Though their counterparts nationwide have made headlines for extreme viewpoints of racism and violence, Springfield Tea Party activists stayed on message Monday at a rally calling for limited government, lower taxes and an end to political corruption.
Springfield was one of three stops Monday for the Tea Party Express, a corporately-sponsored caravan traveling the country to protest issues like health care reform, bank bailouts and the stimulus package, which Tea Party activists nationwide see as wasteful spending and unconstitutional expansion of government.
Some individuals associated with the Tea Party movement have made national news for calling members of Congress the N-word and other obscenities, as well as making threats and throwing bricks through windows of some Democrats’ Congressional district offices.
But the crowd at Monday’s rally on the Illinois State Fairgrounds seemed conscious of the scrutiny surrounding their movement, specifically addressing the issue of race and carefully sticking to the issues.
Though most of the Springfield rally attendees were white, Springfield Tea Party organizer Sandy Dragoo said the movement is open to anyone with a conservative viewpoint.
“It’s about policy; it’s not about racism,” Dragoo said. “The invitation goes out to everybody. You’re all invited. We never say, ‘Just Caucasians.’ We’d love to have everybody here, of all races and all minorities.”
Two African-American speakers, William Owens, Jr., author of Obama: Why Black America Should Have Doubt, and Lloyd Marcus, singer and songwriter of the “American Tea Party Anthem,” elicited cheers from a crowd that seemed more concerned with perceived government encroachment than racial homogeneity.
“I’m not an African-American,” Marcus shouted to boisterous applause. “I’m an American.”
Some Tea Partiers expressed their disapproval of the recently-passed health care reform law through signs calling for it to be repealed.
Micheal and Donna Kalm, of San Jose, Ill., said they objected to the law because of the cost and the manner in which it passed.
“It’s too big; it’s too consuming of us individuals,” Donna Kalm said. “It’s giving too much money away, costing too much. There’s plenty of other plans that wouldn’t cost as much and would do the same things. It’s going to send us right into the ground. It’s going to destroy America as we know it.”
Micheal Kalm said he felt the law passed through “backroom deals” and without bipartisan support.
“Every other major social legislation has had bipartisan support,” he said. “The only thing that was bipartisan about this bill was the opposition. We don’t disagree that health care needs to be reformed. That needs to be done; that has to happen. But the double accounting and all the things that were done to try to get people to believe that this was a good idea, it all seems a bit sleazy.”
Springfield resident Chuck Louthan, a 65-year-old Navy veteran, said the new law shouldn’t be allowed to take effect.
“We need to repeal the whole thing and find ways not to fund it,” Louthan said. “We can refuse to give it money. That’s how we can fight it.”
Louthan said he would like to see tort reform included in any future health care reforms. The Illinois Supreme Court has rejected laws that limit awards in medical malpractice lawsuits three separate times, most recently in February. Louthan also said he doesn’t believe the law will lower the cost of health care, and it will cost too much money to implement.
“We’ll have to find a way to pay for it,” he said. “Are we going to take out another bazillion dollar loan to pay for it? That’s asinine. It’s just crazy.”
The rally was also an opportunity for Illinois Republican political hopefuls to drum up support. Republican Bobby Schilling of Colona, Ill., is running for Congress against Democrat Rep. Phil Hare in Illinois’ 17th district, which covers one-third of Springfield.
“When I’m elected, I promise that I will uphold the Constitution of the United States of America,” Schilling yelled, as he thrust a pocket copy of the Constitution into the air. “When the Founders put this thing together, they didn’t say this was the ‘cafeteria constitution,’ it didn’t have a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ behind it. … It needs to be adhered to rather than trampled on.”
Republicans Al Reynolds of Danville, who is running for Illinois Senate in the 52nd district, and Sam McCann of Carlinville, running for Illinois Senate in the 49th district, addressed the crowd as well.
Adam Andrzejewski, who ran as a Republican gubernatorial candidate earlier this year and placed fifth in the February primary, used the event to push House Resolution 1057, legislation that would mandate a forensic audit of the state government. Andrzejewski says the audit would show areas of waste, fraud and abuse that could be cut from state government, potentially saving up to $2.5 billion.
“Let’s save taxpayers money,” Andrzejewski said. “(Illinois House) Speaker (Michael) Madigan has come out against the forensic audit. He says it will cost too much. Speaker Madigan, you cost too much.”
Though the candidates speaking Monday were all Republicans, local organizers made it clear their movement isn’t attached to either major political party.
“We are frankly upset with both sides of the aisle,” Dragoo said. “We’re going to call out Republicans just like we’ll call out Democrats, but what we say we are is conservatives.”
“A lot of people say, ‘Where were you people at when (George W.) Bush was spending money?’” said Diane Benjamin, McLean County Tea Party organizer. “I was at home, throwing things at the TV set! Where were you?”
Contact Patrick Yeagle at firstname.lastname@example.org.