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Political issues take center stage at 'tea party'

by Canda HarbaughWestern News
| October 1, 2009 12:00 AM

The Lincoln County Tea Party last week had nothing to do with overtaxed tea and everything, according to organizers, to do with the frustration and fear that the community feels about a range of current state and federal legislative issues.

“The large crowd tells you something,” said co-organizer Betty Ward. “People are concerned when that many people come out on a Thursday night.”

An estimated 300 people filed into Libby’s VFW Hall to listen to and ask questions of state representatives Jerry Bennett and Chas Vincent and state senator Aubyn Curtiss. The legislators spoke on issues ranging from gun rights to U.S. Sen. Max Baucus’ health-care bill and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s wilderness bill.

The 1773 Boston Tea Party inspired several similar rallies across the country, which were sparked by the current spending policies of elected officials.

Libby resident Donna Shkursky decided it was time to organize a local event after she traveled to Kalispell on a few occasions to participate in Flathead Tea Party rallies and protests.

She recalls demonstrating against Baucus’ health-care bill outside his Kalispell office when a group in support of the bill joined protesters. 

“There was no fighting or anything – just debating on the road,” Shkursky said. “We just stood on the road and talked about it. People aren’t as far divided as sometimes the media would make it seem.”

Shkursky wanted to see that kind of healthy political debate and participation in her own town, so she planned the event with the help of Ward, two other friends and her husband.

“We’re just five little voices that wanted to make the community just a little more quizzical about legislation,” she said. “It was phenomenal. Everyone was well-mannered and it was informative. … When people were leaving, they grabbed us and said, ‘thank you.’”

Though the event had a conservative theme, it was not organized or led by a political party. Shkursky believes people should shy away from party lines and vote for what works for their community. She was a Democrat most of her life, but now leans Republican with an independent bend.

“We’re not playing with party puppets anymore,” she said. “This is Montana, you do what’s right for Montana.”

Lincoln County Tea Party organizers are eager to plan more events in the future. Shkursky foresees setting up booths to encourage people to vote in November’s municipal elections. She also hopes last week’s forum sparked an interest that will support future forums.

“We wanted the community to be engaged,” Shkursky said, “to walk away, if not with all their questions answered, with at least a burning desire to find the answers.”