Linda Nelson would do most anything for her children. On Wednesday, that included driving from Lindon to Salt Lake City and braving freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall to join a loud and large tax-day "tea party."
Nelson joined more than 1,200 other Utahns who called for tax relief and reduced federal spending because she is worried that decisions now being made by the federal government will unfairly burden her five children.
"As my kids come out of college, I can't imagine the taxes that they'll be responsible for," Nelson said. Government leaders "are not asking our generation to pay for this. They're going into debt that will take decades to pay off."
Nelson also was bothered by government involvement in private business, citing the forced resignation of General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner as a move that should "never be allowed to happen."
The sign she held over her head at the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building — "Debt is the problem, More debt is not the solution" — was popular, eliciting honks and waves from passing cars.
Speeches by Utah Republican congressmen Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop and state Attorney General Mark Shurtleff were popular, too, as they roundly criticized the federal stimulus package, financial bailouts and the growing budget deficit as missteps by the Obama administration and members of Congress — sentiments greeted with loud cheers by a crowd Salt Lake City police estimated at 1,200 to 1,500.
Chaffetz assured those in attendance that they were not alone in their frustration with the country's leadership.
"You represent … the majority of the people in the United States of America who are fed up with what's happening, and not happening, with their federal government," Chaffetz said.
Shurtleff quoted Founding Father Sam Adams and drew heavily on the metaphor of colonial resistance to British rule, the 1773 Boston Tea Party and current displeasure over federal spending.
"Something is seriously messed up here," Shurtleff said. "What happened to 'We the People'? This meeting can do nothing more to save our country. … We need to take action."
What that action might be wasn't entirely clear, though Bishop did present an alternative to the current measures being taken to address the nation's financial crisis.
"I'm very proud to have sponsored what we call the 'no-cost' stimulus bill, which means we can add $2 trillion to our economy and 2 million jobs immediately if all we do is simply go out and make this country energy independent and build the resources … so we're no longer dependent on foreign countries."
All three politicians are Republicans, but they singled out two GOP brethren for criticism, saying Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and Sen. Bob Bennett took the wrong side on bailout and stimulus issues. Huntsman, who is on vacation this week, joined former Utah Olympics leader Mitt Romney and several other possible candidates for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012 in not participating in any of the tea parties held around the nation, according to a report by Politico.com.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, released a letter Wednesday expressing solidarity with the tea-party participants and saying the Obama budget plan will lead to further taxation. "As taxpayers are rushing to meet the deadline of tax day, demonstrations are continuing … and I want Utahns to know that I share their outrage over the direction the country is headed."
Utah Democratic Party leaders characterized the tea-party demonstrations as corporately funded and orchestrated by Fox News and right-wing radio.
Conservative Fox News commentator Glenn Beck was referenced several times during the rally, and volunteers signed up attendees in a tent touting Beck's 9-12 Project, an effort, according to the project's Web site, to reunite Americans as they were on the day after the 9/11 attacks and "protect the values and principles of the greatest nation ever created."
Democrats issued a press release that blamed Republicans for some of the nation's economic woes. Utah Democratic Party chairman Wayne Holland said Bishop and Chaffetz got it wrong when they voted against a tax cut for working families in the state.
"Over the past eight years, the average working family has seen their income decline by about $2,000 and their health-care costs mushroom. Meanwhile, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans saw their income literally explode and their taxes cut," Holland said. "Utah deserves representation that will stand up for working families when they need it most. By voting against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Bishop and Chaffetz both failed us."
The protests originated in a February rant by CNBC commentator Rick Santelli, who lambasted the federal stimulus package, earmarks, the administration of President Barack Obama and Congress and called for a "Chicago Tea Party." A week later, an estimated 30,000 attended the first tea-party protests in more than 40 cities across the country. Organizers estimated that thousands of people in more than 750 cities participated in the rallies on Wednesday.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche