Their cup of tea: Movement is groundswell of discontent here, too
They don’t trust the government.
They fear for the future.
They’re members of the Tea Party movement that has swept the nation, and they’re our friends and neighbors.
The Gazette interviewed several local Tea Party members in recent weeks. They come from a variety of walks of life. Most worry about taxes and federal health care legislation.
Some worry the United States is straying from free-market principles and tilting toward socialism.
Several of those interviewed are affiliated with the Rock Patriots, a Janesville Tea Party group that recently organized.
Common threads among many of those interviewed were the words “fear,” “worry” and “concern.”
They fear the government will take over their lives.
“We simply fear for our children’s lives, for their future,” said Michele Fish of rural Whitewater, an unemployed certified nursing assistant.
“I have a deep concern at the way that they’re taking over our lives, and I have an even deeper concern about the spending that’s going on,” said Alice Preiser, a retired RN and mother of eight from rural Elkhorn. “I worry for my children and my grandchildren who are going to have to bear this horrible debt.”
Several Tea Partiers said they were new to politics when they got involved in the past year or two.
“I voted, and that was about it,” said Sally Horton of Janesville, a licensed practical nurse.
It was much the same for Preiser, but now she is talking about making phone calls or going door to door for candidates.
Other Tea Party members said they, too, plan to get involved in the November elections.
Jacqui Hein, a stay-at-home mom of four young children in Janesville, said she got interested when Barack Obama ran for president.
Hein, who calls herself a Christian, said she didn’t like Obama’s abortion stand when he ran for Senate when she lived in Illinois.
“I really started to get concerned when I saw he was the nominee and tried to learn as much as possible about what was going on,” Hein said.
Hein recently joined the Rock County Republican Party, but she’s upset with what she sees as the national party’s lack of leadership.
Faulting the GOP
Dr. Bill Brandt, a longtime Janesville physician, said he’s probably one of the more moderate members of the Tea Party movement.
“When I saw runaway spending under George W. Bush, I decided the Republicans had lost their conservative roots,” Brandt said.
It was a mistake to cut taxes while increasing government spending, Brandt said of the Bush years.
Brandt said the nation is approaching the point where a majority will be recipients of government largess.
“When the state becomes the provider of income, food, health care and virtually any other want, then people will become instruments of the government rather than the government being the instrument of the people,” Brandt said.
Fish said she understands there are people in need, but she opposes “Obamacare.”
“I really don't know what a solution is to that but do know that we have way too many people who, once they get on food stamps and on a state-funded health care plan, they will do anything to stay on those programs rather than working towards self reliance,” Fish said.
“I see it as government intrusion,” Hein said of the health care bill. “I don’t think it’s a problem to the degree that they’re saying it is. Even if it were, I don’t think the solution is a solution. …
“I think it’s just a way to get control of a private industry, and it’s also a way to get control of people’s lives,” Hein added.
Issues of control
Jon Koniecki of Milton said his longtime conservatism drove him to the Tea Party.
A laid-off product design engineer, Koniecki and his wife home-schooled their children.
Koniecki has worked phone banks for Republican candidates in recent years and puts campaign signs in his yard. He said some Republicans have become much like Democrats. He sees the Tea Party as a wakeup call to the GOP.
“We feel we’ve been taken for granted by the Republicans,” Koniecki said.
Koniecki said he sees socialism, communism, fascism and liberalism as all cut from the same cloth.
“The main issue is centralized control versus decentralized control,” he said.
As in the systems he has designed, Koniecki said, decentralized control is more flexible and responsive.
Tea Party members often say they are about educating themselves about politics.
“We don’t all just spout Glenn Beck,” Horton said of the controversial Fox News commentator.
Koniecki calls himself a news junkie who likes the Drudge Report, a conservative Web site. He doesn’t trust Fox News on Middle East issues, and he never trusts CNN, he said.
Many distrust the news.
“We’re really out there to educate people on the truth, the truth of what’s going on, not these perpetuated stories we hear from the mainstream media and the Left,” Fish said. “We’re out there for truth and justice.”
Preiser said she watches Fox but also catches the major networks. She rarely reads a newspaper. She has heard Sarah Palin speak.
“I admire her clear, down-to-earth speech, and she doesn’t make any apologies,” Preiser said. “I’ve read her book, and she’s actually more knowledgeable than they want you to think she is.”
Several Tea Party members feel stung about recent reports of racism in the movement, which they say they have never seen.
Anyone of any color is welcome to join the Tea Party, Fish said.
Horton said she was at a Tea Party gathering in a Racine County field where she saw a black man with a “Taxed Enough Already” sign on a pitchfork. She sent the Gazette a photo to prove it.
“We don’t see black and white. We’re seeing red. That’s the only color I see lately,” Horton said.
Fish said she doesn’t like what the president is doing, “but I don’t hate him.”
Hein said the most radical thing she’s seen at a Tea Party was in Janesville. It was a Hitler moustache on a picture of Obama. She found out later the sign carrier was a supporter of Lyndon LaRouche, who has run for president as a Democrat numerous times and inspires fervent followers.
Brandt said he has seen the same pictures. He said most people consider the LaRouche people embarrassing, and he has never been at a meeting where they were allowed to speak.
Hein said she met a 911 conspiracy theorist at a Tea Party, but she has not seen any racism or calls for government overthrow.
“I’m sure there’s people out there that are like that, and maybe that’s why people are flipping us off” at rallies, she said.
Jim Joiner, a former Rock County Board member, went to a recent Tea Party event at the Janesville post office and engaged Tea Party members in political conversation.
“I understand their anger, and I understand the frustration,” Joiner said. “People aren’t making it. They’re losing their houses.”
But Joiner’s views are left of most Tea Partiers.
For example, Joiner thinks laws should make it easier to join unions. He sees unions as defenders of the middle class.
“They seem to be very pro-corporate, and I have the view that corporations have way too much power,” Joiner said.
Joiner said most members of the protest were willing to talk, and he saw no signs of overthrow-the-government militancy or racism.
One young man tried to grab Joiner because “he thought I was causing trouble.” Others restrained the man, Joiner said.
Tea Party members said they demonstrate peacefully.
At all the Tea Party events that Preiser attended, people were polite and left the grounds clean, she said.
“Everyone picks up any scraps that are around. All the signs are taken,” Preiser said.
The Tea Party empowers people who may have felt they don’t have a voice in politics, Brandt said.
“I think it’s very encouraging for our country because it has the potential to bring about a renewal for our country,” he said.