At Smitty’s BBQ in Conway, they serve more than a mean pulled-pork sandwich.
It’s a weekly meeting place for the Faulkner County TEA Party, who on this particular Wednesday boast approximately 50 like-minded conservative activists not satisfied with the direction of the country.
David Crow is the defacto leader of the Faulkner County TEA Party this week. Crow, a well-dressed, articulate businessman, does not see his group’s efforts to engage in the political process as a short-term fad.
“I think I’m going to die fighting this fight,” Crowe tells the audience.
What’s he’s fighting?
A Washington, D.C. agenda – led by Democrats on some issues and Republicans on others - that has resulted in an expansion of government’s role in the health care system, rising national debt and nearly 10 years of deficit spending.
They are also hell-bent on holding local Conway and Faulkner County officials accountable by attending city council and quorum court meetings to object to what they consider wasteful government spending. Once a month, they hold education forums at the local library to teach interested citizens about constitutional law.
Elizabeth Sotallaro, is the web master for the group’s web site. Unlike what is sometimes portrayed in the media, she’s not a rebel-rousing, gun-toting angry conservative pining for the days of Ward and June Cleaver. She understands the modern times and simply wants a government that can live within its means.
“We’re not anti-government,” she contends. “We’re anti- ‘Big Government’.”
The crowd is a collection of retirees, businesspeople, blue-collar workers, housewives – even a 30-something preacher who rides a motorcycle.
NO BBQ-ING OF BOOZMAN
At this week’s event, GOP Senate hopeful Cong. John Boozman is speaking. His record has come under fire from some TEA Party conservatives unimpressed with his decade-long ties to the nation’s capital.
Boozman works the crowd with ease perhaps hoping to diffuse his record of voting for deficit budgets during the Bush years, his millions of dollars in earmark requests, and his vote for the bank bailout (TARP - Troubled Asset Relief Program) in the fall of 2008.
He speaks as if he’s a D.C. outsider despite nearly nine years as the Congressman in Arkansas’ 3rd District.
“What Washington doesn’t realize – Obama and that bunch…” his message begins.
He rattles off a litany of Obama agenda items that he’s opposed: health care reform, auto industry bailouts, and the stimulus package, to name a few.
Interestingly, the subjects that have drawn fierce criticism from TEA Party activists – earmarks, deficits and bank bailouts - never arise until late in a Q-&-A session, despite Boozman speaking in challenger Gilbert Baker’s backyard of Conway.
GOP primary opponent Curtis Coleman is in the crowd this day, too, “tweeting” thoughts like: “At the Faulkner Co. TEA Party in Conway. Looking forward to hearing J. Boozman explain his unconstitutional vote for TARP.”
Boozman deflects. He once again talks about voting against the stimulus, the bailouts of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, cash-for-clunkers, the current federal budget.
“What else?” he asks. A citizen interjects, “TARP!”
“I did vote for the TARP bill. What that was was loaning banks that money,” he says. “The vast majority of that has been repaid.” He noted that while none of the individual banks were too big to fail, he feared that the entire investment-banking sector was doomed to collapse without the TARP intervention.
Boozman warns the group that immigration is a likely future issue coming to Congress and he touts his opposition to amnesty not just during the Obama administration, but in the Bush years also.
“If you give 8 or 9 million people amnesty, under current law with their ability to bring in extended family, then you’re talking about probably 40 million people within 20 years,” Boozman says.
His call for establishing English as the official U.S. language brings a rousing round of applause from the audience.
Afterwards, Boozman makes himself available to this reporter and answers an essential question or two about the TEA Party and its relevance to his campaign.
He defines the movement as a group of Americans “who are tired of sitting around feeling like they’re having to take it.”
“They want to do something,” he says.
“The way I’ve voted in the past matches up very well with the conservative values that they have and also the fiscal values,” Boozman added. “The message they [Americans] are rejecting is that you can spend and borrow your way into prosperity.”