The Ahwatukee TEA Party may have begun only about three months ago, but its meetings already bring in more than 120 people at a time, according to A.J. Wells, one of the group's founders.

"It has just taken off, and it's because there's a hunger," said Wells, 72. "There is a need, and I think we're filling it."

The Ahwatukee Foothills branch formed in May when seven local women came together while attending political events in neighboring communities, such as an East Valley TEA Party event in Tempe, and found that they shared similar values and a passion for political change, she said.

"In 2 1/2 hours, we had the name, the focus, the first meeting date, and who we wanted to come speak," Wells said. "We're just really concerned about the way the nation's going. We want some conservative constitutional principles to be restored."

With values like limited government, a free market economy and fiscal responsibility as a basis, the group began to organize locally, she said. There is no single leader, and decisions are made by committee.

"It's just a good case of networking. You know there are like-minded people out there and you each feel stuck and disappointed," Wells said. "Now there's a place to come together and express what's going on. We the people have a voice."

Although the TEA Party is conservative in its orientation, it is not affiliated with the local Republican Party, Wells said.

Anthony Miller, chairman of the LD20 GOP - the Republican Party's arm in state Legislative District 20, which includes Ahwatukee Foothills - said his group has had no official contact with the local TEA Party, but would welcome its support.

"I'm not a Tea Party member. I'm a Republican, and I'm proud to be a Republican," Miller said. "If they'd like to have a conversation with me, I'd love to have a conversation with them. I think it's good to have open discussions about our elected officials."

State Rep. Rae Waters, a Democrat from Ahwatukee Foothills, said Ahwatukee is a diverse area that can accommodate many points of view.

"They have a right to organize and believe what they want to believe," Waters said. "As long as we're all civil, we can all put ideas on the table and discuss them."

Wells said the Ahwatukee TEA Party meets on the third Wednesday of each month. The next meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 18 at the Pecos Community Center, 17010 S. 48th St.

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