Taxing moments: Perriello gets earful from Tea Party
The clock had just struck 4pm last Friday, and it was time for Congressman Tom Perriello's (D-Ivy) Tea Party. About 50 guests showed up to his office, and while they came bearing gifts, this was no crumpets-and-cucumber-sandwiches affair.
They gave the freshman Representive a book by conservative commentator Neil Boortz–- and a petition bearing the signatures of over 1,000 citizens concerned about Congressional handling of the economic crisis. These guests were from the Jefferson Area Tea Party. Fresh off of their April 15 Tax Day rally at the Charlottesville Pavilion, they were not happy.
"President Obama's basic philosophy is socialism," said one person, "and it is destroying the backbone of this country!"
"My husband just got laid off," said another. "We've played by the rules all these years, and now we have zilch!"
"It's not future generations who are paying for this spending," said a third. "We're paying for it right now!"
Such was the tenor of the 45-minute, May 8 meeting in Perriello's downtown Charlottesville office. However, anyone expecting a rhetorical smackdown would have left sorely disappointed.
After a question about a recent Congressional pay raise was punctuated by a collective "yeah!" Perriello calmly noted that the choir was preaching back to him.
"I actually agree with you on that," said Perriello, "and that's why I voted to freeze our salaries."
When another attendee noted that the federal budget will drive the country further into debt, Perriello noted that he voted against the budget in its final form.
Finally, when another protester bemoaned the banking bailout, Perriello asked aloud, "And who was it who voted against that?" Before anyone could reply, Perriello answered his own question.
"Oh, that's right," Perriello said. "That was me!"
"You do realize," replied one man, "that you're in disagreement with the majority of your party."
"It wouldn't be the first time," Perriello replied.
As the meeting dispersed, Perriello told the Hook that he was not simply playing to the crowd.
"The funny thing is I actually agree with the principles of the Tea Party; they're just eight years too late," said Perriello. "It was in 2001, when Congress started deregulating and stopped trying to balance the budget, that everything went off the rails."
Not that Perriello minds mixing it up with constituents.
"This was fun," he said. "I'm always excited to engage people when people take their civic duty seriously."
For his part, Tea Party chair Bill Hay says that while he didn't always agree with the congressman, he left the meeting satisfied.
"We asked a lot of tough questions, and he answered them," said Hay. "For that, I have a great amount of respect for the man."
Not that the Tea Party plans to shrink away.
"Oh, we'll be back," said Hay. "This is just the beginning."