Art Havenhill recalls a local tea party meeting roughly eight years ago at Illinois Valley Community College where 800 people attended.
Monthly gatherings at Pitstick Pavilion in Ottawa now draw about 35 to 45 people.
“Attendance started to dwindle, and dwindle, and dwindle,” the LaSalle County Tea Party co-founder said.
Havenhill decided recently to disband the political group effective immediately.
The tea party movement began in early 2009 in reaction to federal deficit spending and the bailouts of big banks. It backed smaller government and expressed unhappiness with the policies of both presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
While there are a number of factors that went into his decision, Havenhill, of Seneca, is leaving Illinois, and he has no successor to take over the group.
“My wife and I are both Illinois natives, but we want out of here,” he said, citing the pension crisis and high property taxes, among other issues.
The latest primary weighed heavily on Havenhill.
He said the Illinois GOP backed Gov. Bruce Rauner in the primary over state Rep. Jeanne Ives. Rauner defeated Ives and faces Democratic nominee J.B. Pritzker in what is expected to be the most expensive gubernatorial campaign in U.S. history.
Havenhill is not optimistic about Rauner’s chances against Pritzker.
“Rauner betrayed conservatives in the state, he stabbed us in the back,” Havenhill said.
“With six weeks to go, Jeanne Ives was 44 points behind, and she lost by just over two. If she had another week or two, she may have won.”
Havenhill said it wasn’t the first example of the state party choosing candidates.
He said the Illinois GOP backed Adam Kinzinger for the 16th Congressional District against James Marter and supported state Rep. Jerry Long against Jacob Bramel in the 76th District state race in 2016.
“Why should a few people say who I should vote for? Shouldn’t we tell them who we want?” he said.
He believes this interference affects the will of the people, and in turn, has led to some Republican failures, despite Long’s victory over Andy Skoog in 2016.
“In the past 40 years, the Republicans have had the majority in Springfield twice,” he said. “That’s not winning.”
The tea party was created to give an alternative voice and educate voters, he said.
The group hosted a number of candidates and conservative speakers.
The tea party was open to bringing other political views to its meetings, including hosting candidate nights.
“Education and participation was always our emphasis,” he said.
While he believes the group has done some good, he doesn’t believe it’s had enough success electing local candidates.
“For the most part, the tea party has run its course,” he said. “Something different may come up, but I don’t know what.”
However the political tide turns, he believes citizens need to take more responsibility and do what they can to get their voices heard. He said there is a lack of emphasis on participation in the political system, something he believes is crucial in democracy.
“The way our system is set up, citizens have a responsibility to vote and get involved,” Havenhill said. “If they don’t act on that responsibility, it might go away.”