AUGUSTA, Maine — Hundreds of Tea Party activists from across Maine turned out for Tax Day rallies to voice their anger and frustration with the Obama administration, government spending and perceived intrusions on constitutional rights.
A rally in Bangor across from the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building on Thursday afternoon drew about 75 people while hundreds turned out for a gathering in Capitol Park just across the street from the State House.
In Augusta, speaker after speaker — some wearing colonial attire — urged attendees to turn their frustration into action this November and to continue to speak out against political leaders they claim are leading the country astray.
“We just continue to grow and grow, and people are starting to wake up,” said Pete Harring, an event organizer and founder of the Tea Party group Maine Refounders. “We are here to tell [politicians] that they need to get their hands off of our Constitution.”
In Bangor, event organizer Beth Wallinga of the newly formed Penobscot County Patriots said, in her mind, tea parties represent two things: fiscal responsibility and a return to constitutional principles.
“I think I represent a growing percentage of people that have never been involved,” she said.
Thursday’s events were timed to coincide with the day that most Americans must file their federal income taxes. And so it was no surprise that taxes and government spending were popular topics in speeches, in side conversations and on handmade signs.
Mike and Erin Foglietta of Turner said they came to the Augusta rally with their two boys to lend their support for the Tea Party movement and to show they are “tired of being overtaxed.”
Erin Foglietta said it will probably take the family several months to catch up from the income tax payments made on Thursday.
“We can’t afford more taxes, but we know they are going to go up,” she said.
The flurry of Tea Party rallies across the nation on Thursday did not go unanswered, however.
The organization Citizens for Tax Justice released a report that sought to counter perceptions among some that taxes are rising. The organization reported that 99 percent of Maine working families received tax cuts as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The analysis found that Maine working families with annual incomes of between $12,000 and $61,000 received a tax cut of between $490 and $735.
In Bangor, counterprotester Blaine Shaw with Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine stood on the other side of Harlow Street with signs that showed support for the health care overhaul.
Shaw said he agreed with the tea partiers on some matters such as federal spending. But he was wary of what he saw as their fanaticism.
Jesse Graham, executive director of the Maine People’s Alliance, called the tea partiers nothing more than a “colorful distraction.” He spoke of Mainers lining up in Gardiner to speak out against Anthem’s attempt to raise health insurance premiums by more than 23 percent. He also praised Orrington residents making phone calls for a referendum on a plan to clean up the contaminated former HoltraChem site on the banks of the Penobscot River.
“These actual populist events are the real story, not some guy in a park dressed like Sam Adams,” Graham said.
At the rallies, however, anger and distrust of the government was palpable. The Obama administration was the most frequent target of rebuke, although Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both Republicans, were also criticized by speakers as having voted with Democrats too often.
Attendees railed against the Obama administration’s recently passed health insurance overhaul bill — dubbed “Obamacare” by many — and suggested that the president was leading the country toward socialism or communism.
Some signs showed tea as standing for “Taxed Enough Already” while another, in Augusta, read “Tea, Hell! Let’s Throw Congress in the Harbor.” One Bangor attendee held aloft a sign that said simply, “Pro God, pro gun, pro life, proud American.”
In Augusta, Paul and Judy Lowell of Rumford expressed concerns about government spending on the health care bill and the stimulus packages as well as the financial impacts of potential cap-and-trade regulation of greenhouse gases.
Paul Lowell said the event was important enough for him to give up some overtime pay to attend. And while this was their first time participating in a Tea Party event, the couple plans to attend a rally later this year in the nation’s capital.
“We were happy when this began because we saw that other people feel the same way we do,” Judy Lowell said.