State capital "tea party" draws protesters of government spending
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State capital "tea party" draws protesters of government spending

Date: April 15, 2009
By: Chris Dunn
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - At the Jefferson City "tea party" designed to be a nonpartisan event, the lone Democrat to address the crowd of about 200 people was booed off the stage.

Organized by the Mizzou College Republicans, the Central Missouri Tax Day Tea Party was held on the state Capitol building steps on Wednesday as part of the national Tax Day Tea Party movement in protest of government spending.

The "tea party" was one of a dozen that have been held across Missouri, said Missouri Republican Party communications director Jonathon Prouty. Spurred by a televised call for action by CNBC on-air editor Rick Santelli in late February, such organized events have been held in the spirit of the Boston Tea Party of the Revolutionary War era. The "tea" in the name has since become an acronym for "Taxed Enough Already."

"The federal stimulus plan is kind of the match that lit this fire because it's things like the stimulus plan that are coming straight out of the everyday American's pockets to fund these big corporations -- that's kind of adding the fuel to the fire," said event organizer Brett Dinkins. "But this is a movement against all excessive taxing."

Event coordinators said they left announcement fliers at every statehouse office on Tuesday. MU freshmen and College Republican officers Dinkins and Megan Roberts also said they invited every state legislator to the event, regardless of party affiliation.

"This is completely bipartisan," Dinkins said before the tea party began. "I know that people typically see this as something the GOP's doing, but it's not at all. A lot of people realize that things have to be done, so we're not excluding anyone from this."

But the only Democrat to speak faced boos and shouts from the crowd. After introducing himself as a Democrat, Rep. J.C. Kuessner of Eminence said, "I thought you'd better hear from the other side."

Like the string of Republican state representatives who spoke before him, Kuessner initially received cheers from the crowd. But the boos and shouts began as he discussed the role of government in maintaining civil order. At one point, Columbia resident David Clark came to the podium and blocked Kuessner from view of the crowd with a sign Clark and his wife had made.

When the crowd began chanting, "USA!" Kuessner said, "Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you. I suggest that you design a government and present it to your legislator. Thank you."

He lasted four minutes at the podium.

Although promoted by FOX News and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and nationally sponsored by the American Family Association, the tea parties were locally organized, Prouty said.

"These were started by conservative activists who are concerned about the irresponsible policies by the Obama administration, policies that are racking up debt to unprecedented levels and passed on to generations yet unborn," Prouty said. "It's a very decentralized, loose-knit organization of folks."

Dinkins and Roberts began working on the Jefferson City tea party on Saturday. After contacting a statewide coordinator with Gingrich's American Solutions for Winning the Future organization to help jumpstart the planning, Dinkins and Roberts networked with Young Republicans, Missouri Pachyderm Club and the MU chapter of College Libertarians and contacted news organizations to spread the word.

The majority of their promotion was done online, and funding was not an issue, Roberts said.

"We didn't really put any money into it because reserving the Capitol and the south steps and the podium and the sound system was free from the state," Roberts said. "...This is an American issue, and the debt is something that all Americans should be concerned about. So we didn't want to put a College Republican name on it. ... And no, there was no funding involved from the College Republicans."

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said he never considered attending or making a statement at the tea party.

"I think it's silly," Kelly said. He also said although he was glad Kuessner spoke at the tea party, the event "doesn't have any meaning."

"I'm glad these people appear to be serious about wasteful government spending, and I welcome them to the effort to stop it," Kelly said. "But they've been missing in action for eight years. Where were they during the most corrupt and expensive war in American history? Where were they during the runaway spending during the Bush administration? This has no purpose except to badmouth Obama."

Mizzou College Democrats president Brian Roach also said he never planned to attend the tea party and that the events are not a bipartisan effort.

"I think if you look at what the folks at the tea parties around the country have been representing, it's not something that's in touch with mainstream America," Roach said. "It definitely doesn't represent the sentiments of both parties. The folks that have been going to these tea parties largely, in my opinion, represent the fringes of the broken Republican party."

The tea party opened with Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-O' Fallon, at the podium. Before the event began, Davis called taxation her favorite topic.

"We're tired of seeing the federal government squander our money," Davis said. "If they don't get the message that we're frustrated, I think they're deaf."

Davis, Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and other Republican lawmakers who spoke received welcoming cheers from the crowd. Kuessner said he was not offended by the boos he received.

"That proves what a wonderful government we have for them to be able to have their signs and their expressions and their booing and their hollering," Kuessner said. "Gosh, what a great country we live in that they had that opportunity. That's democracy, and I love it."

Kuessner said Clark later apologized for physically blocking him from view of the crowd. Roberts later said the College Republicans plan to invite Kuessner to campus and "give him a chance to say his piece because (the way the crowd treated him) was not our purpose in doing this at all."

Clark and his wife, Norma, who heard about the tea party from FOX News and a local radio station, said they came "because we're fed up with paying taxes and it being wasted."

"We don't necessarily agree with what's going on," Norma Clark said. "The nation is on the road to socialism. Freedom will be lost, and that's not just for Christians."