Tea party, one year later

Happy birthday, tea partiers: One year ago this week, we changed the world with our tax day protests.

In towns large and small across the country, millions joined together to make their voices heard. Here in Maryland, the rain and cold could not stop us from exercising our freedom of speech in places like Salisbury, Bel Air, Baltimore and Annapolis. While I fully expect an outpouring of concerned taxpayers at this week's ceremonies, we must not lose the focus on our goal of bringing real change to all levels of government.

Elitists on both sides of the aisle have ridiculed us — obviously, the folks spitting this venom have never been to a tea party event or a local Americans for Prosperity meeting and have no interest in doing so. We are a band of patriots made up of, but not limited to, Constitutionalists, Reaganites, libertarians, concerned senior citizens, mothers, business owners, farmers, teachers, conservatives and yes, many Democrats and independents. We are not monolithic in our political beliefs, but there are two ties that bind everyone in this movement: our love of country and our insistence on limiting the size and scope of government.

Maryland, one of the most liberal states in the union, is not immune to this wave of big-government discontent. With the largest budget deficit in state history and threats of new tax increases on the horizon, Gov. Martin O'Malley and the General Assembly have proven to be poor fiscal managers. Thousands of us rallied at the State House in January to hold the politicians accountable for spending our hard-earned dollars. That event fell on deaf ears, as the spending spree continued with reliance on one-time budget fixes, federal bailouts and borrowed money. If the state leadership remains intact, expect a dose of massive, job-killing tax increases next year.

In order to change this game, the tea party movement must be helpful in replacing the players on the field. One way to further your individual impact is to find one free market candidate (Republican, Democrat or independent) with a reform agenda and support his/her bid for office. Whether it is for governor or dogcatcher, put your time, energy and money into helping them get elected. We need to focus our efforts; this means knocking on doors, making phone calls, stuffing envelopes and writing the occasional $25 check.

Some folks may lose sight of our mission. We must distance ourselves from "birthers," "truthers," and those who wish to use our enthusiasm for unrelated causes. President Barack Obama was born in the United States and was elected by a majority of voters. He is a father and a husband, and he has reached the pinnacle of his career through hard work and determination. We simply have a philosophical disagreement with him about the role of government in society.

The tea party should fight the president's and governor's big-government policies with thoughtful solutions, not personal attacks. To repair health care, we must advocate for free-market ideas like tort reform, interstate competition and encouraging individual health accounts. These are common-sense solutions that most Americans agree will bring down costs and expand access. On the state level, let's push for public pension reform, tax relief and a balanced budget without gimmicks — issues that will resonate across party lines, achieve our goal of stopping the unsustainable growth of government and get the economy moving again.

For this movement to be a lasting political force, we must remain independent. No matter the results, our task does not end in November. Even if candidates who run on a reform platform are successful, we must hold them accountable to our standards.

So today, we celebrate a year of thought-provoking action — even as the occasion of tax day reminds us how much of our hard-earned income is being confiscated by Washington and Annapolis. Tomorrow, the real work to reform our government begins.

Dave Schwartz is Maryland state director of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a grass-roots, free-market advocacy organization that has been a sponsoring group for many tea party activities around the state. He can be reached at http://www.afpmaryland.com.

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