Over and over Thursday, Chattanooga area tea party supporters echoed the same sentiment: Vote out incumbents.
The local arm of the national movement held its second annual Tax Day Rally in Coolidge Park, where hundreds showed up, many bearing signs, T-shirts and hats with messages ranging from "Repeal Congress" to "Tax the Rich." The tea party movement, just more than a year old, expresses a deep discontent with politicians in Washington, D.C.
"I want all the incumbents gone," said Dixie Billingsley, 66, an independent from Signal Mountain. "I want to cut taxes and spending, and I'd like Congress to follow the Constitution."
Robert Edwards, 50, of Chatsworth, Ga., started the Murray County Tea Party three months ago and said he hopes the national movement will encourage people to elect fiscal conservatives, "people of integrity and Constitutionalists at heart." He joined the movement "because of the position our government's been taking in the recent past as it relates to spending and the abuse of our Constitution."
Crowds slowly trickled into the four-hour event, which had half a dozen local speakers and a handful of vendors selling food and other merchandise. Several political candidates set up booths to distribute their campaign information and mingle with the crowd, but Chattanooga Tea Party President Mark West said this year's rally would not include speeches from those seeking election.
"It's our feeling that oftentimes we hear a little too much from them and we need to hear from the people a little more," he said.
Many contenders for the 3rd District Congressional primary were in attendance -- including Republicans Robin Smith, a former state GOP party chairwoman; Chattanooga attorney Chuck Fleischmann; Bradley County Sheriff Tim Gobble; attorney Van Irion; former Air Force Capt. Rick Kernea; Cleveland businessman Art Rhodes; and independent Mark DeVol, a businessman.
Supporters of GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron Ramsey manned a booth, and Hamilton County Trustee candidate Bill Hullander and attorney Joe Manuel, who is seeking a judgeship, also were on hand.
"Obviously they're using it as a campaigning tool," Mr. West said. "But one of the things we see is it's an opportunity to provide people with access to the candidates ... an opportunity for voters to go and look them square in the eye and ask them the important questions they have, to see if they fudge a little bit or if they are very consistent in their responses."
Though the crowd's majority were either Republicans or conservative independents, at least one man was hoping to use the event to bridge the gap between the left and right.
"I feel like the populous anger and frustration and resentment that I see in the general population, and especially in the Tea Party movement, actually has a lot more in common with a leftist like myself than they even know," said Chris Brooks, 25, an independent of Chattanooga who carried signs stating "Tax the Rich" and "Troops Home Now."
Supporters of the movement said they found it "very appropriate" that the event was once again held on Tax Day.
"I think Washington needs to take the silent majority serious," said Angela Russ, 37, a Republican from Chattanooga. "I would like for them to notice how many people don't pay taxes, but benefit from all of us that do."
TEA PARTY HISTORY
* Movement began at grass-roots level to protest growing federal government.
* First nationwide tea party protest on Feb. 27, 2009.
* Second round of tea party rallies held April 15, 2009, to coincide with Tax Day.
Source: Chattanooga Tea Party.
Continue reading by following these links to related stories: