VIDEO: Residents rally for fair taxes

Published 10:36 am Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cindy Stevens had a crowd of 130 people in the palm of her hand Wednesday.

Stevens was the keynote speaker at a Tax Day Tea Party at the Mower County Veterans Memorial.

A crowd, that included senior citizens as well as young adults with children, waved signs and shouted support. Passing vehicles tooted their approval of the demonstration.

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Even the backdrop brought home the point of the demonstration: Two downtown Austin city blocks are being cleared to construct a new two-story, 128-bed Mower County Jail and justice Center, while a third is being taken off the tax rolls to provide a geothermal well field for the facilities.

Price tag: $30.7 million for public safety and court security measures.

Stevens, a stay-at-home mother, who home-schools her children, grabbed her audience’s attention from the start.

“Have you had enough?” she shouted into a microphone. “Yes,” audience members responded.

“This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats. This is about a united nation of America who have had enough,” she said. The audience waved signs and agreed.

Similar Tax Day Tea Party events — Remember the British and the Boston Tea Party from American history? — were held Wednesday at the state capitol in St. Paul and a dozen other Minnesota cities.

The Taxpayers League of Minnesota, Minnesota Majority, Minnesota’s For Limited Government and Minnesota Prayer Group were among the event’s sponsors.

The purpose of the Tax Day Tea Party was to protest rising taxes and wasteful government spending on April 15: The well-known day federal income taxes must be filed.

Before the protest began, a prayer was heard and the Pledge of Allegiance recited.

Then, Stevens went to work.

Austin Mayor Tom Stiehm was the first guest speaker to be introduced.

Stiehm said, “Government has to be more responsive to people.”

The mayor pointed to a sign that read, “Silence is consent” and invited citizens to get involved in local government and let their elected representatives know their concerns.

That’s what Tom Purcell, a former Austin City Council at-large and City Planning Commission member, did. Purcell jockeyed for position among crowd members and waved a sign calling for 12 “No pay Mondays” to help reduce government spending.

When it was Stevens’ turn to take back the microphone, she asked a question. “Are elected officials the masters or the servants in a democracy?” she said. Audience members responded “servants.”

Then, Stevens bisected a tax dollar and how it is spent, including social security, military, Medicare and other programs and services.

Her speech was peppered with sound-bytes.

“Do we have enough people on welfare?” she asked the audience.

By the end of her 60-minute address on the first-ever Tax Day Tea Party event in Austin, Stevens had overwhelmed her audience with statistics, numbers and rhetoric.

Several people left the area, signs came down and children sprawled on the courthouse lawn oblivious to the tax protest in Tuesday’s warm afternoon sunshine.

Still, Stevens had struck a chord with some audience members.

Several suggested she run for public office, including an unidentified Freeborn County man, who recommended she seek a seat in the state legislature.

Among Stevens’ vocal supporters in the crowd was Don Konken, 61 and a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War.

“I heard the truth today,” Konken said of Stevens’ speech. “I heard what we don’t get from our own government. We don’t get the truth from our state government, we don’t get it from the federal government and we don’t get it from city and county government.”

“They are so worried if they tell the truth it is going to hurt somebody’s feelings,” Konken said.

“This lady today said the honest-to-God truth,” Konken said.

According to the taxpayer, not only does government raise taxes, “They also charge us more fees on top of the taxes.”

Every audience member took home a different message to match their own perspective.

Ian Thomas Corscadden, 19 and currently unemployed, said, “Living is getting more expensive with taxes and fees and everything.”

Corscadden pointed to the recent cigarette tax hike as an example how the government is “singling out people.”

David Taylor, 29, said, “We need to talk to our politicians more than we have about this.”

According to Taylor, he doesn’t mind paying for necessary services, such as police and fire department coverage, but, “I don’t see why I should be paying taxes for somebody sitting around on their butt and not working.”

“There’s lots of abuse out there in government, and we need to do something about it,” Taylor said.

Bryon Leak, also 29, said, “There’s so much unnecessary stuff that they could trim the fat around the edges in government.”

“Government could use an efficiency operator to do that,” he said. “There’s a lot of wasteful spending in government.