NORTH KINGSTOWN – The Tea Party Express rolled into Rhode Island Wednesday on two big buses as part of its nationwide “Reclaiming America” tour.
TPX, as it fashions itself, is a traveling show of conservative politics, leavened with music and comedy, all wrapped up in patriotic Americana. It embarked from Napa, California and has made its way across the midsection of the country — “what the media calls flyover country” as one speaker put it — to New England and is now southbound for Tampa, Fla., where it is partnering with CNN to sponsor a debate among Republican presidential candidates.
More than 100 people — some carrying flags, some carrying signs, but most carrying umbrellas against the intermittent rain — gathered on an asphalt basketball court in Wilson Park to hear an array of speakers headlined by Sharron Angle, who became a national figure last year when she mounted a Republican challenge to Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, threatening to unseat the powerful Senate Majority Leader before ultimately falling back in the homestretch and losing with 45 percent of the vote to Reid’s 50.
“We know who we are,” Angle told the whooping faithful. “We are not an organization. We are an organism. And we’re not following a person, we’re following principles. And if the people we follow have the
right principles, then we will vote for them.
“That’s why we have to do things to make sure that we’re looking at records; not just what they say, but what they do,” she added.
Saying that she gets a lot of questions about who is the real Sharron Angle, “because what they saw was a caricature of me that the press gave you and also that Harry Reid gave you,” Angle took the opportunity to flog a book, “Right Angle, One Woman’s Journey to Reclaim the Constitution.”
Angle said she became active in politics after a judge did not allow her to home school her son, who she said had failed kindergarten. She said the judge told her that although the law allows home schooling, ‘“the law should say you can’t home school your child unless you live more than 50 miles away from the nearest school.’ That’s when I realized that judges, legislating from the bench unconstitutionally, that the government was getting in my family business and how I was raising my children and I knew I had to be more than just a voter.”
Angle was just one of several speakers responding to California Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ statement last week that “the Tea Party can go straight to hell.”
“Maxine Waters said the Tea Party can go to hell, but we don’t have any interest in visiting her district,” Angle told the appreciative audience. Earlier, Amy Kremer, chairwoman of the Tea Party Express, said her message to Waters is: “We’re not going to hell, we’re going to Washington, and you’re going home.”
She also shot back at Republican Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential candidate, who during the recent debate over raising the nation’s debt limit compared recalcitrant Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representatives to “hobbits.”
“You need to read to the end of the story, the hobbits win, they are the heroes,” she declared as the crowd applauded and shouted.
The group Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) used Angle’s visit to challenge state Rep. Doreen Costa of North Kingstown, who opposed same-sex marriage during the recent General Assembly session, to repudiate Angle for her opposition to civil rights for homosexuals, calling it “as morally bankrupt as it is offensive.”
Costa, who organized the Tea Party Express visit to North Kingstown, declined to engage, telling The Times. She said the event’s focus was on fiscal, not social issues. “I’m not going to get involved in a social issue at this point, period.”
Otherwise, Costa said, “I’m very, very happy. At 11:30 in the morning on a Wednesday, you couldn’t ask for a better crowd. Even if the sun was shining, I don’t think it would have made a difference today.”
Howard Kaloogian, a Tea Party Express official, told the crowd, “in 2012, we’re going to concentrate on nominating a conservative for president and gaining a conservative Senate.” He declared that “the Obama presidency has been one giant economic disaster. Obama will be a one-term president and he will be replaced by a Tea Party conservative.” He did not specify who that candidate might be.
Kremer said the movement was “born out of frustration and anger with both political parties, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, especially the Republican Party because they gotten away from their conservative principles and values.
Two women stood off to the side holding handmade signs that said “Save Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security Vote Democrat. The women, who refused to give their names, said, “We’re against the Tea Party. We’re for our country and our people. We’re good Americans.”
One of the women said, “if this party had been a reality when Bush was running, I could give them respect. If they were a legit group, they would have been out there then.”
Will Grapentine of Bristol, watching from under a colonial tri-corner hat, said, “I believe there needs to be a loud voice that the state and the country needs change. And it goes beyond just one political party, it goes on all issues. It’s about the size and scope of government.”