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According to Robert Mansfield, it is his duty to “take the Tea Party to the next level.”

The former Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate spoke at Houston Hall Wednesday night to Penn’s branch of the Philadelphia Tea Party Patriots about his political journey toward the conservative grassroots movement.

Mansfield’s attachment to Tea Party ideals — such as the “destructive nature of government” — was formed during his childhood.

“I was born addicted to heroin, spent days withdrawing from heroin,” he said to an audience of about 10. “I came into this world with my life hanging in the balance. And as I go in and out of children’s homes, I see how destructive government can be,” he said. “When the state tells you you’re incorrigible, it’s destructive.”

Upon returning from military service in Iraq, “I wanted to know what the Tea Party movement was about,” Mansfield said. But he sensed strong racial insensitivity from the attendants of his first Tea Party rallies. “Signs with the bone going through [President Barack] Obama’s nose and his witch-doctor depiction were extremely offensive,” Mansfield said.

However, rather than leaving the group, he decided to join it. “I didn’t stand in the dark cussing at the light, I stepped into the light. Because a lot of what the Tea Party believes, I believe also,” Mansfield said.

According to Penn Tea Party Patriots founder and Graduate School of Education student Dan Chinburg, Mansfield’s speech was “passionate.”

“I was glad he was honest and upfront,” Chinburg said. “I’m glad that the Tea Party is distancing from that message — we’re standing for principles, not for attacks and horrible racist remarks.”

Chinburg added that Mansfield’s experience was the first he’d heard of its kind, but was “glad he told his story.”

Among the other topics Mansfield discussed was the “progressive agenda” students at universities like Penn are met with. “You have to accept things like having two moms, or else you’re a bigot and a homophobe,” he said.

Chinburg, who maintained that the Tea Party was not about social issues at all, but only economic ones, believes Mansfield may have been “in the moment when sharing his beliefs, and didn’t distinguish his personal opinions from those of the Tea Party.”

“If he actually believes this should be a Tea Party issue, we disagree,” Chinburg said. “I believe the Tea Party should stay away from social issues.”

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