And he thinks it would be beneficial to all if they wouldn't act disrespectfully while attending a Board of County Commission meeting, which is what he says is exactly what happened Tuesday evening while discussing their proposed 2012 budget.
It wasn't just Welch, but Commission Chair Susan Latvala who had to set the Tea Party activists straight when several of their members incorrectly stated that $15 million set aside for affordable housing was going to the religious activist group FAST, despite repeated comments from the public that it was.
Welch pointed out to the activists, led by Dr. David McKalip (who announced over the weekend that he will be a candidate for St. Pete City Council in 2013), that the County had listed the various projects that would be eligible for funding from the renewal of the Penny for Pinellas tax in 2007, including affordable housing. But the activists before the meeting and during it insisted not only was that not the case, but what the board was doing was illegal. Welch says that was part of the pattern of "lies and misstatements" that he referred to during the discussion on Tuesday night.
And the Commissioner was not very impressed by the behavior of some of the two dozen or so Tea Party activists who spoke out from the audience during the evening, including those that drowned out the last comments made by longtime local government critic Mark Klutho, who the crowd turned on when he had the audacity to be critical of them.
Welch, the lone Democrat on the board, said when he started pointing out the falsehoods, McKalip and others began yelling out from the audience, with one woman walking up directly to him to hand him a piece of paper. "They were out of control," he told CL on Wednesday, lamenting how everyone was quiet when the Tea Party activists addressed the board, yet those same activists didn't appear to be interested in hearing from the other side of the debate.
The Pinellas Democrat said that one of those Tea Party members, Hamilton Hanson, actually left the meeting before its conclusion in disgust, and wrote him an email Wednesday morning essentially apologizing for the rough behavior from the crowd.
"Several people said no to affordable housing, no to social or human services money...you heard some extreme opinions last night and that's really the first time that they have come down to a County meeting," Welch said. "We've seen it in Tallahassee and Washington, but not in Pinellas."
"They throw out all these accusations, they want to state their opinion, but they're afraid of true debate where the other side was heard, and that was the most disappointing and surprising," he said, adding that one of the main guys doing the yelling was McKalip.
Welch's proposal to move $5 million of the $15 million in affordable housing funds into this year's budget failed on a 4-3 vote, though he did secure the support of Republicans Karen Seel and John Morroni.
"I certainly don't deny them their right to be in a debate, " Welch continued, speaking of the Tea Party activists, who held a rally outside the meeting in Clearwater before the meeting began. "But that has to be a debate and not a monologue," he said.