Those of you who know me personally know that I enjoy hearing all kinds of different perspectives on current events. That's one reason I went to hear President Obama at Dobson High School back last year, went to the McCain-Palin election night event at the Biltmore resort in Scottsdale in 2008, and my reason for attending last night's Red Mountain Tea Party meeting at Legacy Charter School in Mesa where former congressman and radio personality J.D. Hayworth was scheduled to speak about his campaign for US Senate against incumbent John McCain.
I was actually a little apprehensive about getting into a meeting like this, because the only real dealings I've had with Tea Party members have been of the confrontational sort, like the Freedom's Phoenix incident at Congressman Jeff Flake's town hall meeting back last July. When I arrived at the school, I had my doubts about the organization of the event, given that they were starting to turn away cars to park in other lots across the road, but I "snuck" back into the back of the school, and parked there without a problem.
Upon entering the school's cafeteria, the room was already almost full, and I counted 250 chairs, which all almost filled up when the meeting kick-started. The Red Mountain Tea Party leader, Randy Hatch, got up and began the meeting with an invocation from his wife and the Pledge of Allegiance before recognizing the military members of the audience and discussing the six principles of the Tea Party:
1. Limited government
2. A free and fair economic system
3. Fiscal responsibility
4. Secured borders
5. State sovereignty
6. Energy independence through practical US drilling of oil
As I listened to Mr. Hatch speak, I couldn't help but feel that it sounded a little bit too much like I was in church being preached at from a podium than be a part of an activist group. I can't really describe it better than to say that the Tea Party isn't much of a far stretch from an indoctrination group. Then, because Hayworth was running late from the LD-19 meeting (which I skipped to attend this one), Hatch relayed the story of Margaret Corbett from "American Women at War" in order to illustrate the point about military appreciation.
I suppose at this point in the story I should qualify why everything was geared toward the older crowd. About 99% of the audience was in the over-40 category. I was one of only two people I noticed who were under about 30 and who weren't little kids that mom and dad had dragged along. Not a huge surprise considering that it is Mesa, Arizona - the Western United States' largest retirement community - but it was disappointing to learn that this Tea Party movement hasn't attracted more younger people into activism. For as much as I don't care to associate myself with the movement, getting people active in politics is a good thing, as Karl Rove and Howard Dean said at their debate a couple weeks ago.
Finally, Mr. Hatch introduced the only public official to show up at the meeting, Chuck Gray, the Arizona State Senator from LD-19, who discussed the difference between a democracy (rule by the people) and a republic (supreme power rests with the people who elect representatives to exercise that power). After stretching it out for a while, Hayworth finally made it down to the event and Sen. Gray introduced him.
Two things I noticed about J.D. Hayworth: 1. he conveniently skipped over talking about healthcare and jobs during his time on the microphone and 2. the man can talk... a lot. He was a lot like my world politics teacher at college: a story for everything and not a lot of substance in between. He began his "monologue" (his words, not mine) with the obligatory "the essence of a free society is that when there's disagreement in our society, we use our political system" to settle it. "As your next US Senator, it's my job to listen to you."
Beyond recognizing (again) the military members of the audience and having them stand up (again) and be applauded, Hayworth spoke most about three topics before opening up the floor to audience questions - the "dialogue" as he put it.
1. Hayworth, should he be elected, would reintroduce the Congressional Responsibility Act (which failed to pass while he was in the House). This Act holds Congress to their legislative responsibilities by downsizing the "alphabet of acronyms" (bureaucracies) and bureaucratic regulators whose regulations have the force of law but were put into effect by unelected, unaccountable federal regulators. Hayworth would rather see those regulations, once proposed, be sent to the House or Senate (as applicable) for an up-or-down vote, thus holding the members of Congress accountable for their votes.
2. "Border security is national security" - and Hayworth did not fail to mention he "wrote the book on it" as he termed the current border situation as an "illegal immigrant invasion that must be stopped." He therefore said that he would propose the Enforcement First Act (didn't pass while he was in the House, and probably helped him get replaced by Rep. Harry Mitchell in CD-5) in the Senate.
3. Term limits. The two words most citizens love to say yes to, and elected officials love to ignore. Personally, I don't favor term limits, as I think the responsibility for limiting public officials from maintaining public office rests with the citizens of the districts and states that official represents - save for Presidential terms. But irregardless, Hayworth made the promise that if elected, he would serve for a maximum of two terms (twelve years) and then retire from the Senate. I got the distinct impression from his rhetoric on this one that after twelve years, he has higher ambitions (cough *President?* cough), but really, that's just a feeling I got from how he said that he wanted only two successive terms only.
After the monologue, lasting roughly an hour, Hayworth took questions from the audience, all of which were softballs from people who were already supporting him, such as "are you for a flat tax?" (No, he prefers a fair tax.) The quick rundown (because it was sometimes hard to follow his answers thanks to his stories and digressions):
- How do bills get passed without even being read? Most people in Congress use the Legislative Counsel, a team of lawyers, to translate rhetoric into legislative-ese for the bills, which no one can then follow. Staffs condense bills into "Cliff's Notes" for members, and that's just what happens. Hayworth favors making the Clerk of the House/Senate be forced to read all the bills on the floor of the chamber by objecting to the practice of allowing there to be unanimous consent to consider the bill as read, even if it has not been read.
- Would you favor the repeal of the 17th Amendment? The 17th allows Senators to be elected directly by the people, instead of elected by the legislatures of the various states. Hayworth thinks it's worth considering, but says it'd take way more than his 12-years-only promise to get it done.
- On a question about terrorists coming over the open borders illegally, Hayworth supports "enhanced interrogation techniques" - the politically correct way to say torture - to obtain information on terrorist plots. No disrespect to John McCain, of course....
- Why did you oppose the first immigration reform plans, in essence supporting amnesty? In late 2005, the bill would have strengthened immigration laws. He opposed the bill because it didn't go far enough. Sounds like a cop out to me, J.D.
- So, what about Abramoff's money? His PACs and campaigns didn't do anything wrong, and he never did anything by quid-pro-quo tactics. Abramoff donated $2250 to his causes, and none of it was to get him to vote a certain way.
Frankly, listening to Hayworth speak, while I tend to agree with parts of what he said, has made me no more likely to vote for him in the Republican primary come August. He's just a little too extremist for me, especially at a time when I think we need more voices of compromise, not partisanship, in Congress. That said, I'm still not a McCain fan either, and another gentleman in the race, Jim Deakin, looks to me to be of the same fringe as the Tea Party extremists. It's shaping up to be a very poor race, where people like me are going to be forced to choose between the lesser of two evils again. At least I can say I've done my homework on the candidates again!