INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The first Indian River Tea Party event in 2009 drew an estimated 3,500 people and was organized by a small band of entrepreneurs who put up their own cash to front the event.
An even larger crowd is expected for this year’s Tea Party scheduled for noon Friday at Holman Stadium, with conservatives motivated by what they see as big-government spending, passage of the healthcare bill and continued economic strife.
Still a fledgling operation the Indian River Tea Party netted enough donations this year to offset expenses. It had also booked popular U.S. Senate hopeful Marco Rubio, who is a Republican, as its keynote speaker, but he was a last minute cancellation to tend to his ailing father.
But what the local Tea Party group has yet to do is to figure out how to channel the angst and excitement into civic action here at home.
Aside from the 2009 event, it hosted a candidate forum before the Vero Beach City election and issued a letter signed by its executive committee on the pros and cons of the city’s efforts in signing $2 billion contract with its electric supplier.
In terms of the Tea Party’s future, Chairman Toby Hill said the committee will take it one year, one event at a time — that there are no immediate plans to expand its mission or scope.
“We haven’t sat down and said, ‘wow, look what we have created, now what are we going to do with it?'” he said.
The Indian River Tea Party Executive Committee consists of Hill, president of The Hill Group; Paul Tanner, president of Sonshine Audio-Video; Karl Zimmermann, former Indian River County Tax Collector and Realtor with Treasure Coast Sotheby’s International Realty; north barrier island resident John Marr; Chuck Mechling, president of On Site Management Group and developer of Pointe West and Collier Club; and Bill Friesell, former CEO of Citicorp Diner’s Club Inc.
Hill said the Tea Party believes in three basic tenets: limited government, fiscal and individual responsibility and the free market system.
“What the Tea Party is about is to say, ‘Wake up America, your government is on a spending binge,” Hill said. “With deficit spending, there has been a slow erosion of our liberty nipping at our heels.”
“In America, we don’t guarantee you success, we guarantee you the same opportunity everyone else has,” he said.
Corporate welfare and Wall Street bailouts are as distasteful to Hill as the recently passed healthcare reform bill and programs called a “safety net” by liberals.
“We’re not in favor of bailing out businesses, they should have been allowed to go belly up,” he said. “It’s competition and the free market that keeps us lean and mean.”
Hill said the Tea Party members will hand out pocket-sized copies of the U.S. Constitution and that they encourage citizens from all walks of life to immerse themselves in the original language and become strict constructionists — those who do not believe the Constitution is a living document, but instead a blueprint.
Hill, an Orlando native and 30-year resident of Vero Beach, said he thinks the issue like the Vero Beach electric rates have helped get citizens engaged in the public discourse, not only in the Tea Party, but in other efforts.
Commissioner Bob Solari, himself a frequent and vocal opponent of how government runs its business, said he hopes the Tea Party sticks to its original mission and does not become just another advocacy group.
“We don’t need another political group,” said Solari, who supports the Tea Party mission but feels it should operate outside the halls of government, like its namesake predecessor, challenging the seat of power.
Hill disagrees that the Tea Party needs to be subversive to be relevant.
“We’re not anarchists,” he said. “The original Tea Party was not about disbanding government; it was about taxation without representation.”