A handful of Tea Party activists from various states gathered on the steps of the Kansas Statehouse this afternoon to announce Freedom Fest 2011 — an event billed as the National Tea Party's candidate nominating convention, slated for Sept. 28 to Oct. 2 in Kansas City, Kan.
Organizers said the convention would be like "a Tea Party Woodstock." But without all the "hippies, drugs and trash."
The activists were greeted by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and State Rep. TerriLois Gregory, R-Baldwin City.
"It's particularly appropriate that the Tea Party have such a momentous event in Kansas," Kobach said. "Kansas was both the birthplace of populism and the starting place of the Civil War. You take those two important events in American history — the populist movement and the Civil War — and really the Tea Party of today is in some ways a combination of those same impulses. An uprising of common Americans saying that the power in this country is moving in the wrong direction."
The event is intended to bring together all stripes of "grassroots" Tea Party supporters, said William Temple of Brunswick, Ga., the Freedom Fest chairman.
When asked how many people his organization represented, Temple said: "We're 21 independent 9/12 Tea Party local grassroots groups, not the national organizations or umbrella groups."
Those attending the announcement included Tea Party activists from Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, and Kansas, he said.
"We're inviting all of the national candidates — Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie...Tim Pawlenty, David Vitter. We're giving a platform to all the national candidates, but not the establishment groups," like Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney, he said.
Local "grassroots" Tea Party organizations can register a delegate online to vote for the party's presidential nominee. The festival website says: "The Tea Party nominees for President and Vice President will then be publicly announced on stage at 7 p.m., and the candidates will give their acceptance speeches, followed by the traditional convention celebration and a Tea Party balloon drop."
Freedom Fest 2011 announcement (full audio)
Temple — who was one of three dressed in colonial-era costumes — said the outdoor event in Kansas City would feature music, camping and other festival-like activities. He said that Kansas was selected because it is in the middle of the country, allowing people from all states to more easily attend. A site for the festival has yet to be determined.
"It's going to be sort of a Tea Party Woodstock, without all the hippies, drugs and trash," Temple said. "We've got black entertainers coming from the Miami Tea Parties who've marched with us in D.C. on 9/11, 9/12. And Latinos. We're going to have Sunday worship service. And we've literally got two Chinese pastors who are going to talk about what happens when you lose your government entirely," he said. "It's Columbus Day weekend, a four-day weekend, so families can come, they can RV in, they can camp, they can stay in hotels. We don't care what affiliation you are — Democrat, Republican, independent. We're concerned with: do you support the limits of the Constitution."
He said one of the most egregious violations of constitutional limits has been the federal mandate in the new health reform law. Temple said he was unimpressed with President Obama telling governors yesterday that he backs accelerated state flexibility for health reform but that he was glad to see the administration retreating.
"I'm glad he's backpedaling," he said. "The health care bill signed on March 1st, 2010, was the first act of tyranny since we kicked the British out of this country in that it forced Americans to buy something, which is totally unconstitutional."
The Affordable Care Act starting in 2014 would require virtually all Americans over 18 who can afford health insurance to have it or pay a tax penalty. So far, five federal judges have issued rulings — three upheld the law and two struck it down.
Gregory said she was "guardedly optimistic" about Obama's announcement yesterday.
"I'll believe it when I see it come to fruition," she said. "We have a lot of work to do, but we need to (do it). We do not want our destiny controlled by Washington. We want to stand on our state sovereignty and take care of ourselves."
Gregory, a Republican freshman in the Kansas House, said people in her district do not support the individual mandate.
"When I was campaigning, both Democrats and Republicans and Libertarians did not want federally mandated health insurance," she said. "I like what the Tea Party does, because they really keep pointing back to the Constitution."