Charlie Webster used to be the most conservative Republican I knew. So you can imagine how astonished I am to find out he’s now considered by some to be a RINO, a Republican in name only.

Participants in the so-called tea party, unable to organize their own political party, are in the process of taking over mine. And the fact they consider our Party Chairman Charlie Webster to be too liberal makes me wonder if my party is big enough for all of us.

Don’t get me wrong. Unlike some of my friends, I’m not unenrolling. I know I’m a Republican, by birth and belief. I really believe that the government should only do for us what we can’t do for ourselves, that the federal government has wrongly usurped the rights and prerogatives of the states (and the people) in many areas, that small government, close to the people, is the best government, and that freedom — and our civil rights — define the very best of our United States of America.

The tyranny of government is a horrifying thing, and we’ve allowed the government to insert itself into far too many areas of our lives. Trading freedom for security is a terrible mistake. And we’ve been doing that a lot lately. OK, so now I’m starting to sound like a member of the tea party. But here’s where we part company.

I am eager to share my “big tent” of a political party because that’s how you succeed in politics.

I am tolerant. This reflects my faith and personal belief that no one is perfect and every person deserves my respect. This is how you succeed in life. I do not believe it is possible to be an intolerant Christian.

I am willing to compromise, because that’s how you succeed in government.

My impression of many who have embraced the tea party label is that they are eager to dismiss anyone who fails to share their strong opinions, they are intolerant to an extreme, and they are strongly opposed to compromise.

The art of government would entirely escape them, if they ever got into a position of power in Augusta.

In 40 years of hanging out at the State House, I’ve come to recognize the characteristics of the most successful legislators. Brace yourself. They are compromisers. They make friends, not enemies. They are honest, hard working, and respectful. They always tell the truth. They are not always Republicans.

They also can keep things in perspective. It helps to be a person of faith, or to at least understand that there is something more important in the world than whatever you are working on at the Legislature.

The Republican and Democratic parties in Maine have embraced the full spectrum of thought, conservative to liberal, in order to succeed. I have many Democratic friends who are more conservative than me.

Which sort of brings me back to Webster. Sure, he’s not perfect. He was once a Democrat! Our world has seen only one perfect person, and he wasn’t the chairman of a political party.

Webster is the best grassroots politician in this state. I’ve known that since the time, many years ago, I accompanied Charlie as he campaigned throughout his Senate district. I’ve learned a lot from him over the years about campaigning.

Charlie’s focus as our Maine Republican chairman is, as it should and must be, on recruitment and election of Republicans to the Legislature. He’s doing a brilliant job of this. I know no one who could do it better, or more relentlessly.

Charlie deserves a lot of the credit for the fact that Republicans control the House and Senate today (and the Blaine House), and he’s the best chance Republicans have to continue that control in the next legislative session.

It disappoints me that so many members and former leaders of my Republican party have left the playing field — some even leaving the party — because of the actions of these newcomers from the far right.

Our political party is worth fighting for, and more of us must get back onto the field, rather than sit in the stands watching a game that will only disgust and discourage us (and many others) about the future of our state.

There’s one other thing I’m still looking for in tea partiers: a sense of humor. The old adage that we’d be crying if we weren’t laughing is often true — especially in politics!

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Visit www.georgesmithmaine.com.