressed humbly, waving Gadsden flags and chanting “Defend the Constitution!” and “Gungrabbers must go!” in 30-degree weather, while a suit and cocktail dress-wearing, cigar-smoking crowd mingled indoors. Protest organizer and longtime Tea Party activist Palin Smith said that the group’s ire was largely reserved for one attendant – State Senate Minority Leader and 2014 gubernatorial candidate John McKinney ’86, whose support of a gun control bill that passed in April 2013 was a betrayal of Second Amendment principles.

“You can look at him with the devil on his shoulder and the angel on his shoulder,” he said. “I don’t know which John McKinney I see in that regard, but he has miscalculated.”

Smith added that he believed McKinney joined the Democrats in acting too hastily to pass new gun regulations after the Newtown massacre.

The GOP Fundraiser, whose invitation read “An Evening of Cigars, Cocktails, and Politics,” encouraged attendants to make a “$125 Minimum Suggested Contribution,” as well as a “$500 Minimum Suggested Federal PAC Contribution.” The 170 attendants included Republican bigwigs such as 2010 gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley, 2010 and 2012 senatorial candidate Linda McMahon and even national chairman Reince Priebus.

Joe Visconti, a construction worker running as a Tea Party candidate in the 2014 Connecticut governor’s race, said that Foley was “the closest” to what he and the protestors were looking for in a gubernatorial candidate among the other candidates, but also said that Foley could not gain traction until he becomes an official candidate for governor.

Regardless, all the protesters agreed on their recently acquired distaste of McKinney – by 6:30p.m., shouts of  “John McKinney must go” filled College Street. McKinney, the first of the declared candidates for governor to arrive, did not mingle with the protestors, nor did all but one of the fundraiser attendants.

In an interview with the News, Connecticut Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola stated that while members of his party were “strong supporters of the Second Amendment” and the “expression” of the protestors was “very important,” more important issues were at stake.

“The central issue of the election is the economy,” he said. “We are the only state in the nation with no economic growth.”

Labriola also dismissed the notion that internal divisions would hurt the GOP in November, saying that, within the two-party system, “both parties have challenges not to be divided.”

Connecticut elected four Republican governors before electing Gov. Dannel Malloy in 2010.