No Bullhorns: King Street Patriots Turn Down the Volume

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At noon on Tuesday, not long before Tea Party villain Joe Straus was re-elected as House speaker, a woman from the King Street Patriots—a Tea Party-ish group from Houston—stood alone on the south steps of the Capitol, handing out bright orange King Street stickers to anyone who would take one.

Quietly passing out stickers seemed a small tactic for a group that, since diving into the whole politics thing, has become the target of three lawsuits, had a showdown with the New Black Panthers in Houston, and instigated a county voter-irregularity investigation. Basically, King Street Patriots has attracted national attention for just about everything it has done since cranking up in the summer of 2009.

Members and supporters of the group turned out for the first day of the Legislature in big numbers; they estimated about 300 came from Houston by bus or car to the Capitol. If it wanted, King Street could have charged into Austin with bullhorns blaring, cannons blasting, pushing any right-wing message it wanted.

Instead, it went with stickers.

“The time for saber-rattling has come and gone,” King Street founder Catherine Engelbrecht said. “If people can get comfortable and past the fact that we’re conservative, they’ll understand that our objective is not partisan.”

King Street is pushing two issues this session: voter identification and election code reforms. While Voter ID, which would likely suppress some minority and elderly votes if passed, is partisan in some respects, King Street isn’t tackling hot left/right topics like immigration.

Engelbrecht swears she’d like to work with Democrats—if, of course, she was not named a defendant in ongoing lawsuits from Texas Democratic groups.

In the middle of Tuesday’s Tea Party rally at the Capitol, after former state Rep. Rick Green finished yelling about America’s “massive march to socialism” getting turned back by a “tsunami of red, white and blue,” he added that everyone should back the King Street Patriots.

“Get on board with their efforts,” Green pleaded to the people. The people responded with a chorus of cheers.

Engelbrecht, however, stood near the back of the crowd, mostly unnoticed, and quietly said, “Wow. I’m surprised to get a shout-out.”

And so it goes with King Street. In a state still grappling with the Tea Party Question, King Street remains one of the few Texas Tea Party groups that has actually accomplished something tangible. But it also remains to be seen if King Street, and Engelbrecht particularly, has the desire or stomach to continue the journey, full throttle, into state politics.

After one of Engelbrecht’s afternoon meetings landed her at a Starbucks, for example, and everyone seemed to know everyone – the inveterate network of good ol’ boys – she noted, “I’m all about getting a job done, but I can do without everything else.”

Engelbrecht, however, also promised that King Street will grow, in some form or fashion, and everyone still at the Capitol late in the afternoon on Tuesday probably noticed that everyone else had a bright orange King Street sticker plastered to their coat jackets, business shirts or rear-end of their jeans.

Paul Knight, a former staff writer for the Houston Press,  is a freelance writer based in Austin.