As 400 Tea Party activists rallied outside the Idaho Capitol on Monday to shout down federal government, more than a dozen lawmakers have quietly formed a smaller but equally conservative new group inside the building to pursue similar goals: promote gun rights, kill health care reform, maybe even abolish the Federal Reserve.
Members of this ad-hoc state House group, which has drafted a charter called "Platform for Prosperity" after a similar Republican movement in Colorado, said they aren't directly linked to the organizers of the hourlong Tea Party gathering on the Capitol's south steps.
Still, at least four Platform affiliates were featured speakers: Republican Reps. Raul Labrador of Eagle, Pete Nielsen of Mountain Home, Phil Hart of Athol and Lynn Luker of Boise. Others in the group included Reps. Steve Thayn of Emmett, Steve Hartgen of Twin Falls, Janice McGeachin of Idaho Falls and Marv Hagedorn of Meridian.
After three meetings since late last year, its members are promising legislation in 2010, including measures aimed at cutting Idaho's income tax rate; requiring that silver mined from northern Idaho be accepted as payment for taxes; abolishing mandatory licensing for midwives; and scuttling President Obama's health care reform, should it pass Congress.
"I think we have an ear for what the Tea Party movement is saying," said Hartgen, on how these two groups' interests have converged. "People are on fire about these issues. These people aren't protesters. They are American citizens."
In November, about 25 current and former GOP Colorado lawmakers, including ex-U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, unveiled their own conservative "Platform for Prosperity" to oppose tax hikes and new fees, back loosening oil and gas regulations, and win back the governor's office.
Thayn, a second-term lawmaker from southwestern Idaho, said the Colorado message resonated so much with the Idaho House's conservative wing that some of them decided to follow suit.
Their platform includes strengthening the economy, defending U.S. citizenship and pushing back against a "federal government that is too big, too intrusive and all too eager to seize power from the states."
In a letter Thayn intended for Platform for Prosperity members last week and obtained by The Associated Press, he also wrote of efforts to "alter and repair some of the damage done during the Lincoln years and shortly after the Civil War."
Thayn said he was referring to unchecked expansion of government he believes began in the mid-19th century.
"What we're seeing is the growth of the federal government — and the loss of power at the state level," he said.
That same frustration boiled at Monday's Tea Party rally, with protesters carrying signs still questioning if Obama was born on U.S. soil and accusing fat-cat bankers of profiting from bailouts while bankrupting America. The event drew just a fifth of the 2,000 people who attended a Boise Tea Party event last April, but many remain angry.
"I want to support and/or foster the nonviolent overthrow of the Obama administration," said Boise resident Roger Wood.
Wood had just heard Rep. Phil Hart, another Platform for Prosperity member, rail against the Federal Reserve banking system as "offensive to scripture" in the Bible, including the Old Testament's Leviticus.
Hart, who in the 1990s refused to pay personal income tax for seven years while unsuccessfully challenging the constitutionality of federal tax laws, described the new House group as a bulwark to promote ideals shared by many Tea Party members inside the state Capitol.
"We are for nullifying anything coming out of Washington, D.C., where they don't have constitutional authority to act," he told the AP.
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