HOLLIDAYSBURG - Blair County Tea Party advocates held their third annual tax day rally Friday on the Blair County Courthouse Patio with a smaller than usual crowd but with plans for a stepped-up agenda.
The tea party nationwide has had success in electing candidates and impacting government spending in the past two years. John Kasun, the local group's president, said that doesn't mean now is the time to rest or back off on grassroots efforts to lower taxes, encourage smaller government and return to the founding principles of the Constitution.
"We have to build, to continue moving forward. ... We've got our running shoes on. We're ready to hit the ground. Is this going to be over in three months? No," Kasun said, as he addressed just over 100 tea party enthusiasts during the noon hour.
Members of the Blair County Tea Party hosted a tax day rally.
Kasun said events in the coming months will include visits with elected officials, a candidates' forum and a Freedom Fest in July.
Another goal of the Blair County Tea Party that was repeatedly mentioned is to join forces with similar groups in surrounding counties.
David Noll of the Bedford County Patriots Tea Party and Tom Smith of the Indiana-Armstrong Patriot Tea Party spoke at the rally.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Wes Weatherwalk of Altoona holds his sign and cheers during the Blair County Tea Party’s third annual tax day rally on Friday at the Blair County Courthouse.
Noll, a Vietnam veteran, said in his county the tea party "is alive and well."
"Like all of you, I love this country. ... I have lived the American dream," said Noll, adding, "I am worried about the disappearance of that dream. What do you think America looks like now? What you do, I do, we do together, is critical to the survival of this country."
Noll called the 2012 presidential election "the most important election" the country will face.
"It is time for groups like ours to work together. ... Now is the time to put an end to the dismantling of this republic," Smith said.
Two years ago the Blair County group held its first tax day rally. Despite miserable weather, with a steady cold rain falling, the crowd that showed up at the courthouse numbered between 400 and 500. The same was true in 2010, even though tea party leaders attempted to call off the rally at the last minute.
Kasun was asked why the turnout was lower this year and he said he didn't know.
"Some people may think we have a movement going and they don't need to come," he suggested, adding that the opposite is true. He said it's time to step it up.
Even with a smaller crowd, the rally was spirited with speakers receiving cheers and applause when they made their points.
All three Blair County Commissioners - Donna D. Gority, Terry Tomassetti and Diane Meling - listened to the speakers.
Nathan A. Benefield of the Commonwealth Foundation, a nonprofit group that proposes policies to promote the principles of the nation's founding fathers, said there are issues of state government that must be addressed. He called Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed 2011-12 budget "a good step in the right direction."
An issue that bears watching, he said, is the outcome of negotiations this year with 17 unions representing 60,000 state workers.
"We need to move to the next step, changing policies," Benefield said.
Altoona resident Silas Jones, who is retired, stood along the courthouse patio holding an Obama '08 sign.
He said he is a Republican but that he voted for Obama. He said he went to the rally to see who the tea party members were. He objected to criticism of local elected officials such as U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, State Rep. Rick Geist and State Rep. Jerry Stern.
"I think both Republicans and Democrats should try to do what they have to do to get us back on the solvent path," Charlie Wilson, a retired airline mechanic and organizer of Friday's rally, said. "Spending needs to be rolled back. Something must be done."
Al Snyder of Glendale, a retired Army veteran, held a yellow flag that stated, "Don't Tread on Me."
"Considering how much all our governments take from us, the return on the investment is lousy," said Snyder. "We need to get more active politically. I am conservative so guess who I want to get rid of ."
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.