Scot Shumski, a Burlington school board member currently running for state rep, has adamantly denied claims that he has ties to the Tea Party. But a Twitter account linked to the Republican candidate has explicitly defended the Tea Party doctrine and consistently espoused views that align with it.
Shay Totten, a former Seven Days columnist, identified Shumski as the the owner of the Twitter handle, @slappywhyte, in a post on his personal blog Tuesday morning. Tweets like the one below suggest support for the Tea Party.
Another tweet praises Ted Cruz. Several others quote philosopher and Tea Party hero Ayn Rand.
Many of the tweets lambast President Obama, accusing him of practicing totalitarianism and socialism. Others criticize the "mainstream media" for an alleged liberal bias. The GOP is also the subject of ire, for failing to stand up to liberals.
Several tweets criticize proposals to give amnesty to illegal immigrants — one, addressing Democrats' rejection of the term "illegal alien," suggests calling them "foreign criminals" instead.
When asked about the account, Shumski acknowledged he tweets from it, but he said it's a group account shared by a "random collection of individuals." He declined to provide verification that other people share the account, and he declined Seven Days' request that he confirm whether several individual tweets belonged to him.
"I’m not going to do this McCarthyism. I’m not going to sit there and go through every single tweet that was listed out there. If you want to see my official positions, they are at @scotshumski. That’s my Twitter handle."
(Multiple pieces of evidence link Shumski to @slappywhyte: Among them, he has posted on Front Porch Forum from an email account with slappywhyte in the address, and a geocoding site also shows the majority of tweets originating from an address in the New North End that matches that of Shumski's house.)
The last tweet from @slappywhyte was made 11 days ago. Shumski has recently begun deleting tweets from the account. In a statement released Tuesday, he said it was not an attempt to obscure anything. "Have I deleted tweets from all the Twitter accounts I access? Yep! But this notion that I deleted tweets since being contacted by the media is laughable. Nope, I haven’t deleted a single tweet since I was contacted by a reporter — which happened to be this morning." (His full statement can be accessed here.)
Among recently deleted posts is one from January 14, which read, "LOL. You're missing the point. The #Muslim community doesn't act or react based on logic."
In his statement and during an interview, Shumski continued to deny any affiliation with the Tea Party movement. "How do you prove something that doesn’t exist? How can I prove to you I’m not doing something? If I don’t have a Tea Party membership and I don’t give money to a group that has Tea Party in its name, how much further can I prove to you that I’m not in the Tea Party?"
Asked whether he supports the Tea Party platform, Shumski responded, "Tell me what that is and I’ll tell you whether I agree with it." Seven Days listed several tenets — reduce government, reduce the deficit, tighten border security — and Shumski responded by saying, "There were Tea Parties that were running against one another. How would I know what every Tea Party across America stands for ... I've made it clear I have my beliefs that I go by."
Later he added, "When I run for Congress, Alicia, then you and I can talk about all those issues you wanted to talk about. Until then, I’m just a school board member."
The Tea Party has gained prominence during the last decade — helped along by celebrity politicians such as Sarah Palin and Cruz. It's a decentralized movement, with multiple organizations carrying the mantle. Since it's not actually a political party, Tea Party activists don't have a formal moniker. A sizable Tea Party faction within the GOP has challenged "establishment" Republicans on a regular basis.
Burlington residents, including City Councilor Tom Ayres, a Democrat, have repeatedly raised concerns about Shumski's alleged connection to the Tea Party. After Burlington resident Karen Pearo wrote a post on Front Porch Forum claiming Shumski's ties to that movement, Shumski responded with a post of his own, accusing Pearo of “McCarthyism.” His post continued, “I have never given money to a Tea Party organization, held membership in a Tea Party organization, identified myself with the Tea Party moniker, or undergone Tea Party training.”
Shumski's mother and his wife, who identified herself as a Democrat, each authored posts denying that he identified with the Tea Party.
Ayres, Pearo and others have also called attention to Shumski's campaign donations from well-known local conservative donor Lenore Broughton, as well as his connection to the conservative group American Majority. That organization has a Vermont chapter run by the former treasurer of Broughton's super PAC, Tayt Brooks. While there is no official affiliation between this group and Tea Party organizations, a June blog post on the former's website praises Tea Party gains in Wisconsin.
Shumski attended an American Majority training last winter, two months before he won his school board seat. In May, he told Seven Days’ Paul Heintz that he thought the training was run by the Ethan Allen Institute. Since then, he's continued to downplay any connection to the group.
In response to Totten's post, Shumski reiterated this stance. "A one-day training from American Majority does not convert citizens to Tea Party patriots (but if it did, that would be an amazing process to witness!). But thank you, Shay, for your McCarthyism — er, diligence — in reporting on a training that has been reported both in the media and local neighborhood message boards."
@AM_National training "#America spends more on cat food every 2 yrs than political spending."Another way #msm attacks folks like Koch bros
In addition to @slappywhyte, Shumski has two other Twitter accounts — a personal one (@3kids is easy) followed by 86 people, and one for his school board and political campaign: @ScotShumski, which has 213 followers. By far the most established is @slappywhyte, which has 7,568 followers. Shumski said he participates in multiple other "group Twitter accounts" on many topics, including nature and baseball.