NASHVILLE — Tennessee Tea Party leaders arrived at the Legislature on Wednesday, vowing to push their agenda of smaller government and less taxes and hold the new Republican majority accountable.
"We're going to watch very closely what's going on at the Legislature; we're also going to watch very closely what's going on in local government," said Ben Cunningham of Tennessee Tax Revolt, a longtime anti-tax activist.
Cunningham said the "enthusiasm of the tea party is, if anything, ramping up. ... People want to get involved. They want to hold their government accountable. They want their elected representatives to conduct themselves according to tea party principles."
About 20-25 leaders and members of groups from across the state later fanned out to press lawmakers on five issues, including having Tennessee oppose the federal health care reform law enacted last year by Democrats in Washington.
Other issues include having an elected state attorney general, which would require amending the Tennessee Constitution, or creating an elected "solicitor general."
Activists are upset with state Attorney General Bob Cooper, who is appointed by the state Supreme Court. He has refused to join a number of other states that are suing to block the federal health care law.
Other tea party initiatives include:
• Ending state "subsidies" for unfunded or what the group considers unconstitutional mandates.
• Ensuring state judges uphold the primacy of the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions. Tea partiers want to impeach state judges who cite references to foreign law in their opinions.
• Educating students on the "truth about America." Activists contend that "neglect and outright ill will have distorted the teaching of the history and character of the United States."
Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, the new House Republican majority leader, was among lawmakers the tea party activists visited.
"I think I was in basic agreement with all of the points that they made," McCormick said. "There are some practical problems we'll have to work through on federal funding."
He said some issues will have to be addressed at the state level.
Hal Rounds, a Fayette County activist, said lawmakers do need to pay attention or face the consequences in 2012 elections.
"We will judge them on the basis of what is constitutional and what's in the best interest of America and its values, and we will go into the next election cycle working with the people who have helped us and against those who haven't," he said.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...