Published: Monday, October 12, 2009
More than 5,000 guests at Saturday’s Tucson Tea Party gorged themselves on ample helpings of cynicism, sarcasm and frustration with every level of government as they filled the seats of the Tucson Electric Park from first to third bases.
Outside the gates, people signed petitions to get a medical marijuana initiative on the Arizona Ballot.
Inside, anonymous poster messages ranging from “W.W.J.D., What Would Jefferson Do?” to images of President Barack Obama superimposed onto Heath Ledger’s Joker from “The Dark Knight” dotted stadium walls and waved above the crowd.
While most of the attendees were middle aged or retired, even toddlers in strollers donned signs of protest, warning of Stalinist takeovers by the president’s administration.
Marketing senior Robert Mayer, who co-founded the Tucson Tea Party in May, said the number of frustrated citizens didn’t surprise him, though he’d like to have seen more college students.
“We’re the next generation; we have to fight for our future,” he said. “The government’s bankrupting that.”
In the post-election political lull, Mayer said he feels some young people have abandoned their political fervor.
“A lot of them got excited about the Obama campaign, a lot of people from the other side got excited about Ron Paul,” Mayer said. “When it comes to the off-season, like right now, there’s no major election so they get back to their normal life.”
A tea partier is anyone who believes in smaller government, he said.
“I think it’s really good to have a big group come down like this and voice our opinions,” said Coty McKenzie, political science sophomore and president of the UA’s College Republicans. “Most of us feel that it’s not a government for the people anymore.”
McKenzie attended the tea party with about 15 College Republicans from the UA and ASU’s West Campus.
The event featured a myriad of conservative notables, including former Congressman Barry Goldwater Jr., former Arizona Congressman J.D. Hayworth, former New Jersey Superior Court Judge Andrew Napolitano (no relation to former Arizona governor), KNST political talk show host Jim Parisi and all three republican Tucson City Council hopefuls.
The assembly booed when master of ceremonies James T. Harris, conservative pundit and comedian, said they should be proud of Obama’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize “for doing absolutely nothing.”
“The problem with socialism is they soon run out of money. (Obama) could have become a respected leader to all Americans, but he chose to take an extremist turn to the left,” said Goldwater. “I’ve begun today to do whatever I can to make sure he’s a one-term president.”
In a later interview, Goldwater said the public should provide a safety net for the poor, but government “wisdom and decisions” should stay out of the free market.
The event did not focus its entire wrath on Obama. Hot button political issues like illegal immigration, the ACORN scandal and Tucson’s controversial public safety Proposition 200 popped up in signs and echoed in shouts around the stadium.
Ron Dearman, a Tucson Army veteran whose grandson will be transferring to the UA next year, said he sees a lot of connections between what he saw in Hitler’s Germany and what is taking place in America.
I’ve never gotten in a rally in my life, I’ve been voting for 45 years … American kids are not trained to recognize propaganda,” Dearman said.
Parisi spoke at the event about the importance of government accountability regardless of political party.
“If there was a general frustration march we’d all go to that … this is all there is,” Parisi said. “If (the Tucson Tea Party) announces this as (a) Republican Party event, I won’t do it anymore.”
Mayer said UA students should get involved in the upcoming city council elections.
Tea Party activists say they are determined to replace City Council Democrats Karin Uhlich and Nina Trasoff with Republicans, but have not endorsed a particular candidate.
“It’s one thing to get people together with the big speeches, but it’s another thing to drive people to action,” said Tea Party co-founder Trent Humphries. “For instance, the city council. They’re terrible, they need to be replaced.”
Humphries and Mayer said they are disgusted with how the city has spent hundreds of millions of Rio Nuevo funds without increasing business.
“Without a thriving downtown and business presence around the university, that’s less jobs that are available,” Mayer said.
The Tea Party declined to take a stance on Tucson’s controversial Proposition 200, which would increase police and fire personnel, but city council candidate Shaun McClusky promised the audience it would not require a raise in taxes, as the city claims.
Mayer estimated the event cost nearly $20,000, with most of the bill coming from the speakers’ travels and fees.
Humphries said most event costs were covered by individual cash-in-hand donations from individuals and businesses.
Mayer said the Tucson Tea Party is independent of tea parties throughout the country.
The Tucson Tea Party has filed for official status as a non-profit organization, he said, and will continue to support Republican city council candidates while planning its next event.