California tea party protesters focus on image repair |

California tea party protesters focus on image repair

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – More than 2,000 tea party supporters descended on the state capital Thursday, calling for lower taxes and smaller government, but also working hard to polish their image.

The crowd spilled out over the lawn of the Capitol in Sacramento as part of a statewide Tax Day protest organized by one of the nation’s largest tea party groups, the Tea Party Patriots. Other rallies were held throughout the state.

Many participants carried signs railing against the national health care overhaul and the federal stimulus package. They promised to vote out politicians who supported either one.

In addition to the familiar battle cries, supporters spent a noticeable amount of time refuting claims that tea partiers are racists or that the movement has been co-opted by the Republican Party.

However, when Tea Party Patriots co-founded Mark Meckler asked the predominantly white crowd how many of them were current or former Republicans, nearly every hand went up.

Rich Strohecker, a tea party supporter from Sacramento, said he was pleased with Thursday’s turnout but disappointed by the lack of diversity, particularly in a state where nearly 60 percent of the population is non-white.

“We need to reach out more to minorities,” he said, scanning the crowd. “I don’t see a lot of them out here today.”

The tea party’s image has taken some hits when it comes to issues of race. In March, reports surfaced that some tea party activists were lobbing racial slurs at black congressmen during protests over the health care bill.

In addition, members of the nonpartisan Tea Party Patriots watched another major player on the national tea party scene, the Tea Party Express, capture the spotlight this month with its flashy bus tour featuring Sarah Palin and other high-profile conservatives. The Tea Party Express is funded and run by longtime Republican operatives who say the tea party and the GOP are natural allies.

On Thursday, ralliers insisted the majority of the movement remains unaffiliated.

“This tea party isn’t about a political party; it’s about power,” said conservative radio host Eric Hogue, the Sacramento event’s emcee. “All of the incumbents need to feel the heat.”

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