September 2, 2010 at 10:37 am

Tea Party candidates deny Democratic link

But details stay murky about group behind disputed filings for November ballot

Detroit -- One is a health teacher. Another is a retired pipe welder. The family of another says she was once married to the father of the former head of the Oakland County Democratic Party.

They are three of the candidates nominated to run under The Tea Party, a disputed group that has taken its battle to get on the November ballot to the Michigan Supreme Court. But, they insist they are not pawns being used by the Democrats to siphon votes away from Republican candidates and that they are serious about the party.

And those interviewed wouldn't say much about the party, who asked them to run for office or why, given some have been registered Democrats, they are running under the name of a loose-knit conservative movement.

Frantt V. Whitehill, a retired pipe welder from Midland, said The Tea Party is legitimate and should be on the ballot. He's for "less government and less taxes" but has voted mostly Democratic his whole life, he said.

"If somebody wants to form a tea party, so be it. ... If it's legal, why not?" said Whitehill, who declined to identify his friends who convinced him to run. "I'm putting my name out there, and it gives folks an option if they want to have one."

Dennis Moore, the head of the Willow Run Tea Party Caucus, isn't moved by Whitehill's argument and believes information about the candidates shows The Tea Party is a "Democratic ploy."

"The Democratic Party knows the tea party movement is strong, and we are motivated, and we are conservative mainly," Moore said.

The sister of one candidate, Susan Qashat, who's running for 26th District state representative, questioned her seriousness.

Patricia Hatfield of Royal Oak said Qashat was once married to the father of Mike McGuinness, the former chairman of the Oakland County Democratic Party, who quit last month following revelations that some of the candidates may not have known they were put up for office. Jason Bauer, a former political organizer for the county's Democratic Party, is accused of notarizing many of the nominations. County party leaders fired him.

Oakland County court records show Qashat was married to Louis C. McGuinness in September 2000 and divorced in December 2003. Neither McGuinness returned calls for comment.

The Tea Party certification statement filed with the state in July shows 23 candidates for offices including secretary of state, attorney general and two congressional seats, as well as state House races and county seats.

The filing also misspells some surnames, and some candidates turned in only post office boxes as home addresses.

David A. Polzin, a Tea Party candidate for 108th District state representative, ran for that seat as a Democrat in the 2008 primary and placed last among four candidates. He did not return phone calls for comment.

William Gunther, a junior high health teacher who lives in Grand Blanc, said he is running for the state representative seat in the 51st District because he wants less taxes and tighter control on illegal immigration.

Gunther, whose name was misspelled on the nominating petition, said he doesn't buy the charge The Tea Party is a Democratic ploy. State Democratic Party officials deny any connection to The Tea Party.

"I'm a teacher and there are a lot of teachers that will vote for me. And that's taking Democratic votes away, so go figure," he said.

Gunther said he's not happy with either party.

"I have always been an independent voter," he said. "I'm pro-gun. I teach hunter safety for the state of Michigan. I usually vote based on the person."

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