Tennessee GOP lawmakers leapt at the opportunity provided by Thursday’s Legislative Plaza tea party rally to cast themselves as champions of discontented taxpayers and defenders against fiscal irresponsibility and other abuses of government power.
Prominent Republican state representatives and senators mustered around a podium before 300 or so tax-day demonstrators and lashed out in general at government-expanding policies they claim are predominately favored by their political opponents at both the state and federal level.
Gov. Phil Bredesen’s recent proposal to lift the state’s sales tax cap on big-ticket items came in for particular condemnation.
“Just yesterday, Governor Bredesen proposed an $85 million tax increase here in the state of Tennessee on you all, on small businesses,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, told the tea party ralliers. “Let me assure you the state Senate under my leadership is going to push back on this tax increase.”
Bredesen this week floated the idea of lifting the sales tax cap as a way to avoid a 5-percent salary cut for all state workers. Currently, the state limits sales taxes to the first $3,200 on purchases. His idea would reportedly raise that limit, although the limit would still apply to purchases of vehicles, boats and manufactured homes.
Republican legislators quickly denounced Bredesen’s suggestion.
“We’ve got a fight ahead of us,” declared state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet.
Other state legislators on hand for the rally included Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville; Sen. Diane Black, R-Gallatin; Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin; Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet; Rep. Debra Young Maggart, R-Hendersonville; and Terry Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster.
Lynn got people’s attention when she suggested a constitutional convention might be an answer to some of the federal authority being used in Washington.
“I don’t want to scare anybody, but another thing we’re working on, if it gets worse and we have to, we’re working out how we would have a constitutional convention,” Lynn told the crowd. “We’re working on the details.”
Lynn said after her remarks that the hope is not to have to turn to a constitutional convention, but that even if it were to happen it would need to be crafted carefully to make sure delegates remained responsible to the legislature that sent them there, by putting “firewalls” in place. But she emphasized that at this time there is no intention of calling for a constitutional convention.
Tea party protest events are becoming something of the norm on April 15, the last day to file federal tax returns. Nashville had other downtown gatherings at both the Municipal Auditorium and Legislative Plaza.
The life of the tea party is always, of course, the citizens who gather to protest the government.
Kelly Campbell of Mt. Juliet, whose son is in the military, originally planned to be in Washington with her family on Thursday, but when her father was unable to attend she joined a friend at Municipal Auditorium. She criticized the actions of the federal government.
“I don’t believe any of the things they are doing are constitutional,” Campbell said. “My son is serving his country, and I feel like this is one of the greatest betrayals of former, present and future service people there could ever be, and I’m not willing to hand over my freedoms to somebody without a really good reason.
“They don’t need to know if I have insurance or not. They don’t need to know how I teach my children. They don’t need to know if I go to church. Those are mine. It’s not theirs.”
Dick Geyer, from Old Hickory, said his congressman, Rep. Jim Cooper, a Democrat, is an “absolute disgrace. He is not a Blue Dog. He’s a Yellow Dog. He follows blindly whatever Nancy Pelosi does.”
Geyer said he is also going to contribute to candidates elsewhere.
“The current administration and Congress are trampling on all our rights and freedoms,” Geyer said. “They’re turning over what this country has been about for over 200 years, and we’ve got to put a stop to it. We’ve got to get them out in November and we’ve got to get them out in 2012.”
When asked what the response to government should be, Geyer said, “We band together as individuals. We reach out and start calling friends and neighbors that we have probably passively talked to in the past. We get them actively involved and make sure they show up and vote in November.”
Melissa Vaughn, from Nashville, believes people aren’t being held responsible for their actions.
“It feels like we’ve lost our way, that our society no longer holds anybody accountable for anything — government, personal, private,” she said. “It just feels like we’ve lost our way, and we’re trying to get back on track.”
One of the speakers at the Legislative Plaza event was Lonnie Spivak, who is running as a Republican against Cooper, but Spivak’s role at the rally was to announce that a group, Citizens of Faith, will file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new federal health care law.
Spivak said the Constitution prevents the federal government from enacting laws that give religious preference to one group over another. And since the health care law allows bureaucrats to decide certain religious groups can opt out, that violates religious freedom, he said.
Ben Cunningham of Tennessee Tax Revolt handled MC duties for both the event at Municipal Auditorium and Legislative Plaza.
“This is just a continuation of the tea party momentum. It started very spontaneously and organically last year with Rick Santelli’s rant,” Cunningham said. “People just want to get involved.
“People try to define the tea party movement. It’s just motivated people who are concerned about trillion-dollar deficits, about Social Security being broke, Medicare being broke and all these other government institutions that we put our trust in. And Congress has financially run them in the ground. Now, they want to take over health care and make those very personal, intimate decisions to a great extent in Washington. And people are saying stop.”
The event at the Municipal Auditorium included speakers that included Cunningham, radio talk show hosts Phil Valentine, Steve Gill and Mike Slater as well as Vanderbilt professor Carol Swain.
The Tennessee Tea Party had been planning the event for months.
Stacie Burke of Franklin, president and co-founder of the Tennessee Tea Party, said the event involved a lot of work but was a team effort.
“We’re just hoping to get people more involved,” Burke said. “I think people are pretty awake, but we need people to stay involved all year long.”
When asked what she would like to see government do, Burke replied. “Get smaller. Leave us alone. Let us live our lives and stop interfering.”