Tea party activists rally along Grand Strand

Hundreds of activists gathered at parks in Myrtle Beach and Georgetown Thursday afternoon to protest growing government spending, as part of a series of rallies across the state to coincide with the deadline to file tax returns.

The crowd in Myrtle Beach heard more than two hours of speeches organized by the Myrtle Beach Tea Party for its second annual Tax Day Rally in Chapin Park. The rally is part of a national movement that came to prominence in 2009 protesting major government spending programs, including the stimulus and, later, health care reform.

"You know what makes me most teed about the health care bill? The House, the Senate, the president, no one listened to the people," said the Rev. James Stalling, the master or ceremonies at the event and a member of the Myrtle Beach Tea Party.

The event included speeches from Republican primary candidates for the state's 1st Congressional District, lieutenant governor and attorney general. All nine Republican candidates for the 1st District attended, while the two Democratic candidates declined the invitation, said Luke Towery, president of the Myrtle Beach Tea Party. Many of the speakers also voiced their support for rescinding the health care bill.

Many activists focused on individual issues, such as the Horry County Minutemen promoting tighter immigration policies and pushing for a flat sales tax to replace the income tax. Activists carried signs promoting messages such as "Stop spending our future" and "Term limits for Congress."

Although many speakers aligned themselves with conservatives or Republicans, some activists expressed their anger at all politicians.

"It's not a matter of Republican or Democrat. How many people just think politicians care about their own power and their money?" said Mark Bennett, an activist from Conway. "The tea party movement is not just the shills of the Republican Party."

Activists must limit Congress to only those powers listed in Article 1 of the Constitution, he said. Health care legislation, for example, forces unconstitutional obligations onto states, he said.

The Myrtle Beach rally was one of many statewide and nationally Thursday, the deadline to file income tax returns. Georgetown County also had a tea party, drawing more than 100 people to Francis Marion Park on Front Street. Participants, some dressed as historical figures Francis Marion and Betsy Ross, poured liquid tea out of a barrel into the water, symbolizing the Boston Tea Party of 1773. Many 1st District candidates also spoke there.

Gov. Mark Sanford spoke at the tea party rally in Columbia, which drew more than a thousand spectators. Sanford was warmly received although he received a few jeers for supporting a proposal to raise the cigarette tax.

The Myrtle Beach Tea Party organization is far more organized than it was at the time of last year's Tax Day Rally, Towery said. The group has had more practice at organizing events, he said, holding two rallies and six town halls a year.

The group will also have a debate for the congressional candidates May 13 and will endorse candidates in several races, he said.

The tea partiers held an informal straw poll for the congressional candidates at Wednesday's rally, which the group will take into account when making its endorsement, he said. Mark Lutz led the vote with 18.4 percent and only one vote more than the nearest candidate, Larry Kobrovsky. Ken Glasson came in third with 12.2 percent and Katherine Jenerette took fourth with 10.4 percent.

At the rally, Towery presented the group's first endorsement to Bill Connor, a Republican in the race for lieutenant governor.

The tea party movement has become more organized nationally and locally, said Anthony Barben, a Myrtle Beach resident who attended the 2009 Tax Day Rally in Washington, D.C. Tea parties have been an important outlet for frustration with the political process, said Barben, 27, an electrician.

The movement showed its effectiveness by getting Sen. Scott Brown, who opposes health care reform, elected in Massachusetts, he said. Barben said he considers the health care legislation to be a governmental violation of individual rights, and that particularly frustrates him.

"It's not acceptable to take from one to give to another," he said.

Daniel Cochran - an activist with Campaign for Liberty, an organization founded by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas - said he is worried the movement may be influenced by other conservatives with separate agendas. Cochran has been involved in the movement since 2007, when Paul had a tea party event in Boston.

"I think in some regards it's been kidnapped by the Glenn Beck, neo-con crowd that say, 'Oh, this is Republican,'" said Cochran. "I like what [activists at the rally] are doing. ... I just worry that in some instances it's being hijacked by people coming in with agendas that are not applicable to what the tea party movement is all about to start with: small government."