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April 22, 2010 5:15 am

Tea partiers push for change

Written by Tribune Staff

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Terri Tucker of Cody holds aloft a protest sign at Thursday's TEA Party rally at Cody's City Park. The second-annual event, organized to protest government growth and spending like the bailout of financial institutions, drew several hundred people. Tribune photo by CJ Baker

We gathered here a year ago, and we were not too thrilled,” said Bob Berry, one of the organizers of Thursday's TEA Party protest in Cody's City Park.

“We're really not too thrilled now,” said Berry, a Cody inn owner.

Several hundred area residents apparently felt the same way, advocating for a number of conservative causes during the three-hour event.

Last year's protests around the nation were generally aimed at frustration with government bailouts of the financial industry and the federal stimulus bill. Thursday's protest had a new set of issues, with those in attendance voicing concerns over the recently-passed health care reform bill, too-burdensome regulations on business, too-lax border control and the general growth and spending in government.

A number of TEA partiers carried signs, such as “Quit tramplin' on our constitution,” “Obamerica — the land once free and the home of the slave,” “King George the III never looked so good,” and “No no socialism no no.”

The bulk of the frustration throughout the rally focused on the Democratic leadership in Washington, and frequently, the agenda of President Barack Obama.

“This is a time when the government no longer serves the people,” said attorney Rob DiLorenzo of Emblem. “This is a time when the people serve the government.”

Berry said the TEA Party, which originally stood for “Taxed Enough Already,” now stands for “Take Energetic Action.”

“Money is not at the heart of this issue. The thing that we're at is liberty,” said Cody High School sophomore Jeff Victor, urging the crowd to stand against abortion.

Much of the focus at Thursday's event was on the November elections and the change they might bring.

Organizer Robin Berry encouraged attendees to do their own research — such as finding out how many taxes they pay. She also urged attendees to choose candidates that will stand for state's rights.

“Remember, we do have some great representatives here,” Robin Berry added. In his comments, Bob Berry said it appeared that not many local government officials were in attendance.

David Kellett of Powell, the local organizer of the Wyoming 9-12 Coalition, urged attendees to know their elected representatives and their records.

“If you don't know how your senators or representatives are voting, you have a problem,” Kellett said.

He noted that most of Park County's legislators scored poorly on the “Wyoming Liberty Index” in 2009. The index, compiled by the libertarian Wyoming Liberty Group, ranks how “freedom-minded” legislators are during legislative sessions based on their voting on certain bills.

Kellett said citizens should lobby their legislators to pass the Health Care Freedom Act, a resolution which would amend the state constitution to state that the federal government may not interfere with individuals' health care decisions.

All state representatives and senators in Park and Big Horn counties voted in favor of introducing the bill this past budget session.

During the open-mic period, Wyoming House Speaker Colin Simpson, R-Cody, who is currently seeking the GOP nomination for governor, commended TEA partiers on their activism and said he wished there had been this much participation years ago.

“Why are we where we are today in America? Because we haven't had the participation we need in the political process,” Simpson said. He said legislators need the input from their constituents.

Simpson said he agreed with basic values of the group: limited government, free enterprise, “and keeping the government out of your way and out of your life, right?” he said to applause.

The TEA Party groups, though conservative, are not affiliated with any political party, and the TEA Party is not a third party.

“We don't want to run the government, but we do want, I think, moral and just government,” said Robin Berry.

At the open mic, state Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, noted that the Health Care Freedom Act failed introduction this past budget session when most Democrats voted against the measure. Childers said it indicated that the state needs more Republicans.

Bill Bien, a Cody Vietnam veteran, voiced concern with the direction of the country, comparing President Barack Obama's political career to that of leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

“Barack Obama mirrors him (Chavez),” Bien said.

Bien also said he was concerned that President Obama was creating a personal “police force.” Bien recalled the black- and brown-shirt paramilitary police groups deployed by Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini in the run up to World War II.

“Is this the beginning of this here in our constitutional government?” asked Bien, citing numbers of a 6,000-member private force.

The claim is based on a misinterpretation of a clause in the health care bill, according to the non-partisan fact-checking website, FactCheck.org.

The bill's language actually refers to a new Ready Reserve Corps of doctors and health workers that would be used during a health emergency, such as a hurricane.

Conservative blogger Ed Morrissey of the website Hot Air dismissed the private army fears in a March 27 post, noting the language in the clause specifying that it was an amendment to a pre-existing program, not a new police force.

“This bill has a multitude of problems, but a ‘private health-care army' isn't one of them,” wrote Morrissey.

One young woman, Dominae Cole of Cody, protested the event for the full three hours from the front and center of the crowd. She carried signs saying that health care was a human right and another that satirically called herself a “racist,” a “homophobe” and a TEA Party supporter. Cole, who grew up in Cody, said she was there to represent “the other side.” There was shouting from some attendees for Cole to “get out of here.”

Kellett simply handed her a handbook containing the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and other materials.

“My thinking was that she obviously didn't have enough information,” he said.