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'Iced Tea' event is today in GF

The Alerus Center ballroom reserved for today's "Iced Tea" gathering can accommodate a little more than 900 people, Tea Party organizer Jerry Breyer said.

Tea parties
Bill Bruss of Winfield, Ill., gives away plastic bags in the vendor area at the National Tea Party convention in Nashville, Friday, Feb. 5, 2010. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)

The Alerus Center ballroom reserved for today's "Iced Tea" gathering can accommodate a little more than 900 people, Tea Party organizer Jerry Breyer said.

He hopes for overflow.

"We don't know how many people are going to show up," Breyer said Friday. "There are lots of other things going on this weekend, but it would be great if we hit five or six thousand. That would make headlines around the country."

As the burgeoning conservative movement grows here and across the nation -- its champions proclaim themselves "taxed enough already," thus, the "Tea" Party -- area activists hope this second large gathering in Grand Forks will shake established parties and politicians and call complacent citizens to action.

They're also counting on a groundswell from the first national Tea Party convention last Saturday in Nashville, where speakers -- including Sarah Palin -- heaped scorn on President Barack Obama, liberal politicians, generally, and what the tea partiers perceive as a mainstream media marching in lock-step with liberal values.


"The reason there's been a lot of demonizing of us is, over the years, these entrenched politicians don't want anybody jeopardizing their position," Breyer said. "They become corrupt, complacent and no longer listen to the voice of the people.

"That's what frustrates us. We vote for people who run as conservatives, but when they get to Washington they govern as liberals. It becomes easier for them to swim with the tide than against it. I think the Tea Party is the one group that can change the tide."

Among the invitees Saturday: church leaders from throughout the region. "We sent out 300 letters to pastors within 100 miles," Breyer said. "We believe pastors have to get back to the Word and share in responding to what's happening in society."

Letters also went to all announced candidates for the region's congressional offices.

"We don't want to be branded Democrat or Republican," Breyer said. "We are independent. All we want is our nation back."

Hoeven's place?

The Grand Forks meeting, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Alerus Center's main ballroom, follows Friday's state Republican Party "Take Back America" rally in Bismarck, which featured remarks by Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who has been a Tea Party favorite, and an appearance by Republican Gov. John Hoeven.

Organizers of the rally, including the North Dakota Farm Bureau, the National Rifle Association and the North Dakota Family Alliance, also gave a hat tip to the conservative movement.


"The Tea Party movement is an example of people coming together in order to be heard about the direction of our government, particularly the national debt we are leaving our kids," Robert Harms, a Bismarck activist, wrote on the rally's Web site. "People want us to get back to principles that built this nation into the greatest country in the world."

Activists more to the left also sought to raise the Tea Party's profile at the Bismarck rally, hoping to tag state Republicans -- especially Hoeven -- to the movement.

NDPeople.org, which calls itself a statewide advocacy group formed in 1992 to work for social and economic justice, paid for radio ads Friday to challenge Bachmann "and the sponsors of her 'Tea Party' visit to Bismarck," according to a statement from the group.

The statement called Bachmann "one of the most polarizing politicians in the country" and charged that Hoeven and other state Republicans are "trying to show they are like 'Tea Party' members."

Hoeven, who announced Jan. 11 that he will seek his party's nomination in March to run for the seat now held by retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., faces probing questions from tea partiers who aren't persuaded he is conservative enough.

"There is a lot of unrest about Gov. Hoeven basically being handed the keys to the GOP car," said Randy Richards, another Grand Forks Tea Party organizer, when he announced plans for today's convention. "I wouldn't be shocked if there is criticism of him and his spending," Richards said then.

Paul Sorum, a Fargo architect who is challenging Hoeven for the Republican nomination to run for the Senate, also is expected at today's convention, as are state Rep. Rick Berg, R-Fargo, who wants to face U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., and Glen Menze, an accountant from Starbuck, Minn., who plans to take on Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., again; Menze lost to Peterson in 2000 and 2008.

Terry Bjerke, a member of the Grand Forks City Council, will be master of ceremonies.


Back to principles

Breyer, who as "Generous Jerry" of fireworks fame has been a Grand Forks businessman for more than 40 years, said he is new to politics, as are many people drawn to the Tea Party.

"We are people who want to bring our nation back under God and back to its founding principles (contained in) our Constitution," he said. "We feel that under our current government, our rights are being usurped or neglected, and we are following an agenda contrary to God's word.

"I feel that if I don't get involved now, if we all don't get involved, business in a couple years will have so many rules and regulations that it will be impossible to make a profit."

The Tea Party is "grassroots activists coming together," he said, open to the public and affiliated with no other party or any particular denomination.

"We're just loyal, faithful, hard-working Americans. We're in a spiritual battle. We know that when a nation rejects God, there's always been a judgment that follows."

Organization of the movement to this point "has been kind of loose around the country," he said, appropriate given its grassroots nature. "We wanted to put some leadership to it here, and that is happening around the country, as well. I think it's going to be a very effective but still grassroots organization.

"I think it's our last chance to turn this nation around."


The keynote speaker Saturday will be the Rev. Mark Skogerboe, a Twin Cities pastor and activist who has worked on political campaigns and done fieldwork for the South Dakota Family Policy Council.

Skogerboe "is a fire and brimstone person," Breyer said. "People will just love the guy."

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to chaga@gfherald.com .

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