PHOTOS/POLL Tea for who? A year into Tea Party movement, meet some who helped brew its success

— A year ago, about 2,000 citizens gathered along U.S. 41 near Pine Ridge Road to protest against government spending. They were mad about bank bailouts and stimulus packages.

It was an impressive showing of political dissonance, but as soon as the day passed, many dismissed it as a one-time outpouring of outrage. It was a temporary unrest, coinciding with an enormous stock market decline and a hefty outlay of capital by the government.

In the year since, the Tea Party has solidified into more than just a flash of discontent. For those seeking its support, the Tea Party offers a diverse group of constituencies to gain.

While the common anger seems pointed at government spending, Tea Partiers and their brethren are worried about the Second Amendment, immigration, privacy, education and an overreaching government intervention.

Some issues, such as health-care reform, touch on many of those concerns.

Their ire is directed at Democrats and Republicans alike. Formerly shoo-in primary winners, including Arizona Sen. John McCain and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, are facing stiff challenges from candidates with Tea Party support.

We know what they want — smaller federal government, local control, private industry freedoms and the end of public social services.

But who are they?

Cheryl Couture, 47, Naples homemaker, head of the local 9/12 group

Couture has always thought she knew better for herself than the government knew for her. When her oldest son finished third grade, she decided it best to home-school both of her boys.

Cheryl Couture

Cheryl Couture

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But it wasn’t until she and her sons were studying the start of the United States that she started thinking that the government didn’t know what it was doing either.

“We read the founding documents,” she said. “There’s a lot of things the government is doing now that aren’t in the Constitution. We’ve gotten off track.”

Couture never considered herself particularly political. At 5 feet, with honey blond hair and a face that looks 10 years younger, she probably isn’t who you think of when you think of political activist.

The 2004 vice presidential debates between Dick Cheney and John Edwards caught her attention. She and her sons had been studying the “Communist Manifesto” and one of her sons saw a similarity between Edwards’ statements and the text they were reading.

“He said, ‘Mom, isn’t that the same thing?’” she said.

She paused to consider that statement. “Maybe it’s not socialism, but it’s a slippery slope.”

Now she carries around a copy of the Constitution and quotes founding fathers and ancient Greeks in casual conversation.

Before the first Tea Party rally in Naples, she made a sign that she’s since taken to Washington, D.C., twice and carried all around Southwest Florida. It’s a quotation from Thomas Jefferson: “A government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have.”

Or at least she thinks it is. Jefferson scholars can’t find an instance of him saying or writing that line. Gerald Ford said something similar in 1974. But it doesn’t matter. That’s the sentiment that perfectly encapsulates her world view.

In her perfect world, the federal government would operate as the Constitution is written. She isn’t sure at what point you cut off the services the federal government offers, but is certain that most of the governing should be done on a state and local level and not in Washington, D.C.

“I’m an optimist,” she said. “I think we can turn this country around. But I think we are at a crossroads. We need to be going back to things like liberty.”

Patrick Logue, 38, dog trainer, Fort Myers

Logue is an ideologue, though he’d probably never admit it.

In his mind, the pieces just fit together so neatly that it can’t be considered impractical. His plan is straightforward to the point of simplicity — get rid of the federal government for a year.

Patrick Logue, Naples Tea Party

Photo by submitted

Patrick Logue, Naples Tea Party

“Let’s just see what happens,” he said.

Logue, like the majority of Tea Party loyalists, is a firm believer in the idea that state and local governments would quickly pick up the slack. What is left over would be handled by the private sector, through businesses, churches and charities.

“Americans do what is right,” he said, matter of factly. “If all of these government programs go away, then taxes will go away. Then people have more money with which to help.”

This is a theme that comes up in Tea Party meetings, talks and pamphlets. There is a definite belief that the only reason government intervention in social services is needed is that the government intervened in the first place.

It’s the same argument for health insurance. Logue is adamant that there is no right to health care and that privately funded insurance or direct payments to the doctors is the only way the health system can work properly.

“If you make health care a right, then you are telling doctors that they have to treat people,” he said. “That’s infringing on their rights.”

Logue’s biggest concern is that the progressive movement is actually going in a circular direction back to a feudal state.

“Picture a clock,” he said. “Twelve o’clock is King George, 3 (o’clock) is America in 1773 (the Boston Tea Party), 6 (o’clock) is the America circa 1787 (after the Constitution is ratified). We’re at 9 now, but 12 is where we are heading.

“People ask why conservatives don’t like progress. It’s because progress takes us back to 12 o’clock.”

Terry Boyer, 63, general manager March Aviation

Boyer never thought he’d be here. In his younger days, he’d been a bit of a progressive. But as he got older, he became enmeshed in the GOP culture.

“I was a platinum card carrying member of the RNC,” he said, referring to the Republican National Committee. “I raised a lot of money for them.”

But as the 2008 election moved forward, Boyer realized he wasn’t really satisfied with any of the candidates.

Terry Boyer - Tea Party

Terry Boyer - Tea Party

“Little by little the government spent and ... the function of the state was eroding,” he said. “It’s not a Democrat or Republican problem. It’s everyone.”

The floundering economy is at the forefront of Boyer’s contempt. He sees inequality between the way his business has been treated in the past few years and the way that banks and auto manufacturers have fared.

“Two years ago, we had 17 people,” he said. “Now we have 12. Even if I could keep everyone, I don’t have work for them to do. But Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and A.I.G. get taxpayer money.”

No matter what the larger consequences are to the global economy, he said, big companies should have been allowed to collapse if they made bad decisions.

“This is free enterprise,” he said. “When big companies falter, they are usually broken up. The bad parts get dissolved and the good parts get picked up by other companies.”

Like many of his Tea Party compatriots, Boyer thinks this year’s congressional mid-term elections are crucial to the trajectory of the country. In Florida, he’s throwing his support behind Marco Rubio for the vacant U.S. Senate seat in hopes of keeping Crist from ending up in Washington. Crist, he said, doesn’t take a moral stance on anything _ instead he “does whatever is easiest.”

But he’s also sending money to races around the country and to people like Michele Bachmann, the outspoken Republican congresswoman from Minnesota.

“Something’s got to change in Washington,” he said. “Or I think things are going to get really bad.”

Kerrie Chobot, 56, retired court reporter

Naples residents Kerrie Chobot, left, and Terri Parr give a final approval to a protest sign they created during a meeting with other local members of the Tea Party and SWFL 9.12 Project at Veterans Community Park on Saturday, Aprl 10, 2010, in Naples. The group prepared for the April 15 Tax Day protest at the corner of US 41 and Pine Ridge Road. David Albers/Staff

Photo by DAVID ALBERS

Naples residents Kerrie Chobot, left, and Terri Parr give a final approval to a protest sign they created during a meeting with other local members of the Tea Party and SWFL 9.12 Project at Veterans Community Park on Saturday, Aprl 10, 2010, in Naples. The group prepared for the April 15 Tax Day protest at the corner of US 41 and Pine Ridge Road. David Albers/Staff

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Chobot said as she carefully traced stencils on a piece of white poster board.

Most of the people at the 9/12 Project’s sign-making party, in preparation for today’s Tea Party rally, were freehanding their signs. Chobot was carefully laying out each letter.

The sign will eventually say “Save Our Sovereignty.”

Chobot also carefully chooses her words when she speaks. As a retired court reporter she knows the power that words can have. Perhaps that’s why she was initially reluctant to join the Tea Party movement. She came to the sign-making party to get a handle on the scene.

“I kind of wanted to see what other people are a part of this,” she said.

Chobot grew up the child of a World War II veteran who believes that one of the United States’ greatest attributes is its international reach. But she’s concerned with what she sees as President Barak Obama’s kowtowing to the opinions of other world leaders.

“I believe we need to have a government with strength,” she said. “I’m concerned with our place in the world. (Obama) appeases and apologizes.”

She doesn’t like increasing the national deficit, but she didn’t have problems spending money on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Freedom isn’t free,” she said. “I know it’s a cliche, but it’s true.”

But now she sees a government that is spending more than it can afford in an attempt to control the economy, which is what she thinks the recently enacted health-care reform does.

“I think it’s transferring a huge part of our economy out of the private sector and into government control,” she said. “We have the right to seek health care. But we don’t have the right to have it provided to us by the government.”

She said it’s socialism plain and simple.

_ Connect with Jonathan Foerster at www.naplesnews.com/staff/jonathan_foerster

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