Idaho Tea Party Goes Establishment


When the Tea Party movement made its public debut in Boise on Tax Day last year, it was a decidedly anti-establishment affair, with marchers calling for outlandish freedoms, quoting Ayn Rand and disparaging the president.

Then they went and got organized.

Monday’s rally at the Statehouse seemed more like a Lion’s Club meeting than a talk radio-fueled protest march. One by one, conservative lawmakers approached the podium to drone on about gun rights, sound currency, rights of midwives and the Constitution. The crowd of 400-500 people golf clapped and took notes and then flooded into the Statehouse for teach-ins about the legislative process and meetings with lawmakers.

Idaho legislators even have a new caucus to address the marchers' issues. It’s called the Platform for Prosperity or Conservative Caucus, according to Twin Falls Rep. Steve Hartgen. At least a dozen law makers, led by Steve Thayn of Emmett and Janet McGeachin of Idaho Falls, have met twice in the last few months to debate legislation, Hartgen said.

“I think we have ears to what the Tea Party people are saying,” Hartgen said, adding that he had recently heard talk of secession.

Coinciding with Martin Luther King Jr./Idaho Human Rights Day, rally organizers mentioned race only one time, at the outset of the event.

Mark Balzer Sr. of Sovereign Idaho.
  • Mark Balzer Sr. of Sovereign Idaho.
“We are not racists,” said Mark Balzer Sr., co-chair of the Sovereign Idaho coaltion, a loose knit affiliation of Tea Party-like groups. “We will not be quiet and we most certainly will not go away. We have legitimate reasons to protest our government.”

None of the dozen or so speakers mentioned King or the fact that is was both a state and national holiday, though they claim the mantle of patriotism.

“It was not an intentional snub of Dr. King,” Balzer told citydesk. “I believe Dr. King would be in support of what we are trying to do today.”

Meanwhile, a celebration of King’s life, bumped from the Capitol steps by the Tea Party marchers, could be heard two blocks to the south, at Boise City Hall. Their cheers echoed off the steps, as confused Tea Partiers wondered what was coming up Capitol Boulevard.

If parallels are to be drawn (they probably shouldn't be) perhaps the Tea Party should take a hint from the civil rights movement. Once you start getting your laws passed and your leaders elected, you'll be establishment, too, and won't have as much to shout about.

Of course there’s always Lenore Barrett, the incorruptible Challis Republican who wrote the book on Idaho Tea Partying back in April and offered the crowd a new metaphor for the season: that of the “Machiavellian meatloaf that we are choking on today.”

We'll take the soup.