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The situation appears to have changed somewhat since. According to Jealous, Texas has been “ground zero” for NAACP members and tea party cooperation on criminal matters.
Julianne Thompson, a member of Georgia Tea Party Patriots, said activists in her state have worked with liberal groups on ethics issues and would be open to doing the same on prison reform. Atlanta tea partyers also co-hosted a candidate forum last year with the local NAACP chapter.
“Even though we may disagree on many other issues, on issues were we can find consensus and not compromise our principles ... we should try to work together,” Thompson said. “I do agree that we need to reduce prison populations among nonviolent offenders.”
Still, there is a broad gulf between the agendas of NAACP and Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform on issues including health care, budget cuts and entitlement reform.
Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative group that has praised Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R) budget proposal as a “home run for taxpayers,” supported efforts to repeal the health care law and has criticized labor unions for intimidating workers.
At a recent Senate Tea Party Caucus meeting, Norquist discussed the difference between conservatives and liberals, saying: “There are two teams in this country. Those of us who ask one thing of government: that is to leave us alone. And those people who ... view the proper role of government as taking things from some people, usually others, and giving them to others, usually them.”
That philosophical stance explains the limits to the partnership between Norquist and the NAACP. The NAACP says it believes the savings from prison reform should be pumped back into education, violence reduction programs and other social programs, while Norquist’s interest is strictly in cutting government spending.
“That is a point where we disagree,” Jealous said, but he prefers to focus on where his group can leverage common ground with Norquist, Gingrich and other conservatives.
“Just the fact that Grover Norquist and I can agree on what to do about the nation’s criminal system, how to make it better, how to make it more cost-effective, isn’t just a baby step, it is a very big step,” he said.