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Prominent GOP leaders burnish anti-tax credentials at Tea Party Day events

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 15, 2009 - Wednesday was "Tea Party Day'' in St. Louis, Cape Girardeau and elsewhere, where members of the Constitution Party and other conservative groups organized events to protest the tax-filing deadline.

In St. Louis, thousands showed up at the Kiener Plaza "Tea Party,'' with people continuing to pour onto the grounds after the speeches began. The crowd roared in unison as various speakers blasted the Obama administration and its spending programs, in particular, along with taxes in general. "TEA" stands for Taxed Enough Already

"Born Free, Taxed to Death," declared one of dozens of signs.

"B.O. policies stink!" said another.

The speakers included Gina Loudon, wife of former state Sen. John Loudon, R-Chesterfield. Gina Loudon had made an unsuccessful attempt last year to win her husband's seat. "Our economy is at risk. Our way of life is at risk," she said, touching off shouts of agreement.

The crowd included Liz Schaeffer of Collinsville. "I'm very proud to be here," she said. "I'm scared about the spending. I'm worried about creeping socialism."

Scott Detring of St. Louis County, who just retired from the Coast Guard, also is concerned about the federal spending. But he's also concerned about benefit-cut proposals like one that he heard had been proposed for military veterans.

Wednesday's Tea Party event was the first protest he and his wife had attended, said Mary Detring. "We're curious to see what's going on," she explained.

On its own, the Missouri Constitution Party also organized two other such "parties'' today -- at 1 p.m. in Ava., Mo., in front of the Douglas County Courthouse, and another that starts at 5 p.m. in Cape Girardeau featuring conservative commentator and author David Limbaugh.

National and regional Republicans -- including U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, a Missouri candidate for the Senate -- are lauding the gatherings, even though the GOP previously had been jabbed for overspending in Congress.

The Missouri Republican Party also is joining in the tea-party praise, singling out the party's only official in statewide office -- Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder -- who showed up at the day-early event held Tuesday in Jefferson City. Kinder told participants assembled outside the state Capitol to protest the federal government's "fundamental assault on freedom."

State Republican Party executive director Lloyd Smith added, "We thank Lt. Gov. Kinder and all those who participated for standing up for the American ideal of freedom while protesting the rapid expansion of the federal government."

Today, the state GOP is joined by Blunt, who issued a lengthy statement attacking Democrats, who controll the White House and Congress. When Republicans controlled the U.S. House, Blunt was among their leaders.

"I support the Tea Party movement and share its concerns for America and bad policies that endanger the present and the future. Missourians have a right to be angry," Blunt said. "They are tired of being treated like an open ATM by President (Barack) Obama, Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi and Sen. Harry Reid.

"Like the Missourians participating in these Tea Parties, I strongly opposed the so-called 'stimulus.' The liberal Democrats rammed through nearly $1 trillion in new spending in a bill that nobody even read," he added.

Blunt also took a jab at the only announced Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, who has said she supports the general approach of the Obama administration -- although Carnahan has emphasized that she doesn't know how she would have voted on the stimulus measures because she wasn't in Congress and not privy to all the details of the proposals.

Blunt is assuming that Carnahan would have supported them, by asserting that "the massive spending plan Robin Carnahan supported will slow recovery, slow the creation of jobs and saddle our children and grandchildren with a mountain of debt."

"We cannot borrow our way to prosperity,'' Blunt added -- sidestepping the matter of the budget deficits he supported during former President George W. Bush's tenure.

"With these Tea Parties our citizens are sending a message to Washington. I am carrying their message and Missouri's good common sense to the House, and I want to carry it to the United States Senate."

Dave Robertson, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, says it's not surprising to hear so much pro-Tea Party talk from Republicans. Robertson said the GOP has two objectives: please its base and discourage any defections to more conservative groups like the Constitution Party, who hold even stronger anti-tax views.

"Tax cuts have been a central unifying part of the Republican program since Ronald Reagan," Robertson continued. Re-emphasizing that view is "a way to unify party opposition to taxes. I'm sure it's aimed at the base and keeping the base in the party."

So is talk of spending cuts, even though the record shows that Reagan -- a popular Republican figure -- did incur hefty budget deficits during his eight years as president from 1981-89, just as George W. Bush did. Reagan and Bush both cut taxes, but didn't cut spending to the same extent.

Still, President Barack Obama's even heftier budget proposal and deficit -- plus his proposals to expandfederal health-care programs -- has some area Republican members of Congress jumping on the anti-tax, spending-cut bandwagon.

A few days ago, U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, laid out the schedule of "tax freedom day'' in various states. In Illinois, it was this Monday. In Missouri, it was April 6.

"While many people might say we don't pay enough income tax to the federal government, they forget about all the taxes combined that we do pay," Shimkus said in a statement. "To calculate Tax Freedom Day, the Tax Foundation considers not only state and federal income tax, but also payroll taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, corporate taxes, and other miscellaneous taxes like license fees.

"Yet many people want Washington to control even more of our lives by raising income taxes and instituting other new taxes, like a carbon tax that will increase costs of electricity and every manufactured good," Shimkus added. "They want Washington to control more of your health-care decisions and take away some options for retirement funding."

For whatever reason, Shimkus didn't mention two words: Tea Party.

Today, Shimkus made up for that admission by attending the Tea Party event in Illinois' state capital of Springfield. Said the congressman in a statement fired off afterward:
 
"Today's Tea Parties exemplify what's great about the United States ... citizens gathering peacefully to express their dissatisfaction with their government. I join them in saying no to outrageous spending and never-ending debt."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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